The Bishop Speaks


Hattip to Dale Price.  Bishop John M. D’Arcy has made his statement:

“Concerning President Barack Obama speaking at Notre Dame
graduation, receiving honorary law degree

March 24, 2009

On Friday, March 21, Father John Jenkins, CSC, phoned to inform me that President Obama had accepted his invitation to speak to the graduating class at Notre Dame and receive an honorary degree. We spoke shortly before the announcement was made public at the White House press briefing. It was the first time that I had been informed that Notre Dame had issued this invitation.

President Obama has recently reaffirmed, and has now placed in public policy, his long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred. While claiming to separate politics from science, he has in fact separated science from ethics and has brought the American government, for the first time in history, into supporting direct destruction of innocent human life.

This will be the 25th Notre Dame graduation during my time as bishop. After much prayer, I have decided not to attend the graduation. I wish no disrespect to our president, I pray for him and wish him well. I have always revered the Office of the Presidency. But a bishop must teach the Catholic faith “in season and out of season,” and he teaches not only by his words — but by his actions.

My decision is not an attack on anyone, but is in defense of the truth about human life.

I have in mind also the statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops in 2004. “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.” Indeed, the measure of any Catholic institution is not only what it stands for, but also what it will not stand for.

I have spoken with Professor Mary Ann Glendon, who is to receive the Laetare Medal. I have known her for many years and hold her in high esteem. We are both teachers, but in different ways. I have encouraged her to accept this award and take the opportunity such an award gives her to teach.

Even as I continue to ponder in prayer these events, which many have found shocking, so must Notre Dame. Indeed, as a Catholic University, Notre Dame must ask itself, if by this decision it has chosen prestige over truth.

Tomorrow, we celebrate as Catholics the moment when our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, became a child in the womb of his most holy mother. Let us ask Our Lady to intercede for the university named in her honor, that it may recommit itself to the primacy of truth over prestige.”


Udate I:  Elaine in the comments makes this excellent point:


“For days all the attention has been on what Bishop D’Arcy was going to do. However, Notre Dame was founded by the Congregation of Holy Cross — not the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend — and I presume they still run the place, or have some kind of governance over it. Father Jenkins, in his priestly capacity, answers to their superior general (or whatever the head honcho’s title is), not to Bishop D’Arcy. So has anyone been writing letters, e-mails, etc. to the CSC superior about this? I would think he’d have a little more pull here.”


Here is the contact info for the Congregation of the Holy Cross.


14 Responses to The Bishop Speaks

  1. Tito Edwards says:

    The good bishop chose his words carefully and eloquently. He is a true standard bearer of upholding Catholic teaching. This is in stark contrast to the depravity and lack of spine that Father John Jenkins exhibits. And for what?

    For Wales.

  2. Mark DeFrancisis says:

    “They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

    This being granted the commencement address and degree would not in themselves suggest support for Obama’s (anti-life) actions.

    The bishop assumes a comma after “platforms” that is not in the quoted sentence.

  3. Tito Edwards says:


    I could swear that your middle name is Webster in your proficiency in catching grammatical errors. But I wouldn’t be surprised if your middle name is Webster, since now Webster’s dictionary endorses same-sex marriage with their redefinition of ‘marriage’.

  4. Tito,

    Now, now…


    If even Homer nods, I’m sure it’s at least as possible that the USCCB missed a comma as that this particular member of the USCCB doesn’t understand the difference between a descriptive and a restrictive clause.

    As has been emphasized for other reasons recently, bishops are intended to be our shepherds and we should respect their decisions in executing their teaching office. (Though as with anything, we may at times find ourselves in disagreement with them.) Given that Bishop D’Arcy has been dealing with Notre Dame for some time, and is a member of the USCCB and thus can be assumed to have some understanding of what they meant by that phrase, I would think we should at least give his judgment in this situation a fair amount of weight.


  6. CourageMan says:

    Further, even though it is the case that there is no comma I’d be curious to know what is covered by the presumably non-empty set “awards, honors or platforms that do not suggest support for their actions.”

    To a more-important grammatical point, what does “for their actions” mean? In a certain sense, that question is stupid: they’re the things a person does. Obviously.

    But what I’m getting at is “how does one determine which of ‘their actions’ fairly characterize a person” and therefore (most relevant to this matter) “what it can mean to give, specifically, an honorary degree and a commencement invitation to any Person X.”

    The Church teaches that no man is completely evil. And none are without sin. Therefore, by definition, any honor to anybody will involve honoring a person who has done a mixture of good or bad things. It’s tough to think offhand of the good things Osama bin Laden or Charles Manson has done, but they do exist. Now, nobody would seriously argue that OBL or Manson is worthy of any honor at a serious institution because they are mass murderers, despite the fact that on all but a handful of days of their lives, neither man has killed (fewer than five in Manson’s case, we know to a moral certainty; and possibly never in OBL’s case, if we mean “personally kill”). Nevertheless, we feel comfortable calling them “murderers,” characterizing them that way, at least for the purpose of determining their honor-worthiness (or jail-worthiness or kill-worthiness).

    Further, there is the issue of the specific award and specific purposes of a campus visit. Consider as a potential parallel, this article in the New Republic about the great Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, who apparently supported his country’s invasion of Georgia and plans to conduct a concert of Russian music in that part of Georgia that the Kremlin still controls. Prescind from that specific event though. Would anything think if Notre Dame were to invite Gergiev to put on a Tchaikovsky opera or a Prokofiev cantata or suites, that it was (1) endorsing Gergiev the man in a general way (and therefore in principle everything about him), or (2) honoring Gergiev the conductor and putting on a specific event that was about the things being honored.

    So to bring this back to Obama, this is not a specified honor on some other point that allows us to dismiss his pro-abortion record. As a contrary example, I wouldn’t have a problem, for example, with Julianne Moore or Glenn Close or some other actress with a history of pro-abortion statements or activism being feted at a campus film festival or leading an actors workshop or speaking to drama or RTF students or performing in a play, etc. To be fair, Obama is not getting specified kudos for his great work on life issues (though more on that below).

    But a commencement speech is a generalized honor, to the whole graduation class, and it’s also the highest-profile honor a university can offer. It’s also essentially a monolog by that person, rather than either a dialog or a discussion or a work. It’s also open-ended in its subject matter, and to the extent there are expectations about its subject, it will be about life as a whole, as the graduates move from one stage of life to another. So a commencement speech, by its very genericness and one-sidedness, is, I think necessarily a general endorsement of the person as a whole in a way that speaking on a specified topic or doing a specific task need not be. Therefore, we get to the question of whether a general endorsement of Obama is possible for a Catholic institution. Obviously, the issue of “how do you characterize ‘their actions’ in the USCCB doc” is not as clear cut in Obama’s case as with Osama bin Laden or Charles Manson, whose best-known public achievements that brought them fame were entirely bad ones.

    But ask yourself … what are Obama’s achievements? They are primarily being elected, to the presidency and earlier to lesser offices, which is hardly a particularly good thing, in itself, separate from what he does or did with the political power thus gained. It needs no saying that breaking the White House color barrier is a very good thing. But it’s hard to see, other than that, what makes Obama’s political record honor-worthy. And even harder to see what else he has, even in principle, worth honoring. It all has to stand or fall on his votes and political rhetoric.

    And on abortion, he is simply beyond abominable. Even before becoming president, there was his votes on partial-birth abortion and on the Born-Alive bill, his lying about the Born-Alive bill and calling others liars, his rhetorical support and earlier sponsorship of FOCA, and rhetoric like “above my pay grade” and “punished with a child.” In the 60-some days since becoming president, he has thrice acted on life issues and every time done bad: the Mexico City policy on funding abortion overseas, government funding for embryonic stem-cell research, and ordering a weakening of the conscience clause. Every opportunity to dis’ pro-lifers, he has taken.

    So “can you honor a whole person when his actions in his principal field of achievement are this bad, from the perspective of the Church” (and frankly of right reason). Now to be sure, those abortion things aren’t Obama’s only political acts. Bigger fans of him than I no doubt can name them. But I think it’s fair to define him as a politician that way, simply because abortion is not one issue among many. Rather, as the US Church has said repeatedly, that the defining issues of current US politics are abortion and the other life issues (ESCR, euthanasia — oh, BTW, does anyone even remember that Obama called his vote to stop the Schiavo murder his greatest mistake). Other issues besides life exist, they don’t “not matter,” but they can never override wrong choices on life. Here is the USCCB (skip to section 23):

    But being ‘right’ in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life. Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the ‘rightness’ of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community. If we understand the human person as the “temple of the Holy Spirit” — the living house of God — then these latter issues fall logically into place as the crossbeams and walls of that house. All direct attacks on innocent human life, such as abortion and euthanasia, strike at the house’s foundation.

    Given that stated centrality of abortion and euthanasia, given that Obama is a politician whose only achievements are in this very field (public votes and rhetoric), and given how awful, hard-to-imagine-how-they-could-be-worse his votes and rhetoric in this central field are — I think it quite clear that giving *this* honor to *this* man does suggest support, or at least indifference (which would be unacceptable for its own reasons), for his actions on abortion.

    There is one other point, a smaller one that tends to get swallowed up. Obama is getting an honorary JD, a law degree. That’s a specific honor that has specific meaning to competence in a specific field. And one that Obama has even cited as giving him expertise to act against life (if you look at the link above, he calls his recanted Schiavo vote something that “as a constitutional law professor, I knew better”). Given that Obama has defended Roe vs. Wade and the “right to privacy” and said de-facto that as president he would only appoint pro-Roe judges, then it seems to me that to grant him an honorary JD (rather than an honorary PhD is chemistry, say) is to honor his legal thought, and thus indirectly to honor the jurisprudence that has given us 45 million abortions since 1973.

  7. CourageMan says:

    Also … (phew) … here’s the other grammar point.

    The sentence is phrased wrong whether or not its intended meaning is restrictive or descriptive, because the clause isn’t introduced with “that.”

    In other words, if the USCCB had said “… awards, honors or platforms that would suggest…” then clearly some such honors do suggest support and some don’t; the latter are permitted, the former are not.

    Or if the USCCB had said “… awards, honors or platforms, which would suggest…” then equally clearly all such honors suggest support and all are barred.

    As it’s written, with no comma and “which” … impossible to say from grammar.

  8. Dave Foley says:

    Let’s be clear: abortion is the murder of children, probably the worst moral offense there is. If you don’t believe that, you’re out of line with the Church and you should not be receiving communion. If you do believe that children are being murdered by abortion than you should be outraged by those who are performing the abortions and those who create laws that promote, support, or permit it. If you are outraged by those people you should not bestow honors upon them (or vote for them). There are many things you can do with them: engage them in dialogue, work with them on issues of agreement, etc. But you should not honor them! (respect is different than honor) You should not let yourself or your institution be used by them to win a swing state!
    Any argument to the contrary is mere equivocation.

  9. cminor says:

    What Courage Man said. Other than the matter of the subordinating conjunction, of which my old Warriner’s grammar states that it mox nix as long as you’re referring to things and not people.

    If we’re going to make issue of commas, from where I’m reading it makes little diff:

    “They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions,” indicates that those (and presumably only those) items which would suggest support should not be given them.

    “They should not be given awards, honors or platforms, which would suggest support for their actions,” indicates that all items on the list would suggest support and should therefore not be given them.

    One could argue, I suppose, that the specific honor and platform being given the President do not indicate support, but one would be hard pressed to make that case.

  10. Gerard E. says:

    I would say bravo to His Eminence and do. But I could also say bravo for celebrating Mass this morning. Or visiting a sick grandma at the hospital. Part of his gig to stand up for official Catholic teaching. Clearly he is peeved that Father Jenkins only told him of the invitation before the glitzy news conference to an adoring MSM. Not going well for Johnny. Alums in a tizzy. Large percentage of the younguns in uproar, too. A gag me with a spoon moment in which he hoped the invitation would lead to ‘positive engagement.” A phrase designed to replace the old warhorse ‘dialogue.’ Earth to Johnny- you don’t have to out-Hesburgh Father Hesburgh. You don’t have to be America’s Open-Minded Promient Priest. Just gently rescind offer and move on.

  11. Phil Swain says:

    I was disappointed that Bishop D’Arcy encouraged Ambassador Glendon to receive her Medal. The juxtaposition of the invitations to Obama and Glendon actually furthers the impression of a political equivalency btween the two.

  12. Elaine says:

    For days all the attention has been on what Bishop D’Arcy was going to do. However, Notre Dame was founded by the Congregation of Holy Cross — not the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend — and I presume they still run the place, or have some kind of governance over it. Father Jenkins, in his priestly capacity, answers to their superior general (or whatever the head honcho’s title is), not to Bishop D’Arcy. So has anyone been writing letters, e-mails, etc. to the CSC superior about this? I would think he’d have a little more pull here.

  13. […] invitation, following Bishop Thomas Olmsted’s statement from the Diocese of Phoenix and Bishop John M. D’Arcy’s statement from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South […]

  14. […] In a prior post, I noted the defense of Jenkins, President of Notre Dame, that Notre Dame honoring our pro-abort President on May 17, 2009 wasn’t a problem because Obama wasn’t a Catholic and that the policy of the USCCB against Catholic institutions honoring pro-abort politicians only applied to Catholic pro-abort politicians.  No, that wasn’t a joke by me.  That was his actual defense.   Bishop D’Arcy, the Bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend had previously indicated that he did not approve of the invitation and that as a result he would not attend the commencement on May17.  […]

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