Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Sunday, February 25, 2018

A distinguishing feature of this age in comparison with all other ages is its degree of transparency. Every event now takes place on a world stage. Thanks to the Internet and other electronic sources of information, it is almost impossible to keep anything a secret.

Because of this transparency, news is multiplied exponentially. Now that so many have access to so much news, they want to add their own news to the burgeoning aggregate. Whether intentionally or not, we are all drawn to the curious occupation of becoming newsmakers ourselves.

"As virtually the entire sentient world knows by now," writes George Weigel, the University of Notre Dame "invited President Barack Obama to be its 2009 commencement speaker." Twenty-four Catholic bishops and 10 Holy Cross priests at Notre Dame, at this writing, have denounced the invitation, while 250,000 individuals have signed the protest petition. News is an engine that generates more news.

The Chicago Tribune got into the act with an April 3 editorial that waved a self-righteous finger at Cardinal George's statement that a Catholic university should not honor individuals who are on the wrong side of the most important civil rights issue of our time – the life issue.

Predictably, the Tribune's tirade has generated reactions on both sides. It has been reported that hate calls, in the hours immediately following publication of the editorial, inundated Chicago's archdiocesan telephone lines. These callers may not have been familiar with a recent U. S. Catholic bishops' declaration which reads: "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." The editorial has also spurred a salvo of protests against the Tribune.

Such news, percolating at high speed and being disseminated over a wide area, is an image of something that the philosopher Kierkegaard referred to as schlechte unendlichkeit (a bad infinity). News that is simply news begs for truth. The endless and unevaluated proliferation of mere news may be good for newspapers, but the human soul seeks truth. As St. Augustine once pointed out, many people he knew had been deceived, but he never met anyone who sought to be deceived.

Truth is where the news stops being just news. It is where things become resolved, understood, and properly evaluated. We are frustrated by a terrible imbalance that exists between the plenitude of newsmakers and the paucity of truth-seekers.

The Tribune's editorial asked the following question: "Is it a foundation of Catholicism to refuse to honor a president who doesn't agree with all of the beliefs of the Church?" Of course, there has never been such a president. Notre Dame's invitations to other presidents of the United States did not create a furor. Surely, fidelity to all doctrine is not the source of the problem. Notre Dame students, faculty, and alumni would not be displeased in the least if they knew that President Obama did not accept the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. The editor's question is either rhetorical or facetious.

More significantly, it conceals a number of false assumptions. The issue at hand, as a matter of fact, is not peculiarly Catholic. It is a civil rights issue and therefore an issue of justice. The Tribune editorial contains the cruel and reckless assumption that Catholics are one-dimensional creatures of blind faith, therefore disqualifying themselves from any form of political involvement. Yet, the editorial writer, not averse to contradicting himself or herself,applauds those "Catholics," a few paragraphs later, who voted for Obama. Their views, the editorial states, "go right to the core of their spiritual beliefs." The editor does not know much about the normal obligations of a bishop, but somehow claims to have mystical knowledge about Catholics who repudiate their own Church teaching.

The truth-seekers are not content to witness the endless proliferation of news. Notre Dame's most distinguished philosopher, Professor Ralph McInerny, who has been on its faculty for an astonishing 54 years, cuts to the core of the issue with no fear of violating the canons of political correctness: Notre Dame's invitation of President Obama to speak at its commencement in May tells the nation that the teaching of the Catholic Church on this fundamental matter can be ignored. Lip service may be paid to the teaching on abortion, but it is no impediment to upward mobility, to truly vulgar lust to be welcomed into secular society.

Let us lay out the following truths: 1) that induced abortion takes the life of a human being is a demonstrable fact and not a mere religious belief; 2) the movement to defend the rights of the unborn is the greatest civil rights movement of our time; 3) being pro-life is being pro-justice; 4) a Catholic is also a human being who has every right as a citizen to defend or oppose issues that are fundamentally human without being dismissed for being a Catholic.

The editorial is an excellent representation of the moral bankruptcy of the purely secular mind. It vilifies good Catholics, but praises those who betray their own faith by being pro-choice (would it praise Catholics who were pro-choice on slavery?). It reduces a critical moral issue to mere opinion, but predicts that Obama's presence at the commencement exercises will somehow bring "immense pride" to the "Notre Dame community." It enjoins people to respect each other, despite their views on moral issues, but it shows patent disrespect for Cardinal George.

Truth-seekers, whether or not they are Catholic, have a crucial role to play in society. They are not satisfied with news. They want to know the truth. The media is often stimulating, but rarely nourishing. But truth is not only something worth seeking, but worth fighting for. Ralph Waldo Emerson was partly right when he said: "God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please – you can never have both." The irony is that those who reject truth in the interest of finding repose find themselves in a state of perpetual discontent.

Dr. Donald DeMarco is a professor emeritus at St. Jerome's University in Waterloo, Ontario, and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell and Mater Ecclesiae College in Greenville, R.I.