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Don’t distort the debate

Letter to the Editor | Monday, April 6, 2009

Gary Caruso’s recent editorial (“Countering the Cardinal Newman Society,” April 3) adds nothing to the debate over honoring President Obama at commencement. Caruso misconstrues both history and present controversy. For example, he defines indulgences as “free passes to heaven” – a definition never sanctioned by the Catholic Church. He also refers to “our first martyrs” as “tolerant.” It is historically irresponsible to attribute modern or postmodern ideas of “inclusion and tolerance” to the early Christian martyrs. The writings of one such martyr, Paul, will suffice to reveal the intolerant, exclusionary practices of apostolic Christians (1 Cor. 5:1-5; 1 Tim. 1:20; Gal 1:8-9).

More importantly, the editorial is off point. Its argument seems to run thus: the Cardinal Newman Society (CNS) is causing unrest; many medieval and Renaissance popes lived scandalous lives; we do not elect officials “to strenuously follow personal religious beliefs while in office.” Implied conclusion: nobody should object to Notre Dame’s plan to honor President Obama. First, Caruso ignores the bishops and student groups who oppose the plan and have no affiliation with the Cardinal Newman Society. He could argue that those bishops’ and students’ opposition does not matter, but he sidesteps the issue by treating the CNS as his only intellectual opponent.

Second, nobody has proposed giving an honorary degree to any medieval pope. Furthermore, the Catholic Church has never claimed that the papal office implies sinlessness. The failure of some popes to live by Catholic moral teachings implies nothing about the validity of those teachings.

Third, who has asked that President Obama “strenuously follow personal religious beliefs” or “follow a single religion’s agenda?” Those who see President Obama as unsuitable for special honor by a Catholic institution argue not from his “personal religious beliefs” or from moral failings akin to those of bad popes, but from his concrete public policies. He promotes – in the public square and with public funds – activities contrary to fundamental Catholic moral teachings.

Whatever the soundness of Catholic moral teachings or of the plan to honor President Obama at commencement, let not the terms of the debate be skewed by misleading irrelevancies.

C. John Lane

grad student

off campus

April 5