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In defense of Obama’s critics

Letter to the Editor | Monday, April 27, 2009

I must take issue with Levi Checketts’ April 24 letter (“Liberal Catholicism”) for several reasons. First, to pit Catholic “leftists” like Day and Merton against “conservatives” like Ratzinger (who by the way was a major contributor at Vatican II) is a gross simplification, not at all helpful for debate. Second, to refer to some Church councils as conservative and others as liberal, as if they could be reduced to mere politics, is glib at best. Third, it is very hard to make the case that libertarianism, socialism and anarchism are consistent with Catholic social teaching. Libertarianism does not emphasize solidarity or the common good. Socialism, in its more pure forms at least, does not respect property rights or subsidiarity. How does the anarchist deal with this quotation from the catechism: “It is the role of the state to defend and promote the common good of civil society?”

Lastly, and most extraordinarily, Checketts seems to imply that Mother Theresa and Pope John Paul II were liberal figures in the Church, and then, through a sort of twisted logic, he argues that, therefore, the decision to invite President Obama to Notre Dame is quite defensible as a legitimate Catholic “leftist stance.” I wonder how John Paul II and Mother Theresa (or Dorothy Day for that matter) would feel about being invoked to defend the decision to honor the most fervent abortion-rights advocate ever to occupy the White House. No greater 20th century opponents of legalized abortion can be found. I think that by the mere mention of these names Mr. Checketts has defeated his own argument.

I do not think the criticisms of Fr. Jenkins should be tossed aside as conservative criticisms of leftism. I think defenders of human life, whatever their political orientations may be, are right to be troubled by this invitation. Notre Dame is a pro-life institution. Does giving President Obama the Notre Dame seal of approval aid him in inappropriate ways? Does it compromise our witness for the dignity of human life? Good could potentially come from this invitation, including an increase in fruitful dialogue about how to serve the common good and build a culture of life. But assertions that are historically inaccurate do not help us in our conversations about these vital topics.

Gregory Barr


Knott Hall

April 27