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D’Arcy revisits Obama controversy

Aaron Steiner | Thursday, August 27, 2009

The discussion continues.

Notre Dame was thrust into a national spotlight last May when President Barack Obama delivered the Commencement address on campus, with many Catholics protesting the invitation and the decision to award Obama an honorary degree.

Local Bishop John D’Arcy, whose diocese includes the University, is again speaking out about the controversy, this time in an article appearing in the Aug. 31 edition of America Magazine, a Jesuit publication.

In the piece, which was published earlier this week on americamagazine.org, D’Arcy questions the future of Catholic universities and notes “the seriousness of the present moment.”

D’Arcy released three statements last spring in response the controversy, condemning the University’s decision, but also later condemning “unseemly” protests.

D’Arcy addresses the role of Catholic universities within the church and the responsibilities of such institutions in the article.

In questioning the relationship between institutions like Notre Dame and the church, he again noted his role as a “teacher” for universities in his diocese.

D’Arcy wrote that he was not consulted before the decision to award Obama an honorary degree was made. He also said he was not consulted in 2006 when University President Fr. John Jenkins decided to allow on-campus performances of the controversial play “The Vagina Monologues” in an academic setting.

“Although he spoke eloquently about the importance of dialogue with the president of the United States, the president of Notre Dame chose not to dialogue with his bishop on these two matters, both pastoral and both with serious ramifications for the care of souls, which is the core responsibility of the local bishop,” D’Arcy wrote.

“The diocesan bishop must ask whether a Catholic institution compromises its obligation to give public witness by placing prestige over truth,” he said.

D’Arcy raised a final, “fundamental” question in the piece about his concerns over the future of Catholic universities.

“Where will the great Catholic universities search for a guiding light in the years ahead? Will it be the Land O’Lakes Statement or Ex Corde Ecclesiae?” he wrote, placing the two documents related to roles of Catholic universities in contrast to one another.

The Land O’Lakes Statement was authored in 1967 by Catholic educators, led by then-University President Fr. Theodore Hesburgh. The document addressed issues of academic freedom and the role of the Church in leading these institutions, asserting that they “must have a true autonomy and academic freedom” from lay or clerical authority.

Ex Corde Ecclesiae is an apostolic constitution written by Pope John Paul II in 1990 and was seen by some observers as a repudiation of the Land O’Lakes Statement. Though interpretations vary widely, some view the document as decreasing institutional autonomy for the sake of increased church authority.

On this question – and others regarding the role of the local bishop and the responsibility of universities to bear witness to the faith – “rests the future of Catholic higher education in this country and so much else,” D’Arcy wrote.

D’Arcy also chided the University Board of Trustees for their silence on the Obama visit controversy, saying that when the board met one month prior to Commencement “they said nothing.”

“I believe that the board … must take up its responsibility afresh, with appropriate study and prayer,” he wrote. “They must also understand the seriousness of the present moment.”