Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Deconstructing Notre Dame Spokesman's Comments on the Obama speech and honorary doctorate

These seem strange to me. First, from the South Bend Tribune:
"Bishop D'Arcy is a longtime friend and supporter of Notre Dame. We spoke to him in advance of the announcement on the president coming here. We're sorry that he won't be able to attend," Notre Dame spokesman Dennis Brown said.

Actually, Bishop D'Arcy is the shepherd assigned to the Catholic diocese in which Notre Dame resides. He is not merely a "longtime friend and supporter of Notre Dame." Now that's an appropriate title to bestow on members of the DeBartolo family, who have generously donated millions of dollars to the university. But when Notre Dame employs such language to describe the bishop in whose diocese it resides, it diminishes the bishop's stature in relation to the university and its community. Notice also the careful language on Mr. Brown's part: "we spoke to him in advance of the announcement...." Mr. Brown did not say, "We spoke to him before the invitation was issued in order ask for his blessing." Mr. Brown did not say that because that is not what happened. To put it bluntly, Notre Dame chose not to treat its bishop like a bishop. It chose to treat him like a "longtime friend and supporter of Notre Dame," the sort of character that has no real authority or influence over the direction of the institution including the health and well-being of its theological and philosophical infrastructure. Somebody in PR is apparently confusing Bishop D'Arcy with McDonald's Hamburger heiress Joan Kroc, who Notre Dame also describes as a "longtime friend and supporter of Notre Dame."

Second, another quote from Mr. Brown:
Asked about the volume of complaints to the university, Brown said it was "nothing beyond what we anticipated."

It would have been much better for Mr. Brown to have admitted that the university was surprised at the controversy. For it seems almost cruel for Notre Dame to now admit that it anticipated the outcry. First, by admitting this, it is confessing that it intentionally invited a graduation commencement speaker that the university knew (according to Mr. Brown) would result in disturbing the consciences of many graduates, their families, and alumni who are now unsure about whether they should attend the ceremony. (See, for example, Stephen Barr''s First Things essay) Second, by admitting this, combined with its decision to not consult its bishop prior to inviting President Obama, it means that Notre Dame likely knew that its invitation would require that its bishop not attend the ceremony in his final year in office. Thus, the university intentionally put Bishop D'Arcy in a position where he would have to recuse himself from a ceremony in which he would receive the sort of farewell and congratulations that a man of his accomplishments should receive at the commencement exercises of America's premier Catholic university that resides in his diocese.


Fr. Stephen M. Koeth, C.S.C. said...

You have precisely and accurately assessed how Notre Dame's administration views its relationship with the local ordinary. The root of this controversy is that thanks to the Land O Lakes statement, Notre Dame's administration sees itself as a magisterium unto itself. I pray that in your lecture at Notre Dame you will forcefully invite the University to make its own, much needed, 'return to Rome.' May God bless you!

Rick O. said...

I am a Notre Dame graduate with a daughter in the Class of 2009.

Stunned by his bland assertion of the reaction being "anticipated" I managed to speak to him.

Yes, even Bishop D'Arcy's decision was part of the plan.

Contact me for more.

Howard said...

Someone should be hosting an alternate "graduation ceremony" for students (and the bishop) who cannot and in good conscience attend the "official" ceremony.