The following column was published in The Observer on Tuesday, April 29, 2013.
I came to Notre Dame three months after President Obama’s commencement address. Amidst controversy and condemnation by more than 80 bishops, Notre Dame sought to forge a path of dialogue and discourse, ignoring episcopal warnings and insisting President Obama would be a listening companion and ally to the Church. In his speech, he said, “Let us work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions. Let’s reduce unintendedpregnancies.” We applauded. “Let’s make adoption more available.” We applauded. “Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion and draft a sensible-conscience clause.” We applauded.
One might note the irony when legislative changes resulted in the unprecedented closure of Catholic adoption agencies across the country; when the president’s administration changed grant rules to deny Catholic programs, ranked second nationally, funding for sex-trafficking victims; when the University of Notre Dame sued this same president’s administration over its right to function as a religious institution three years later. “Virtuous discourse,” it turns out, often only works in the minds of academics and their followers. “Dialogue” only goes so far as people are willing to actually listen. Lawsuits and closures occur when dialogue has failed.
When President Obama’s HHS secretary told NARAL Pro-Choice America, “We are in a war,” she spoke about Catholicism and about Notre Dame. As an institution that counters many contemporary cultural practices, Notre Dame and its policies are seen as contrary to equality, liberty and tolerance. For many Americans, Notre Dame must bow to the standards of secular sexuality or give up its right to exist.
I was at a meeting in which one professor told attendees, “I have many friends here [at Notre Dame], but I also have many enemies. … If they could get police to come to my door and hold a gun to my head until I paid for their birth control, they would. These are your enemies.” They are here. Those who would undermine the work of Catholics and their beliefs lie in wait for the opportunity to act openly, fortified by federal mandates.
The only prejudices that are praised are those of the postmodern world. Postmodern society will seek to destroy those whose prejudices differ from its own. Catholics would be rash to say we are undergoing mass violent persecution in America, but we would be fools to ignore the seeds of such persecution. Already, Catholic institutions across the country have been compelled by law to either give up their beliefs or undergo penalties by our government.
In a homily in April 2012, Bishop Daniel Jenky aroused controversy by stating, “Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services and health care.” Some say he has demonized some politicians. I believe he has reminded us of the humanity of Hitler.
He has reminded us every tyrant was once a beloved leader, every policy of persecution was once seen as sensible legislation, violence is always preceded by a feigned peace. He reminded us prior to the great evils it committed in the20th century, Germany was once among the most well-ordered, developed, intelligent and respected countries in the world. He reminded us not to be fooled, as many were in the previous century, into believing the world has progressed beyond evil. No society is beyond the production of martyrs. We have been called to vigilance.
Still, there is a lesson that was missing in Bishop Jenky’s homily. We must be wary of those who would wage war against our faith, but we must understand Catholics do not wage war as the world would. We must show courage, but we must act in a spirit of hope and charity. Just as no earthly society is beyond evil, no soul is beyond the good.
At Notre Dame, I have come to know and respect men and women who disagree with Church teaching but who, nonetheless, love the University in her full integrity, as a Catholic institution. Further, they love their peers, students and co-workers and would defend them against injustice. Catholics must hold these men and women close to our hearts and cherish our friendships with them. One day we may need them, and they will not fail to come to our aid. When the world declares war on the Church and its institutions, these few may remind us of the goodness of mankind in heroic and selfless acts.
Know your friends, and know thine enemy.
Christopher Damian is a senior studying philosophy. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.