As the battle of Notre Dame rages on, I have seen few, if any news reports that actually offer any hard information about what is happening on the campus. Students overwhelmingly support President Barack Obama speaking at commencement. That has been asserted, but I don't know how one would document that. Meanwhile, the actual issue, as I parse the statements of various bishops, is not whether he speaks at commencement, but whether he is given the honorary degree. That would seem to be the action that clearly breaks the policy stated by the U.S. Catholic Bishops (an organization that is currently as quiet as a tomb).
That statement again, from five years ago:
"The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."
"Awards" is clear. Ditto for "honors." There is no question that the president is an active opponent of Catholic teachings on several crucial moral and social issues, while backing the church on others. The suggestion that having a president speak at the university provides him a "platform" is the battleground where mainstream Catholics are truly going to clash during this dispute, which is far from over.
Anyway, along comes a new article about the crisis from the Indianapolis Star, which one would think would have strong motivations to go after this story in a big, balanced, insightful way. One could be wrong.
The article provides quiet a bit of color about the Catholic atmosphere on the campus. Sadly, it contains almost zero relevant facts that would help us understand the campus-wide debate over the meaning of "Catholic education" and how that might relate to the Obama visit.
It's a classic case of style over substance.
There are some facts and a few of them are important. For example, we do learn:
For Anamaria Baluyut, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame is a sanctuary -- a vital part of her life that provides a respite from the day-to-day pressures of school, from personal problems, whatever.
"I will stop here sometimes," she said, "just to calm down and pray."
With 46 other chapels on campus, 80 Masses a week and a golden statue of the Virgin Mary watching over all of it, such devotion in a 20-year-old isn't out of the ordinary here.
Lots of numbers there. I am sure you are shocked that there are Catholics at Notre Dame who go to Mass. The number of chapels is interesting, but does nothing to tell us how much they are used and by whom or, for that matter, anything about the content of the services. There are traditionalist rites that make liberals mad and liberal rites that make traditionalists mad. Sad, but true.
Next up is another colorful, interesting set of facts:
Long held as an icon of American Catholicism, Notre Dame is a place where every dorm has a chapel and a priest or other clergy living in residence. It's a place where Fighting Irish football fans are invited, via the public address system, to attend post-game Masses. A place where students kept Basilica priests busy during Holy Week by delivering a whopping 80 hours of confessions.
I literally have no idea what that final statement means. The confessionals were open for 80 hours? How many priests? How many students is that? Maybe 160 students for 30 minutes each? Maybe 320 students for 15 each? Ten priests working 80 hours? What?
The most important statistic, in light of debates between U.S. educators and Rome, comes later:
What it means for Notre Dame to be a Catholic university, and the question of whether it is Catholic enough, is an ongoing discussion on this campus, despite the fact that 83 percent of the students and about 55 percent of the faculty are Catholic.
Again, this is interesting, but there is no context for that faculty number. How does that 55 percent figure compare with highly secularized Catholic campuses? How about the new traditionalist colleges that openly embrace the Vatican rules for theology faculties and voluntary goals for other faculty? Is 55 high or low? Would pro-Catechism Catholics cheer that statistic or boo it?
Read on. Like I said, there are quite a few interesting anecdotes and quotes, including flashbacks into previous Notre Dame wars about faith and education. But there is little or no substance that helps outsiders understand what is going on here. Sad.
By the way, this just in from MSNBC:
Mary Ann Glendon, a conservative Harvard law professor who was U.S. ambassador to the Vatican under George W. Bush, has announced that she will not be accepting the Laetare Medal at the University of Notre Dame's commencement ceremony on May 17.
In the headline she is, of course, an "abortion foe." True enough, I guess.
The ambassador's actual letter can be found at First Things. In part, her reaction was based on the claims by Notre Dame leaders that her award, and her remarks, would be part of a balanced dialogue with the president. She writes:
A commencement, however, is supposed to be a joyous day for the graduates and their families. It is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame's decision -- in disregard of the settled position of the U.S. bishops -- to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church's position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice.
Finally, with recent news reports that other Catholic schools are similarly choosing to disregard the bishops' guidelines, I am concerned that Notre Dame's example could have an unfortunate ripple effect.
Help us watch for mainstream coverage of her decision. Also, has anyone seen an on-the-record response from the U.S. bishops defending their own policy? Did I miss something? I would think that reporters -- on left and right -- would be knocking the doors down by now.
Second photo: Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon with another abortion foe.