Flawed tribute in South Bend

We received a note the other day from a priest asking us to call attention to a South Bend Tribune editorial marking the retirement of Bishop John D'Arcy from the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Even though GetReligion focuses on news reports, not editorial, this correspondent thought we would appreciate the respectful and balanced tone in this piece -- especially considering the bishop's role in the events surrounding President Barack Obama's visit to the University of Notre Dame to received an honorary doctorate in law, in clear violation of a policy statement by the U.S. Catholic bishops.

Here's a sample that demonstrates that tone, from the heart of the article:

D'Arcy believes in putting faith into action, and he has never shied away from hard choices and controversial stances, whether it be dollars-and-cents decisions to build, close or merge churches or letter-by-letter interpretation and enforcement of church orthodoxy. He broadened the church's charitable efforts and reached out strongly to Hispanic Catholics.

He showed true courage in calling for action against predator priests in the Archdiocese of Boston at a time when many in the church were silent. His letters of protest seem to have been ignored and filed away. There's even a suspicion that D'Arcy was "exiled" here for speaking out. Ultimately, though, his efforts to curb sex abuse by priests have been nationally recognized and honored.

At some point, the editorial obviously needed to show a hint of journalistic displeasure at the bishop for boycotting the president's address at Notre Dame. However, it should be noted that the editorial board, while doing that, could not get its facts straight in its rush to praise D'Arcy for not being, well, as bad as some of the other people involved in that media storm.

D'Arcy's vision of duty to his church also led to less universally popular actions. Most recently and famously, he declined to attend the University of Notre Dame's commencement because President Obama was to speak. He later condemned the sometimes coarse and mercenary nature of the protests that ensued. But his dramatic clash with the university inadvertently fanned the flames and put Notre Dame in a difficult position.

Those who have disagreed with him should concede that Bishop John D'Arcy has been nothing if not consistent. The same faithful heart that led him to speak out against abuse led him to steer the church away from actions he perceived as endorsing abortion or immorality.

Actions "he perceived" as endorsing abortion? Right.

The actions by D'Arcy -- taken in support of the policy statement by the U.S. bishops -- were what "put Notre Dame in a difficult position"? Yeah, right.

While it's easy to debate those statements, they are editorial comments and, thus, simply display the editorial board's stances on the issues involved.

No, what caught my attention was the statement that D'Arcy "condemned the sometimes coarse and mercenary nature of the protests that ensued."

Say what? The editorial board needed to add a crucial word to that statement. The bishop condemned some of the protests, which were, in fact, coarse and mercenary. But he praised the other protests, the ones planned by members of the Notre Dame community. As GetReligion noted at the time, most members of the mainstream press never noted (let alone covered as news) the larger and more dignified protests that took place. Most journalists focused on the smaller, louder protests led by outsiders, such as the omnipresent Randall Terry.

Some witnesses claimed that a pro-life Mass drew as many as 2,000 people. A prayer service at the famed Grotto on the Notre Dame campus -- led by D'Arcy and others -- drew 1,000 worshipers.

As D'Arcy said at the time: "The heroes are the young people on campus and the students in the great tradition of John Paul and Pope Benedict. ... Their protest was carried out with love, prayer, dignity and respect."

The bishop condemned the "coarse and mercenary" nature of some of the protests. That's true. But he helped lead other protests against the honorary degree for Obama, praising the Notre Dame clergy, faculty, staff and students who organized them.

D'Arcy led by example, as did the Notre Dame administrators, in their own way.

The South Bend Tribune editorial board should be praised for offering a respectful tribute to a bishop that it, clearly, did not agree with on many issues of Catholic life and teachings. But the newspaper also needed to get some crucial facts straight.

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