Three months after the Japanese surrender on the Battleship Missouri -- in the midst of an unprecedented postwar transition -- President Harry Truman proposed the first national health insurance program for the United States. Six decades later, it all sounds familiar.
The University of Notre Dame’s decision to award President Obama an honorary degree pried open much-needed space in the American public square for a more robust view of Catholic reason.
Looking to Obama’s July 10 meeting with Pope Benedict at the Vatican, the key question is: “Will the pope keep open this new space or will he shut it down, returning the church to its dominant closed ecclesial reason of the last decades?
By “reason” I refer to the processes by which we arrive at what is true. At issue are two processes by which we arrive through reason at truth. The dispute at Notre Dame witnessed a very public clash of these two differing Catholic conceptions of reason and for the first time in many years in the United States, the recently reigning view of reason within the Catholic hierarchy fared badly in a big public battle.
Editor's note: President Obama nominated Douglas Kmiec July 2 to be ambassador to the Republic of Malta. Nominations for ambassador have to be confirmed by the Senate.
When one is nominated for a public post, it is customary to say very little. However, it would be ungrateful not to reflect how great an honor it is to be nominated by President Obama to the embassy in Malta on the eve of the President’s visit with the Holy Father.
As mentioned in an earlier essay, it is highly anticipated that the Holy Father’s encyclical letter -- due out shortly before the President’s arrival -- will give emphasis to how the economic and social times in which we live are, like all things in Christ, at once extraordinary and paradoxical.
Pope Benedict XVI has “taken extraordinary leadership” on a host of issues that could form the basis for additional U.S.-Vatican cooperation, President Obama told religion writers at the White House earlier today. Obama and the pope are scheduled to meet for the first time at the Vatican July 10, following the president’s participation in the three-day meeting of the Group of Eight industrialized countries.
The areas of additional cooperation between the Holy See and the United States could include, said the president, Middle East peace, worldwide poverty and climate change.
On one level, said Obama, the papal-presidential meeting represents typical diplomatic exchanges that take place “with any other government.” But, he continued, “this is more than just that.” Said Obama: “The Catholic church has such a profound influence worldwide and in our country. The Holy Father is a thought leader and an opinion leader on so many wide-ranging issues and his religious influence is one that extends beyond the Catholic.”
Well, we're in trouble now. U.S. bishops, not all of them but clearly a vocal few, have brought the church to the point of serious confusion. By denouncing Notre Dame for inviting President Obama to give the university's 2009 commencement address and, in the course of that ceremony, to receive the honorary degree awarded to eight U.S. presidents before him, the bishops are surely in an awkward position. To say the least.
The problem is that on July 10, Pope Benedict XVI will receive President Obama at the Vatican itself. That kind of reception is, of course, no small honor for anyone and surely a symbol of dialogue and listening at the highest level of Vatican diplomacy.
So will those same bishops denounce the Vatican, too, as they did Notre Dame? And if not, what is that saying?
Archbishop Gregory Aymond, who will formally be installed as the new shepherd of New Orleans on August 20, has long been considered a rising star within the U.S. bishops’ conference, and a leader of what might loosely be called its “moderate” wing. A native of New Orleans, Aymond taught and served as rector of the archdiocese’s Notre Dame Seminary, and was made an auxiliary bishop in 1996. He took over as bishop of Austin, Texas, in January 2001, after a six-month stint as coadjutor.
During Aymond’s tenure in Austin the diocese grew dramatically, including a bumper crop of 45 seminarians this year, triple the number when he arrived. Aymond also pioneered an innovative program in lay ministry and oversaw the creation of a Catholic high school targeting disadvantaged students. Aymond also played a key leadership role on the national stage during the sexual abuse crisis, serving as chair of the bishops’ Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People.
Two weeks after President Barack Obama's groundbreaking speech in Cairo, several Christian leaders gave the president positive marks and expressed hope that it would open a new chapter of dialogue.
"I think it had a very positive effect. It opened new horizons for cooperation between Christians and Muslims, between political authorities, between East and West," said Father Rif'at Bader, who serves as a spokesman for the Catholic Church in Jordan.
"Bridges are being built between civilizations and between religions, and as Christians we pray that everything the politicians are saying will be realized very quickly," he told Catholic News Service June 22.
Father Bader spoke in Venice, where he and other church figures from the Middle East attended a conference on tradition in Christianity and Islam. Like others, he said Arab populations are now looking for Obama's words to be translated into action.
"Credibility will follow that -- realizing what he said in actions on the ground," he said.
Is there room in the Obama governing coalition for pro-life Democrats? The president personally provided the answer to that question, a resounding yes, in his speech at the University of Notre Dame last month. Others are not so sure.
The issue arises most recently with the recent appointment of Alexia Kelley as director of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the Department of Health and Human Services.
WASHINGTON -- Catholics are visibly more active in the Obama administration than in any other Democratic administration in recent memory. Few might have guessed this only a few months back.
“The administration knows that one of the reasons that they’re here is because key chunks of Catholics -- switchable Catholics -- moved from the Republican column to the Democratic column in this last election,” said Stephen Schneck, director of The Catholic University of America’s Life Cycle Institute and former chairman of the university’s politics department.
As Catholic bishops gather in San Antonio this week, they face some tough questions. Their most recent engagements with politics sharpened divisions within the church and left the bishops shaken, even embarrassed.
Many church leaders harshly criticized the University of Notre Dame, long beloved by Catholics, because its administration invited President Obama to give the commencement. The local bishop decided to boycott the event, and one of the country’s most respected lay leaders, Mary Ann Glendon, turned down an honor that she had earlier accepted. Highly publicized attacks on Notre Dame and on the president of the United States took place as the most radical anti-abortion groups harassed university officials and students.
But Notre Dame’s graduates and their families enthusiastically welcomed President Obama, listened attentively to his persuasive address, and cheered an eloquent introduction by Notre Dame President John Jenkins, C.S.C. Notre Dame emerged strengthened by the controversy while the bishops seemed isolated and at odds with a significant portion of their Catholic flock.