For the Culture Wars, a Hail Mary


The propensity of U.S. Catholics to mix football and theology perhaps
explains why one of sports’ ultimate plays is known as a "Hail Mary" pass. The
quintessentially Catholic prayer is so apt a description of quarterback Roger Staubach’s impossible
1975 game-winning bomb
that "Hail Mary" has since become a catchall term to
describe final acts of desperation off the field (Chuck
Schumer used it
, for example, to describe Sarah Palin’s nomination).
Fitting, then, that the radical right’s culture warrior class would attempt its
own Hail Mary play in the vicinity of the nation’s most hallowed gridiron – a
last-ditch effort to bolster dwindling relevance by launching a full frontal
assault on President Obama’s upcoming commencement address at Notre Dame.

The radical right’s campaign to sabotage the speech, now in its seventh week,
is ostensibly an effort to reassert the Church’s "non negotiable" position on
abortion. In reality, the Notre Dame "scandal" is little more than manufactured
controversy, a predictable product of the Republican coalition’s current sorry
state of affairs. Leaderless and defeated, the GOP is in a fight for its very
soul, with radicals seeking to step up the culture war over issues like abortion
and same-sex marriage, and moderates blaming that same culture war for the
party’s woes. The radicals reckon that by creating a big enough stink to make
something stick to the Teflon-coated Obama, they can prove they still deserve a
seat at the table.

To a certain extent, it appears to be working; right now, Notre Dame ranks at
the top of the conservative movement’s precious few footholds. But insofar as
they face an American public that has grown tired of their antics, the culture
warriors clearly hold the weaker hand. For one thing, Bush’s promises to protect
"traditional values" were generally unfulfilled. Appointing Roberts and Alito
did not magically overturn Roe v. Wade, and recent developments in
Maine and Iowa suggest that same-sex marriage is on an unstoppable trajectory to
become an American cultural norm. For another, right-leaning moderate voters,
many of whom were swayed by abortion and same-sex marriage in 2000 and 2004,
have discovered that the greater threats to American social order are job losses
and lack of health care and retirement protections – brought on in large part by
eight years of deregulation, trickle-down economics, and war.

In addition to poor field position, the culture warriors’ cause is stymied by
the president’s uncanny resistance to attacks from the traditional pro-life
movement. While toeing the party line on choice, Obama has nonetheless struck a
conciliatory tone on the broader abortion issue, recently announcing an abortion
task force to explore "common ground" means of reducing abortions through
education, health care, and financial support for pregnant women and families.
His genuine commitment to prevention has ruffled the feathers of absolutists on
both sides of aisle. But for abortion "grays" – those Americans who remain
conflicted about abortion, many of them moderate swing voters – the president’s
willingness to acknowledge the moral dimension of the issue is a breath of fresh
air.

Were the radicals serious about delivering results on the abortion issue,
they might join President Obama in his quest for abortion common ground, or at
least stop referring to him as "the most pro-abortion president ever" – a
moniker as absurd as it is effective at agitating the radical base and filling
the culture war’s collection plate. Indeed, some 350,000 have signed an online
petition opposing the university’s invitation; a pro-Notre Dame petition is
waiting for your signature at www.wesupportnotredame.org.

In an attempt to obscure the purely symbolic nature of their campaign, the
culture warriors will point to the fact that a number of high-profile alumni
have vowed to stop donating, that former Vatican ambassador Mary Ann Glendon
turned down the university’s prestigious Laetare Medal in protest, and that
fifty or so bishops (a fraction of the hundreds of Catholic prelates who lead
the U.S. Church, mind you) have expressed displeasure with the university’s
decision. But these voices were late to the game, spurred into action by a
well-organized radical right, and generally unwitting of their participation in
a partisan power struggle. The students, for their part, are thrilled that the
President of the United States will be speaking to them on graduation day.

No, the driving forces behind the supposed outrage were not pious masses, but
Catholic Republican front groups like Fidelis (a GOP-supporting political action
committee), the Catholic League (home of self-appointed Catholic spokesperson
Bill Donohue), and the Cardinal Newman Society (an organization whose main
purpose, conveniently, appears to be to attack Catholic colleges and
universities who invite Democrats to speak). And then there’s Newt Gingrich,
simultaneously converting to Catholicism and making his own bid to recapture the
reins of the GOP. It was Gingrich – not Glendon or the reluctant bishops – who
scored the first media points against Obama’s speech with a March 24th tweet:
"It is sad to see notre dame invite president obama to give the commencement
address Since his policies are so anti catholic values [sic]."

For the right wing culture warriors, Catholics and otherwise, success at
Notre Dame will not be measured by whether the university rescinds its
invitation – that would require a kind of divine intervention that no Hail Mary
can elicit. Rather, it will be measured by the leadership that emerges to guide
the Republicans through the 2010 and 2012 election cycles. Saner voices are
attempting to prevail. But if the party can be convinced that the benefits
outweigh the costs, we won’t be seeing an end to the culture war anytime
soon.

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To schedule an interview with Chris Korzen please contact Communications Director Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • progo35

    “The most pro-abortion/choice president ever to be elected is getting an honorary degree from Notre Dame! Horray!”?
    ?

    "Well behaved women seldom make history."-Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

  • invalid-0

    No, we were expecting “Obama gives the commencement at Notre Dame — see page A14.” Especially considering that George W. Bush (a death-penalty supporter and instigator of immense human suffering due to the needless Iraqi war and the poorly-run fight in Afghanistan) has been in the very same sort of speaking engagements with nary a peep from the conservative-Catholic crowd.

    This story is so utterly sad and pointless. It’s so painfully obvious that the controversy is not over real principles.

  • progo35

    I disagree. I personally don’t have a problem with Obama speaking (although I feel less sympathetic to those at ND who feel he should be granted an honorary degree), but this goes back to the consistent life ethic vs. the innocent life ethic and the condition of intent. I personally subscribe to the consistent life ethic, which includes being against abortion, war, the death penalty, and euthanasia/assisted suicide. I’m not sure what the official Catholic position on the death penalty is, but the general propensity of pro lifers is to go with candidates whose positions will save the most innocent people. So, for instance, if I have to choose between a candidate like Obama, who voted agaist BAIPA, or, for instance, Huckabee, who supports the death penalty, I will go with Huckabee because the people meeting death under Obama are innocent and those who would die under Huckabee are not (barring some horrible mistake, which, in addition to my basic pro life convictions, is why I don’t support the death penalty). Similarly, more fetuses are destroyed every year via abortion than civilians have died via civilian casualties in Afghanistan/Iraq. That is not utilitarianism, it is making a determination under dire circumstances, of how to save the most people.

    For instance, in regard to life issues,there are some circumstances under which I would vote for a pro choice candidate over a “pro life” one. For instance, I would not vote for a candidate that supported significant restrictions on abortion but favored legalizing euthanasia on demand. I remember when there was a possibility that Bobbi Jindal or Rick Perry would be a VP for one of the Republican candidates during the primaries. I felt that I couldn’t vote for a candidate that chose on of them as a running mate, because Jindal favors extending the death penalty to child molesters, and Rick Perry has enabled the continuation of futile care laws in Texas. I was relieved when McCain didn’t pick one of them.

    I seriously considered voting for Obama during the campaign and voted for him in the primaries. Ultimately, I felt that he lacked the experience to do what he said he wanted to do effectively (end the war in Iraq without causing even more carnage, catch Bin Laden, and resolve the war in Afghanistan), and that his record didn’t indicate a commitment to reducing abortions, even though that was a stated goal. But, I considered voting for him because I liked his ideas about education and disability rights, and hoped that some of his social programs would actually help women feel less compelled to have abortions. So, there are various considerations that go into choosing a candidate when one is pro life, but ultimately it comes down to a consideration of several factors and assigning them an order of importance. Obviously, the Catholic Church has made such decisions and has chosen to try to work on the death penalty and war in other ways besides barring leaders who engage in such policies.

    "Well behaved women seldom make history."-Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

  • invalid-0

    I’m not sure what the official Catholic position on the death penalty is, but the general propensity of pro lifers is to go with candidates whose positions will save the most innocent people.

    The Catholic position is that the death penalty is wrong, regardless of innocence. The Pope has advocated this for a long time, but quietly at most.

    Similarly, more fetuses are destroyed every year via abortion than civilians have died via civilian casualties in Afghanistan/Iraq. That is not utilitarianism, it is making a determination under dire circumstances, of how to save the most people.

    I didn’t know the Catholic Church was capable of addressing only one issue at a time.

    So, there are various considerations that go into choosing a candidate when one is pro life, but ultimately it comes down to a consideration of several factors and assigning them an order of importance.

    But we’re not talking about choosing which of two (or more) candidates to vote for public office. We’re talking about why Obama is so scandalously terrible as a president, that his speaking role at Notre Dame has led to such controversy, when G.W.Bush—a man who has caused such immense human suffering in the world, during his term and for decades thereafter—hardly ever raised an eyebrow.

    By what measure can Obama, a man who hasn’t even been president for four months, warrant such outrage where GWB received none? Conservative Catholics can yammer all they want to try to articulate a reasonable-sounding premise for that, but ultimately, it’s all an excuse for them to get all up in a tizzy about abortion, and yet fail to show anywhere near the same fervor for “everything else”—for issues that everyone can agree constitute human suffering.

    Obviously, the Catholic Church has made such decisions and has chosen to try to work on the death penalty and war in other ways besides barring leaders who engage in such policies.

    Or worshippers who vote in favor of such policies. The Church may officially disagree with the death penalty, but to the average follower, to the media and mainstream awareness in general, that disagreement is invisible, down in the noise. Which makes it clear that what they decide to advocate is less about their core principles, and more about politics. (And oh, look, Newt Gingrich is railing against the speaking engagement. How very unexpected.)

  • invalid-0

    Korzen’s description of Obama’s common ground approach is either written in coded language or leaves out the component most likely to enable women to meet their goal of avoiding abortion: family planning. Korzen cites “education, health care and financial support for pregnant women and their families.” That’s the Catholic United position not Obama’s.

    Leaving out birth control which is supported by over 90% of Catholics is kind of like an anti-war position that leaves out eliminating weapons of mass destruction and concentrates on, say, closing West Point.

    If we are truly serious about making abortion less necessary and not simply finding a convenient way to sound like “good” Catholics who support pro-legal abortion candidates, then we have to bite the bullet and join the majority of theologians and Catholics and the Catholic priests and even bishops who since 1968 have had the courage to say that the official position on birth control is wrong.

    To not do so lacks integrity.

  • colleen

    (And oh, look, Newt Gingrich is railing against the speaking engagement. How very unexpected.)

    I think it’s great that the Catholic church annulled Newt’s first two marriages (including the second one which lasted 20 years and produced two children)What a ideal defender of traditional values he is.

    Thrice married Newt is the ideal spokesman for a ‘morality’ which seldom, if ever, even mentions that men are always at least 50% responsible for each and every unwanted pregnancy. Thus the whole issue becomes one in which a terminally self indulgent male can sniff and wax on about "the moral dimension" without once looking in a mirror.

  • invalid-0

    The Catholic Church has made it very clear that the death penalty and abortion are very different topics, morally and theologically.

    Catholics in good standing can support the death penalty and even an increase in executions, if their own prudential judgement calls for it.

    Abortion is always an intrinsic evil.

    Some teachings:

    Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger) “stated succinctly, emphatically and unambiguously as follows”:

    “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.” (1)

    —————–

    What Ardent Practicing Catholics Do (2)
    By Fr. John De Celles, 9/1/2008

    “Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is … a grave and clear obligation to oppose them … [I]t is therefore never licit to … “take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or vote for it.”

    In other words: it is always a grave or mortal sin for a politician to support abortion.

    Now, some will want to say that these bishops-and I- are crossing the line from Religion into to politics. But it was the Speaker of the House (Nancy Pelosi) who started this. The bishops, and I, are not crossing into politics; she, and other pro-abortion Catholic politicians, regularly cross over into teaching theology and doctrine, And it’s our job to try clean up their mess.

    But there’s something more than that here. On Sunday, before the whole nation, she claimed to be an “ardent, practicing Catholic.” Imagine if someone came in here and said “I’m a mafia hit man and I’m proud of it.” Or “I deal drugs to little children.” Or “I think black people are animals and it’s okay to make them slaves, or at least keep them out of my children’s school.”

    Are these “ardent practicing Catholics”? No, they are not.”

    And neither is a person who ardently supports and votes to fund killing 1 to 1.5 million unborn babies every single year. Especially if that person is in a position of great power trying to get others to follow her. Someone, for example, like a Catholic Speaker of the House, or a Catholic candidate for Vice President of the United States, or a Catholic senior Senator who is stands as the leading icon his political party. Like the proud and unrepentant murderer or drug dealer, they are not ardent Catholics. They are, in very plain terms, very bad Catholics.”

    But the reason I say all this is not because I want to embarrass them or even correct them — they’re not even here. It’s because of you. Because back in the 1850’s when Catholic bishops, priests, and politicians were either silent or on the wrong side of the slavery debate, they risked not only their souls, but the souls of every other Catholic they influenced. I cannot do that, and I won’t do that.

    Some would say, well Father, what about those people who support the war in Iraq, or the death penalty, or oppose undocumented aliens? Aren’t those just as important, and aren’t Catholic politicians who support those “bad Catholics” too?

    Simple answer: no. Not one of those issues, or any other similar issues, except for the attack on traditional marriage is a matter of absolute intrinsic evil in itself. Not all wars are unjust — and good Catholics can disagree on facts and judgments. Same thing with the other issues: facts are debatable, as are solutions to problems.”

    (1) “More Concerned with ‘Comfort’ than Christ?”, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick: Catholic Online, 7/11/2004 http://www.catholic.org/featured/headline.php NOTE: Ratzinger was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and delivered this with guidance to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

    (2) “What Ardent Practicing Catholics Do: Correcting Pelosi”, National Review Online, 9/1/2008 6:00AM
    http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=NTY1MzAwOTc5MmViMzUyYzM5YmY3OWFkYzdkMzY0YzM=

    ALSO:

    Cardinals, Bishops and Congressmen Slam Pelosi on Abortion
    http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/aug/08082601.html

    New York Cardinal – Pelosi Not Worthy of “Providing Leadership in a Civilized Democracy”
    http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/aug/08082605.html

    Dudley Sharp

  • invalid-0

    I think Pelosi, Kerry, et al. represent better Catholics than the Catholic hierarchy has become, and that in time, the official position of the Catholic Church will come to reflect their view. Maybe not on abortion, but certainly on contraception, on homosexuality. The hierarchy has a lot to answer for, most recently the pedophile-priest scandal (note that Pope Benedict is still giving sanctuary to Cardinal Law, out of the reach of U.S. authorities), and they’ve utterly lost any claim they may have once had to represent the truth of the religion. I think that torch has been taken up by the followers, and in time, that will be reflected by the hierarchy.

    Not one of those issues, or any other similar issues, except for the attack on traditional marriage is a matter of absolute intrinsic evil in itself.

    Look at yourself! Do you realize how kooky you sound? Nazism is “intrinsic evil.” Same-sex marriage is you confronting centuries of anti-gay bias. This is why the Church will have to evolve, or disappear altogether: it’s completely lost touch with reality. It’s the Church of the 16th century, not the 21st.

  • invalid-0

    No, they are not.” And neither is a person who ardently supports and votes to fund [abortion]. Especially if that person is in a position of great power trying to get others to follow her. Someone, for example, like a Catholic Speaker of the House, or a Catholic candidate for Vice President of the United States, or a Catholic senior Senator who is stands as the leading icon his political party. Like the proud and unrepentant murderer or drug dealer, they are not ardent Catholics. They are, in very plain terms, very bad Catholics.

    John F. Kennedy stated that he would follow the Constitution, and not take orders from the Vatican. If you’re going to say that a good Catholic cannot govern on a secular basis, then you’re going to make Catholics unelectable. Do you really want to go back to the bad old days, when the question of divided loyalties was a real one?

  • invalid-0

    I agree- how can there be any common ground without unwanted pregnancy prevention as its foundation? I have been just astounded by the fight,outrage and attacks that such a simple principle engenders.
    I know I shouldn’t be astounded-but after all these years- I still am.
    France, keep up the good fight, we all enjoy your insights.

  • invalid-0

    Unfortunately yes, there are many many conservative Catholics and people on the Christian right that very much want a this country to move toward a theocracy, or a society based on “traditional Christian values” – (hey there’s a buzz word for you).

    1) The Pope threatens ex-communication for all Catholics that support choice. Pelosi, Kerry,and 4 members of the Supreme Court are Catholic ( just to name a few). Hmm- think that this threat is an attempt to meddle in our political system???? Is that trying to influence our duly elected officials, or to influence the Supreme Court?

    Rather than threats- which are designed to bring our polticians “into line” – the Catholic Church should just shut up and excommunicate these people. But they won’t do that, because then the Church would have no further power to influence them. I think the Church has that figured out.

    2) The far right Moral Majority and Pat Buchanan, do not believe in the separation of Church and State. As good ole Pat says- the “separation of church and state is not in the constitution”. So he would establish a “Christian” government- no Jews or Muslins allowed (this by his own admission)and probably no women either.
    (Please folks, I don’t have time now to provide citations/links to this information- I have provided it on this site before and it is easily researched via Google)

    So that was the long answer. Yes, we are already at the bad old days where the question of a candidates religion and where he/she stands on civil vs religious provisions-is a valid question.

    And they should all answer as John Kennedy did – or they certainly won’t receive my vote.

    - as the threat contains power, but excommunication the Church would lose its power over them.Then the Church would lose its power over them.

  • progo35

    Anon-the Catholic Church did NOT threaten to excommunicate pro choice people, except, perhaps, leaders who are far off and away on that issue. If the Church wants to excommunicate poor, poor Nancy Pelosi and Kerry, that is the Church’s business, not yours. Railing on them for doing so is YOU forcing your non-Catholic views on the Catholic Church, and if the Church listened to the state on this, that would be a violation of seperation of church and state.

     

    Well behaved women seldom make history."-Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

  • progo35

     Coleen-your information is incorrect. Gingrich did NOT become Catholic until 2009, and he was divorced twice before then. None of his marriages were "annulled" by the Catholic Church, he went through the normal divorce process. Stop lying. 

     

    "Well behaved women seldom make history."-Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

  • invalid-0

    Railing on them for doing so is YOU forcing your non-Catholic views on the Catholic Church, and if the Church listened to the state on this, that would be a violation of seperation of church and state.

    Um… many Catholics can and do criticize the Church for holding that position, Progo35. And non-Catholics are right to do the same not only because it’s a free country, but also because these Catholic politicians are their politicians, and the Church’s saber-rattling is a direct attack on the idea that these politicians can govern per the Constitution, and not per Vatican doctrine.

    There are a few Muslim policitians in U.S. legislative office. Would you prefer them to follow the Constitution and the legal traditions of this country, or the fatwas of mullahs in Egypt and Saudi Arabia? Do you think the religion would be ripe for criticism if it did push (NOTE: in reality, it does not, this is just hypothetical) for that sort of deference by Muslim politicians?

    When the Catholic Church advocates for making abortion illegal, they advocate for making it illegal for Catholics, and Protestants, and Jews, and Muslims, and atheists… everyone. They don’t get criticism because people don’t like Catholics, they get the criticism because they have a lot of sway over people’s lives, and people like to control their own destiny.

  • invalid-0

    Well, you certainly miss the point don’t you?
    The issue is that the Catholic Church is trying to influence politicians to vote the way the Church wants them to. So they make threats and pressure our duly elected reps. They can do whatever they darn well please- in church- but when they step over the line and engage in political pressure-political pressure as an instituion (and I might add one with a substatial war chest) then I sure as hell give a damn.

    I do not want my representatives following the teaching of the Church and representing their view point.
    I want someone who will follow the constitution and the laws of this land- not some degree sent down from Rome.
    So as long as the Catholic Church continues making threats and pressuring politicians to fall in line, then as anonymous says above- I will have to look very closely at whether I can vote for a Catholic.

    And by the way, we do have laws against a Church engaging in politics.

  • invalid-0

    None of his marriages were “annulled” by the Catholic Church, he went through the normal divorce process.

    Progo35, to the extent that the Catholic Church has a “normal divorce process,” it is marriage annulment. Divorce is formally prohibited, but you can separate and remarry within the faith if you get a marriage annulment from the Vatican, a document that basically says “this marriage never happened.” It’s not easy to get (you have to give some kind of good reason), and it can take years for the request to go through (it’s written in Latin, mailed from Rome), but that process has always been there.

    Not that it excuses Mr. Gingrich’s rank hypocrisy, of course.

  • invalid-0

    And I’m sure it will come very soon in this discussion- we will be accused of being anti-Catholic.

  • colleen

    Coleen-your information is incorrect.

    Well, it really isn’t. 

    see:

    http://news.google.com/archivesearch?hl=en&ned=us&um=1&q=%22newt-gingrich%22+%2Bannulment&spell=1

    My information is accurate.

     

    Gingrich did NOT become Catholic until 2009, and he was divorced twice before then.

    His second wife and many of the newspaper articles discussing this request for an annulment pointed out that neither Gingrich or his 2nd wife were Catholic at the time of the request and certainly not when he and Marianne were married. However, the adulteress  who is now his third wife was/is Catholic. And now, appropriately enough, so is he. 

    None of his marriages were "annulled" by the Catholic Church, he went through the normal divorce process. Stop lying. 

     

    What is your problem? 

  • invalid-0

    I’m pretty sure if George Bush was invited to give a commencement speech at a university and the alumni and graduates came out in anything approaching large numbers to oppose his invitation, the media would have covered it.