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Build bridges, not walls

| Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” was the subject of widespread controversy weeks before it was even published in May 2015. In the time leading up to its release, presidential candidates, political pundits and even University President Fr. John Jenkins made statements on the matter.

The key difference between Jenkins’ commentary and that of various political figures, however, was what members of the Catholic Church and all citizens of the world should take away from the pope’s letter. Prominent Catholic politicians such as Jeb Bush and Rick Santorum stated their disagreement with Francis and refused to integrate his thoughts on care for creation into their political decisions. The pope was heavily criticized by many for going too deep into the political realm with his encyclical.

In an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune, Jenkins asserted that this line of thinking was erroneous. Francis, he wrote, was “not out to declare a side but to challenge the consciences of all of us.” If people from either political party were seeking for the pope to affirm or oppose their policies, they were missing the point of the encyclical. Jenkins ended his op-ed by stating, “The immediate question may not be whether or not we agree with the letter. It may be what kind of people we have to become to hear what the pope is trying to tell us.”

The University’s decision to jointly award Vice President Joe Biden and former Speaker of the House John Boehner with the Laetare Medal is a challenge to our Notre Dame community to rise above the very same partisan bickering and hostile discourse that accompanied the publication of “Laudato Si’.”

The statement released by the University shared that by choosing to award both men the medal, Notre Dame did not endorse the policy positions of either. Instead, it is meant to celebrate “two lives dedicated to keeping our democratic institutions working for the common good.”

Recently, some have remarked that Biden is unfit to receive the Laetare Medal because he has a record of supporting pro-choice legislation. They argue that this is contrary to Church teaching on the dignity of human life and an award considered to be the highest honor for an American Catholic ought to be reserved for someone who has performed “real service to the Church in this country.”

For those of us who view Biden in a favorable light, it is tempting to turn the same critical eye to Boehner’s policies and scrutinize the ways his actions while in public office may have been contradictory to Church teaching. Doing so, however, would mean we too have missed the point of what Jenkins and the University are trying to communicate to us.

Striving to be loyal to a political party, ideology or constituency are worthy goals. Be that as it may, there comes a time when one must rise above partisan political conflict and pursue the common good. Just as Biden and Boehner sought to do in their careers, we have also been challenged to do so in our own lives. It does no good to argue about the ways in which Biden and Boehner have or have not incorporated Church teaching into their policy. Exchanging harsh words or calling one another “murderers” or “hypocrites” does nothing but harm our Notre Dame community and the discussions we have on critical issues facing our world today.

Francis gave a homily in 2014, where he discussed the need for people to “build bridges of dialogue, not walls of resentment.” Allowing the discussion on awarding the Laetare Medal to Biden and Boehner to turn into a blame-filled political circus only supports the construction of such walls. By honoring both men with this award, Notre Dame has presented us with the opportunity to foster constructive dialogue on how we can all learn to rise above differences amongst one another to work for the common good and better live out the principles of our faith.

So let the first among us who is without sin or flaws, who is a perfect Catholic, be the first to throw a metaphorical stone and criticize the religious devotion of others. Until then, the rest of us will be busy building bridges, not walls.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • John Robin

    The Laetare Medal is supposed to be granted in recognition of “outstanding service to the Catholic Church and society.” Yet what has happened here?

    Notre Dame University, a Catholic institution, has officially bestowed the award on Vice President Joe Biden, a public figure who despite his accomplishments, years of government service, and professed Catholic faith, openly promotes the grave evil of elective abortion. The cognitive dissonance of a Catholic defending elective abortion is jarring. The cognitive dissonance in such a person receiving the Laetare Medal is beyond the pale.

    In announcing the award, Fr. John Jenkins observed, “Public confidence in government is at historic lows, and cynicism is high.” Likewise, confidence is low and cynicism is very high toward many Catholic institutions. Why? In part because the administrators of some of these institutions seem to be unclear about their Catholic identity and core beliefs, or about how to engage the culture. They too often appear to be not a leaven in the culture so much as flotsam carried far from its source by the secular current.

    Elizabeth Hascher’s letter seems to imply that those who might observe such things are engaging in “partisan bickering and hostile discourse”. Yet I do not accept that to openly dissent implies either hostility or rancor.

    Frankly, I don’t care what political party Joe Biden belongs to. I care that he, a professed Catholic, promotes the aberrant idea that it’s acceptable for mothers to kill their unborn children. And I care that Notre Dame University should be complacent enough toward that position to consider the vice president a suitable candidate for the Laetare Medal.

    • RandallPoopenmeyer

      Don’t forget John Boehner promoted the grave evil of execution.
      We have the means to safely house people for life.

      • John Robin

        Randall, we already covered that in this thread. Capital punishment is not an intrinsic evil, because it can be justified under certain circumstances. If you want to argue those circumstances don’t exist in this country, you’re free to make that argument. Honest people can debate that point, and my mind is open to persuasion on how that principle applies in our country.

        But deliberate abortion, in which a person seeks to kill an unborn child, is not justified under any circumstance. It kills an innocent child and deeply wounds the mother.

        • RandallPoopenmeyer

          So all of those wrongly convicted people who were executed don’t get any justice? Were the ones who had a role in executing the innocent person just as guilty as the person who has an abortion?
          The death penalty is wrong according to the bible. You and I can read the same thing and come up with different interpretations of it.