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Slamming the doors

Letter to the Editor | Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Two men went up to the temple to pray, offers the story of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18:10). The former rushes to the front of the church, boasting of his tithing and good works; the Publican remains in the back of the chamber confessing his unworthiness even to raise his eyes to the Lord.

The protestors who have rocked the Notre Dame campus are a regrettable second-coming of the Biblical Pharisees, declaring their goodness, proudly dismissing all other views. Their posters are printed, their feet are planted and they know what Jesus would do. They also know they have the support of the majority of Notre Dame Alumni, who likewise believe, absolutely, that the son of Notre Dame would slam our campus door on the President of the United States, preventing him from delivering this year’s commencement address at my Alma Mater.

I fear they may succeed.

If Father Jenkins, occupying a Main Building besieged by jammed phone lines, thousands of e-mails and the sound of bull horns surrenders to this noise – or in the more likely event that President Obama decides enough controversy is enough – the holy war will end and Notre Dame will be left to stand alone in the debris of paper cups and grotesque flyers, blowing across a beautiful campus that has always been a place of inclusion, dialogue and, sometimes, reconciliation.

We are headed for a painful moment destined to stain Notre Dame’s shining reputation, its values expressed by the image atop our Golden Dome, a symbol recognized around the world for the breadth and depth of the unconditional love of the Virgin, who rises above the tallest trees in northern Indiana, and bears a posture at odds with today’s protesters: her arms are open. Our Lady’s welcome has always been extended to all who have ever come to the home of the fighting Irish faithful. It is the profile of a loving Mother who, by the way, knows something about slammed doors.

It is a sad irony that as the Obama drama becomes larger and larger, the Catholic Church is shrinking. The chorus of the devoted has diminished, more Catholic schools and parishes are closing, fewer men and women are joining religious orders, and less than 25 percent of us regularly attend Sunday Mass.

The Roman Church has been a giant presence in the twentieth century of American culture, central to the lives of millions whose family members sought refuge there; a place where boys first flirted with girls and shyly learned to dance. Now in their senior years, millions of these teens of long ago stand in tears as the double-doors through which their family members have passed for generations, to be baptized, married and buried, are swinging shut.

As this alarming decline of Holy Mother Church continues with ever greater momentum, Catholic bishops are publicly announcing the names of notables forbidden Holy Communion.

The list includes our pro-choice Catholic vice president and Speaker of the House. If Obama’s Notre Dame visit is canceled, the Bishops will have pulled off a trifecta, stiff-arming the three most powerful figures in the our nation. (Meanwhile pro-choice Catholics Joseph Biden and Nancy Pelosi are just two of the names already on the roster of mortal sinners, a document that adds to another list of damned lesser lights who, like me, are divorced, remarried and, therefore, denied the Eucharist.)

Somewhere within this sad story we may find the answer to why so many faithful are becoming less faithful with each passing year. As my fellow alumni join the righteous Randall Terry in a rush to the front of Sacred Heart Church to boast of their good works, their congratulatory high-fives may obscure another drama unfolding at the back of churches everywhere: the scene of young Catholics rushing past the Publican and out the double-doors, forever.

Phillip J. Donahue


class of 1957

April 12