Thursday, May 21, 2009

When Church Leaders go Wrong

As a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, I was not happy when the president of the University of Notre Dame invited President Obama to speak at Notre Dame's commencement ceremony this year. Checking the Roman Catholic website, one finds a document dated June 15, 2004 which contains a statement from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops on the subject of Catholics in Political Life. It states clearly why he should not have been invited:

* We need to continue to teach clearly and help other Catholic leaders to teach clearly on our unequivocal commitment to the legal protection of human life from the moment of conception until natural death. Our teaching on human life and dignity should be reflected in our parishes and our educational, health care and human service ministries.

* The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.

Fr Jenkins, the university president, should have recognized that he was contravening an instruction from the Conference of Catholic Bishops in offering President Obama a doctorate of laws. A commencement ceremony is not a place to engage in political dispute, yet that is exactly what happened when President Obama took the stand. Instead of avoiding the issue, and speaking on topics which might concern a graduating class, he gave a speech which indeed was a pro-choice speech. Consequently Notre Dame gave him a platform to profess something that is contrary to Biblical authority and the long-held teaching of the church.

Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee (Jeremiah.1.5)

It is by God's providence that we come into the world, and it is He also who knows the end of our days. He is the beginning and end, the alpha and omega of everything that exists, including ourselves. Every conception is ordered to His will, every humanly contrived termination is an act of ours. Surely it must be clear that human life is not ours to willfully take away.

One lesson that Anglicans should take away from watching this debacle is that even within the Roman Catholic Church there is precious little power to regulate rogue priests, university presidents and boards of trustees of Catholic universities. Even the local bishop of South Bend, Indiana could only voice opposition. The president of the University of Notre Dame, despite being a priest in the Order of the Holy Cross, could not be stopped from awarding an honorary degree to President Obama. Even the most hierarchical church has limited authority over subordinate institutions and priests. Those in the Prayer Book Society who work without any institutional backing should take heart. It is argument, not power, that must be marshaled to win any theological fight.

Roberta Bayer

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