As I write this, commencement is under way, and who knows what the fallout will be. I was thinking about this last night, however, because of a discussion by some friends on the arrests taking place. The debate was who was wronger; ND for arresting priests peacefully protesting on their property, or protesters protesting on ND property. I thought I would share my thoughts.
The protesters are engaging in acts of civil disobedience. Is civil disobedience justified? I think it is when we are being forced by an unjust law. Rosa Parks refusing to move was an act of civil disobedience. Does it apply in the ND protest case? I don't think so. The protesters were not forbidden to protest, they were just asked to stay off ND property.
One might argue that they were justified in using their civil disobedience in order to publicize their plight. I ask "publicize to whom?" Catholics and ND aficionados are all ready well acquainted with the situation. The media who are covering the arrests are making the protesters look like fools,a nd broadcasting to a public which is at best ambivalent about the situation.
That's not to say I am against the protesters, I just feel they are not handling themselves optimally. The same can be said of Fr. Jenkins. His "last letter" in the subject emphasized that this honorary degree is a formality and is not meant to endorse Obama or his policies. If this letter were his "first" letter on the subject instead of his last, perhaps a lot of this could have been avoided. However, Fr. Jenkins has already squandered all his credibility in previous volleys.
First there was the claim that this wasn't really a commencement speech, but an invitation to a "dialogue". When that became abundantly discredited the claim was that it was OK because Obama was not Catholic. There was his refusal to have a "dialogue" with his own students, in contrast with his desire to have one with the president.
Even in the face of almost 70 bishops, Fr. Jenkins insisted that his interpretation of the rules was correct. He even turned to out of context scriptural quotes to support his views against those of his superiors. Then there's the text of the honorary degree presentation itself.
"At the 164th Commencement The May Exercises The University of Notre Dame Confers the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, on the 44th president of the United States, whose historic election opened a new era of hope in a country long divided by its history of slavery and racism. A community organizer who honed his advocacy for the poor, the marginalized and the worker in the streets of Chicago, he now organizes a larger community, bringing to the world stage a renewed American dedication to diplomacy and dialogue with all nations and religions committed to human rights and the global common good. Through his willingness to engage with those who disagree with him and encourage people of faith to bring their beliefs to the public debate, he is inspiring this nation to heal its divisions of religion, culture, race and politics in the audacious hope for a brighter tomorrow."This is sad. If I could turn back time and whisper in Fr. Jenkins' ear, I would have asked him to use that final letter as his first letter instead of going through the motions of lie after lie, to speak with students instead of turning them away, to ensure that the text of the degree did not appear to honor the president for things which are abhorrent to the Catholic view and to make this something less divisive.
Of course, in a better world we would have had the entire theology department, faculty, and many students demand that the invitation be rescinded, just as happened to Pope Benedict XVI at La Sapienza University (see my previous blog), but we don't live in that world.
Then again, perhaps Fr. Jenkins had no choice and was just a puppet of the board of directors?