The Archbishop and "the troubles"

Dateline: Wed 15 Apr 2009

A friend who visited a prison in the Terre Haute area yesterday had the great good fortune to meet up with Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger, spiritual head of the diocese of Evansville and formerly a right-hand man to Archbishops in this arch diocese of Indianapolis.

My friend, a liberal liberal and a non-believer, said she was surprised by Gettelfinger's answer to her question: "What do you think of Obama coming to Notre Dame?"

Not a big deal, he reportedly told her (remember, there was no press there). His main point: the stellar Catholic university, the head and heart of thinking Catholics in the U.S., has a history of inviting presidents of both parties to its august halls. Republicans, Dems: it's a tradition for Notre Dame to seek them out. (Former Prez George W spoke there, and while Bill Clinton was never asked, Chelsea was on campus last fall to promote her mother Hillary's candidacy).

I have no reason to believe that my friend misstated Gettelfinger's position; the bishop also made it clear to her that he would refuse to attend a pro-life event featuring pro-choice Republican leader Michael Steele. That's been widely reported on; his objection to Steele is that Steele stated in an interview with GQ magazine that he is pro-choice.

Which brings us up to date -- Dan Carpenter, a Catholic, has a fine column in this morning's Star taking to task our Archbishop Daniel Buechlein for his denunciation of Notre Dame ("appalled, angry, embarrassed..."). Dan said, in characteristic understatement, that he shares those emotions...but they are more directed towards our Archbishop for his fiery rhetoric.

At the risk of coming down as yet another wishy-washy Catholic, I will now get my pro-life card punched. I am adamantly behind the church when it comes to protecting unborn life. I was conceived in 1947; my father, an agnostic, tried to find a doctor to perform an abortion on my 42-year-old mother, a fallen-away Lutheran. After the dose of sulfa she took failed to produce an abortion, they went together to a physician. My father reportedly insisted that his wife, at the age of 42, be allowed to have an operation. The doctor supposedly laughed gently and explained, "Your wife if perfectly healthy. Besides, I am a Catholic, and I don't do abortions."

Or words to that effect.

Anyhow, that true story is one reason I converted to Catholicism when pregnant with my first child in 1974.

After my son's birth, in Evansville, I became active in the pro-life movement in Vanderburgh County -- the very one sponsoring Steele's visit, that Bishop Gettelfinger will not attend. I met some very fine, dedicated, principled people.

But I also watched as the right-to-lifers unraveled over time, and began to get radical. Make no mistake: there are still millions of sincere, decent people within its ranks. But they seemingly want still to overturn Roe v. Wade, passed in 1973. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts (a devout Catholic) himself noted when he was being quizzed about his views, before his confirmation, that he would obey the nation's laws, including Roe v. Wade.

So back to Obama. Is it practically a sin, as some have suggested, to invite the man to Notre Dame? Is it appalling, embarrassing? Or is this abortion/pro-life argument simply the issue d'jour for some Catholics --- and as much about politics as anything else?

After all, as Dan points out, President Bush spoke at Notre Dame, and he is noted for the number of Death Row inmates executed when he was governor of Texas. Pro-life is pro-life. Or as the church says, it should be a "seamless garment." Where was the indignation for those lives lost? Where was our Archbishop when Bush came calling? Or for that matter, where was the indignation about the war in Iraq -- opposed by the Pope?

I can't add much to what Carpenter said, but since this is not a secular newspaper, I freely recall my New Testament -- Jesus had plenty of contacts with people who were different from him and regarded as "unacceptable" -- tax collectors, whores, mentally ill, the rag-tag. One has to ask: how would he have treated a pro-choice Dem? He seems to have saved his shunning for hypocrites, for the proud and arrogant and stiff-necked who considered themselves better than anyone.

Finally: Years ago when I covered the religion beat at the Star, I did a piece on a group of evangelical Christians, all young men and women and families, living in urban Indianapolis. They had chosen, they explained, to send their offspring to public schools -- at the time, a radical idea for such groups, who typically chose home-schooling.

I asked the spokesperson why.

"We are told to be the salt of the world," she explained. Hence, they chose to be in the world, just as Notre Dame has chosen to hear Obama speak.


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