Last night Australian time, President Obama was invested with an honorary law degree at the University of Notre Dame.
The event has caused a huge ruckus in the US - over 70 bishops came out and condemned Notre Dame, anominally catholic university, for honouring an anti-life President. The former US Ambassador to the Vatican refused a medal from Notre Dame recognising her work. Many protesters - including, scandalously a priest apparently doing nothing more than singing and praying the rosary - have been arrested on campus.
The protests are certainly a positive sign - an indication that the Church is waking up to the damage done in the last few decades, and recognising just how serious a threat the Obama administration is.
I have to admit though, that I find it hard to get worked up about this particular piece of scandalous behaviour of Notre Dame and its President, Fr Jenkins. Because frankly, one visit by a President opposed to catholic moral principles isn't the real problem.
I understand perfectly well why Fr Jenkins didn't see any issue in inviting President Obama to an event like this - indeed, several other US Universities have done likewise, even, in one case, going so far as to cover up all Christian symbols that might unfortunately get in the angle of the media's cameras (though admittedly not quite going so far as to confer an honorary degree on the man).
The real issue in my view is that quite a few of Notre Dame's professors are actually teaching students views perfectly in line with those of President Obama (this is after all, the home university of the infamous Fr O'Brien amongst many others). And that does far more damage than one visit, however, symbolic. In case you aren't convinced, take a look at this timeline of dissent by Notre Dame.
So I find it hard to get outraged because the reality is that this latest scandal is the result of a failure on the part of the bishops to exercise proper control over catholic universities - either in the US or in Australia - and ensure that what is taught is orthodox, and that the persons teaching in Catholic institutions are not dissenters. Canon law gives them plenty of powers to act. When those powers start getting used, then these kind of scandals will cease.
The Pope on Universities
A year ago, during his visit to the US, the Pope gave an important talk to US educators, calling on catholic universities to be, well, catholic. Amongst other key messages he said:
"In regard to faculty members at Catholic colleges universities, I wish to reaffirm the great value of academic freedom. In virtue of this freedom you are called to search for the truth wherever careful analysis of evidence leads you. Yet it is also the case that any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the Church would obstruct or even betray the university's identity and mission; a mission at the heart of the Church’s munus docendi and not somehow autonomous or independent of it.
Teachers and administrators, whether in universities or schools, have the duty and privilege to ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice. This requires that public witness to the way of Christ, as found in the Gospel and upheld by the Church's Magisterium, shapes all aspects of an institution’s life, both inside and outside the classroom. Divergence from this vision weakens Catholic identity and, far from advancing freedom, inevitably leads to confusion, whether moral, intellectual or spiritual."
The universities themselves are clearly mostly too far gone to hear this. Certainly Australia's own school for heresy claiming the name catholic continues to go full ahead on its ever more liberal path. But at least those outside them are starting to wake up. Let's hope the protests around this event lead to some real action.