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RAPID RESPONSE (Archives)...Daily Commentary on News of the Day
This is a new section.  It will offer fresh, quick reactions by myself to news and events of the day, day by day, in this rapid-fire world of ours.  Of course, as in military campaigns, a rapid response in one direction may occasionally have to be followed by a "strategic withdrawal" in another direction.  Charge that to "the fog of war", and to the necessary flexibility any mental or military campaign must maintain to be effective.  But the mission will always be the same: common sense, based upon facts and "real politick", supported by a visceral sense of Justice and a commitment to be pro-active.  That's all I promise.

Click here to return to the current Rapid Response list

FRIDAY through THURSDAY, APRIL 24 through 30, 2009

Nothing like an eight day vacation touring the magnificent country forming the southern tier of Utah and the northern tier of Arizona.   What follow are
Talk about wasting their political influence...and even their moral authority:
It pains me to pursue this analysis of my Church.  But my Faith requires it, working from within while seeking and awaiting a dialogue with clergy leaders...who have so far declined to engage in such dialogue.


MONDAY through THURSDAY, APRIL 13 through 23, 2009

Powerful, as the truth always is.  GS

Anne Wortham (.pdf)

SUNDAY through SUNDAY, APRIL 5 through 12, 2009

Even for Catholics, "turning the other cheek" must at times be an immediate preparation for landing a right-cross. Or else we lose all sense of identity, self-respect and credibility in an alien world. Good Friday and Easter Sunday have never asked that of us.  GS

Notre Dame, Obama and the Catholic Brand

How Honoring the President Could Weaken the Catholic Voice

By Helen M. Alvaré

WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 9, 2009 ( Supporters of Notre Dame University's decision to honor Barack Obama at its commencement employ elevated and even aspirational language in their attempt to characterize the meaning of the event. They invoke the language of "engagement" and "common ground" and "dialogue."  But no matter their intentions or even their hopes, the very contents and structures of their argumentation ultimately denigrate the Catholic "brand" of speaking in the public square.

This "brand" involves relying upon empirically supportable assertions and rational argumentation, and respecting one's listeners. But the arguments deployed by supporters of Notre Dame's decision do not exhibit these qualities. If Catholics are persuaded to adopt or accept them, our "brand" will be diluted and the Church will be a less effective advocate on all issues and in every arena where it operates. This should concern all Catholics who toil in public arenas -- before legal bodies, academic critics, the media, or the public generally -- no matter what issues are on the table.

Cast in their best light, the arguments made by supporters of Notre Dame's decision to offer Barack Obama an honorary Doctor of Laws degree are as follows (most are drawn from the interview given by Notre Dame's president, Father John Jenkins, to the campus newspaper): first, Notre Dame commencements have regularly been visited by presidents of both political parties. This obviously confers prestige upon Notre Dame in the eyes of some. As Father Jenkins expresses it, the president "honors" the university by his willingness to come to campus. Also, according to Father Jenkins, the president deserves to be honored because he is an "inspiring leader" who is addressing our nation's present challenges with "intelligence, courage and honesty."  He also deserves to be honored as the first African American president who, by his race and his words, merits the title of "healer" of historic racial wounds.

Finally, according to Father Jenkins, it is precisely "because" Notre Dame "care[s] so much about the "critical issue of the protection of life" that "we invited" President Obama. Honoring him could be the "basis of an engagement" with Obama, a "catalyst for dialogue," and the occasion of future opportunities "to persuade" him or, if not to persuade, at least to show respect for" and "listen to" Obama. Conversely, Jenkins seems to claim that failing to invite and honor people like Barack Obama would be to "shun" them. This would harm efforts at persuasion.

There is another argument one could make in favor of inviting President Obama to the Notre Dame campus, which is likely in the minds of some Catholics, and is likely more persuasive than those arguments put forward by Father Jenkins. It might even do a better job of preserving the Catholic Church's reputation for speaking truthfully about controvertible matters in a pluralistic environment. It is this: President Obama talks often about things that the Catholic Church has long cared about: more widely available health care, the end of nuclear threats, a cleaner environment, and more help for the working poor. It is not surprising that some people, Catholics included, who have long toiled on these issues, should be happy to hear a U.S. president take up these causes as his own, even if there is no guarantee that any of his particular approaches will work. But such an argument is still not up to the task of justifying the bestowal of an honor upon President Obama. This is because there has never been a U.S. president -- or any nationally known politician for that matter -- whose personal opinions and actions regarding unborn and newborn life have been so literally "inhumane," so remorseless and even so irrational. To persons already holding the pro-life view, there is little need to rehearse these opinions and actions, but others will want to know to what I am referring here. An abbreviated summary will have to do.

During his time in the Illinois legislature, Barack Obama acted personally to ensure that that legislature would not pass a law banning the killing of disabled newborn children, born alive following botched abortions. In connection with his tenure as a U.S. Senator, he distributed fundraising circulars to raise money on the grounds of his support for continuing the practice of partial-birth abortions (a technique involving partially delivering live infants outside the bodies of their mothers, save for their heads, which are then stabbed and suctioned, before being fully delivered, now dead). As a candidate for president, he promised that one of his first legislative acts would be the passage of a law (the Freedom of Choice Act) to remove all existing regulations from the practice of abortion in the United States. On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and as against the tens of thousands of pro-life marchers gathered in the January cold of Washington, D.C., he issued a public statement supporting the decision that overturned every state's decision to shield the unborn from being killed. He later issued several executive orders releasing hundreds of millions of federal dollars for abortion groups operating overseas, and for researchers killing human embryos. In the context of the latter order, he both excoriated defenders of embryonic life as ideological and political versus "scientific," and claimed the mantle of morality, and scientific purity for himself. He also claimed support for his decision based upon a national "consensus" and his "faith," but failed to give evidence of the former claim, or to confront the facial irrationality of the latter claim. Despite excoriating his opponents as anti-scientific, he himself refused to acknowledge the scientific data confirming the humanity of the embryo, or the emerging scientific consensus that adult stem cells offer a superior therapeutic and moral alternative to embryonic stem cells. President Obama furthermore is readying the federal government to strip conscience protections from doctors and hospitals morally opposed to performing abortions. And he has literally filled the White House and powerful federal agencies with lawyers from the nation's foremost extremist abortion-advocacy groups, the groups that have bitterly opposed every effort of the Catholic Church, both here and overseas, to protect the lives of the unborn and their mothers from abortion.

Believe it or not, the list actually goes on. But enough has been said to help even those who might initially defend Obama's appearance at Notre Dame to understand its significance. As indicated above, however, I am not criticizing Notre Dame, or Father Jenkins' remarks in particular, simply for failing to comprehend the enormity of the threat President Obama poses to respect for vulnerable human life. I am not simply lamenting Notre Dame's willingness to trample upon the sensibilities of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Catholics who have worked nearly four decades in support of human life, or even the willingness to exacerbate a kind of "class divide" between actively pro-life Catholics and the intellectual class of Catholics who attend and run prestigious universities. I am, most of all, writing to caution those who, speaking as Catholics, would deploy irrational and condescending arguments in the public square on any issue. For the stature of Catholics in the public square is fragile at best, despite the brilliance of our best-known public intellectuals such as Professor Robbie George of Princeton or Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard. Our stances on sexual morality, on respect for life, and on marriage, are increasingly out of favor with elites. The effects of the sex-abuse crisis in the Church linger.  Our enormous contributions in the health care, charitable and educational arenas are underreported. If we are to continue to be welcomed at the table where public policies are debated and crafted, we cannot appear to have "descended" below our usual "brand" of argumentation. Reason and truth make up this brand.

But the arguments deployed by defenders of Obama's visit to Notre Dame betray the brand. Commencement ceremonies and the granting of honorary doctorates are not occasions for persuasion, dialogue and engagement on controvertible issues, as Father Jenkins claims. Having received honorary doctorates at several universities (and even though I am infinitely lower on the food chain than the President of the United States) I can tell you that they are nothing but occasions for fulsome praise, protocol and pleasant conversation. The "message" received by all -- the one honored and all of the onlookers -- is that the honoree somehow embodies the values of the institution granting the degree, and the aspirations of the graduates. This is common knowledge.

As for Father Jenkins' statement that Notre Dame honors Obama precisely "because" Notre Dame cares so much about "the critical issue of the protection of life" -- this statement hardly merits commentary. It is worthy of a desperate politician or an advertising agency, but not a Catholic institution that cares to represent itself to listeners as reliably truthful and rational. The message actually sent by Notre Dame's honoring President Obama, is that the decision makers at Notre Dame -- and perhaps the many Catholics they represent -- do not believe that the right of vulnerable persons not to be killed is as important an issue as centuries of Catholic teaching have made it out to be. The further message is that Catholic sources are willing to use irrational and condescending argumentation, if that's what it takes to preserve our own interests or to prevent "embarrassment" in a difficult situation.

All Catholics who wish to be welcomed into public debates on any issue in the future -- not just abortion -- ought to be dismayed at how Notre Dame's attempted justification of the Obama invitation has denigrated our reputation, our "brand" for speaking truthfully and rationally, even to power.

* * *

Helen Alvaré is a senior fellow in law for the Culture of Life Foundation, and an associate professor of law at the George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, Virginia. In 2008, Benedict XVI named Professor Alvaré a consultor to the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

WEDNESDAY through SATURDAY, APRIL 1 through 4, 2009

And now, my take on the current economic crisis.  I must admit at the outset that I know very litttle about that "dismal science", Economics...unless you consider our family efforts to raise and educate five bright children and to continue the perpetual education of my wife and myself.  This involved years of private schools, a three year period wherein we were paying for seven college and graduate school tuitions, and a resulting total of 3 Doctorates, 5 Master Degrees and 7 Bachelor Degrees among us.  "No brag; just fact".  And please understand that of the three kinds of "money" - old, new, and "enough" - all we had was "enough" money, achieved by much hard work by all. 
Nevertheness, I've always had pretty good intuition about at least personal finances.  Perhaps I can attribute that to genetics (coming from farming stock) and to environment (parents who guided us through the Great Depression and everything that followed).  So, here are some ideas that have guided me from the early years...and into the current crisis. 
What to do now? 

MONDAY and TUESDAY, MARCH 30 and 31, 2009


ZENIT, The world seen from Rome
News Agency

A Question of Identity Catholic Higher Education in a Secular World
By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, MARCH 29, 2009 ( The controversy over the invitation of President Barack Obama to the University of Notre Dame has placed at the forefront once more the debate over the identity of Catholic universities.

Obama was invited by university president, Holy Cross Father John Jenkins, to give the May 17 address to graduates. He will also be awarded an honorary degree. Protests, which centered on Obama's anti-life measures taken in the first months of his administration, started immediately.

For those wanting to know more about what lies behind the conflict over this issue, Anne Hendershott analyzes the topic in a book published in January titled: "Status Envy: The Politics of Catholic Higher Education," (Transaction Publishers). Hendershott is professor of urban affairs at The King's College, New York City.

Hendershott starts off by referring to an essay published more than 50 years ago, in which Monsignor John Tracy Ellis questioned if the academic level on Catholic campuses was mediocre due to the priority given to the moral formation of students.

The echoes of this letter still resonate today, she commented, with some universities concluding that their Catholic identity is a liability in reaching the top echelon of tertiary institutions.

A further milestone in the debate was the 1990 document by the Vatican, "Ex Corde Ecclesiae," that emphasized the need for a Catholic identity in higher education. A key component of this document was to require that theologians teaching in Catholic colleges obtain a mandatum, or certificate from the local bishop, testifying to the fact that their teaching adhered to Church doctrine.

This requirement, Hendershott observed, was resisted by many professors in Catholic institutions. Yet, at the same time she gave examples of where colleges eagerly complied with secular accrediting associations when they recommended greater diversity in terms of race and ethnicity.


As a result, according to Hendershott, there has been a progressive loss of Catholic identity on many Catholic campuses due to a tendency among the faculty and administrators to conform to the desire for status in the secular world.

There is, Hendershott argued, a culture war going on in Catholic higher education. This conflict is a reflection of the greater culture war between those who assert that there are no truths, and those who believe that the truths have been revealed and require constant reading and application.

Hendershott went on to describe cases in various Catholic institutions that, during the last few decades, have opted for deliberately walking away from a strict Catholic identity to a more secular position. In many institutions, Catholic ideals and teachings were seen as an unwanted interference in the academic work of the faculty, and Catholic intellectual traditions were not to be given any privilege.

In practice, Hendershott noted, this meant that attempts to teach Catholic doctrine soon came to be seen as inappropriate or intolerant. Thus, the pluralism espoused by many faculty members did not mean a genuine dialogue between Catholic teachings and other ideas, but rather, only respect for those Catholic principles that the faculty already agreed with.

This change at the faculty level has been accompanied by a laicization of the leadership of Catholic colleges, Hendershott added. Many of the institutions transferred their charters and property holdings to independent boards of trustees, composed of a majority of lay people, and in so doing obtained legally guaranteed independence from Church authority.

In part, Hendershott admitted, some of this trend to a secularization of the institutions was due to legal issues related to the matter of being eligible for government funding. As a result the Catholic colleges proclaimed their religious identity to the parents of prospective students and to alumni, but renounced in the public sphere their Catholic identity.


Hendershott even cited some examples of where some universities published different descriptions of themselves depending on the targeted audience. Several of them published one mission statement on their Web site, and a different one in the self-description for secular surveys.

Hendershott also commented that, even to the extent that Catholic colleges do proclaim their Catholic identity to prospective students, they do so in a selective manner. She found that in a review of more than 200 mission and values statements of Catholic institutions, a substantial number downplayed their ties to Catholicism.

Some, for example, simply chose those parts of the Catholic identity that they feel more comfortable with. This is combined with statements affirming the diversity and plurality of the Church.

Often reference is made to a sort of vaguely defined "Catholic heritage" or tradition rather than to any active Catholic identity. In so doing the aspect of having a Catholic tradition is often placed just as one among many other factors that are described as possible drawing cards for students.

Hendershott also observed that many of the Catholic colleges have gradually revised their values and goals statements so as to downplay any Catholic identity. So, while they may acknowledge some sort of foundation as a Catholic institution, at the same time they take pains to stipulate that they are autonomous and are committed to a respect for all cultures.

She also cited a recent national survey of 124 senior administrators from 33 Catholic colleges and universities. Many of them were ambivalent as to whether the Catholic culture, or the culture of the religious institution that runs the college, should be predominant.

The survey itself commented that by focusing on the sponsoring religious order the university runs the danger of ignoring the Catholic Church itself.

There are, however, notable exceptions, and Hendershott referred to a number of Catholic colleges that proudly proclaim their Catholic identity and adherence to Church teaching.

Starting afresh

This acknowledgment of positive trends is a feature of the concluding part of Hendershott's book. So, while many of the chapters do chronicle a dismaying denial of Catholic identity in higher education, there are positive elements as well.

In recent decades a number of new colleges have been founded, and some existing ones have come back to a stronger adherence to the Church. Moreover, some of the strongly Catholic institutions have also obtained high rankings in secular surveys in terms of their educational excellence.

While this new wave of firmly Catholic colleges does teach Church doctrine without apologies, they also present to students contrasting ideas, and encourage them to enter into debate with contemporary culture and ideas.

In addition to a number of flourishing colleges that maintain a strong adhesion to the Catholic Church, there are also growing numbers of students in many of the other institutions that take their faith seriously.

Hendershott described a number of cases where this pressure from the students has led universities to take steps to proclaim a greater Catholic identity and even to include a wider variety of outside speakers on topics, instead of merely inviting dissenters from Church teaching.

A number of bishops are also taking more interest in what their Catholic universities are teaching and are insisting more on the need to be faithful to the Church.

Hendershott concludes by adding that the secularization of many Catholic colleges, while in part due to outside pressures and the cultural context, was also the result of people who knew exactly what they were doing.

It is possible to counteract this slide to secularization, Hendershott said, but it will require decision makers to embrace the richness of the Catholic tradition and to fight to preserve Catholic culture. A commitment whose importance is highlighted by the current controversy.

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