“My friends, who are mostly Protestant, think it’s a scandal,” said Rosemary Bergeron of Jesus Our Risen Savior Church in Spartanburg. “They want to know what the church is going to do about it.”
Bergeron was referring to the invitation by Notre Dame to President Barack Obama to both speak at its graduation on May 17 and to receive an honorary degree. Obama supports legal abortion and embryonic stem-cell research.
Many at the discussion thought that the invitation, tendered in apparent violation of a 2004 directive from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that explicitly prohibits Catholic institutions from honoring people who represent views contrary to church law, marked a low point in the secularization of large Catholic colleges.
“Notre Dame is busted. In a certain sense it’s over because of the clarity of the church teaching. There is no ambiguity,” said William DeMars of St. Paul Church in Spartanburg, who studied at the school and has a son there now. “We hear a huge and growing chorus of protest, and at Notre Dame itself there is almost a circus atmosphere.”
“The students who are genuinely Catholic there must be sick over this,” said Bryan Bustard of St. Mary Church in Greenville.
The point of departure for the open discussion was a flyer issued by a group of Notre Dame students. It stated, among other points, that the controversy was even more important to Catholic education than the moral values that the college refused to defend.
“At stake is our hope for the future of the university and the future of society,” according to the Communion and Liberation flyer, “A New Commencement.” The statement also said that their hope is for a university “where faith and reason are not enemies.”
Phyllis Stanton of St. Mary said Catholic university systems have embraced the reason part, even though it is a withered version of true human reason.
“The fear is in embracing faith. We need faith as a means to knowledge. If Notre Dame is burning, maybe if we put in place a person who can embrace faith, we could save the school,” Stanton said.
DeMars replied that the school’s board of trustees is now a lay panel and said Notre Dame is in the process of cutting ties to its founders’ religion, as have many other private colleges over the years, such as Harvard and Wofford. He said the move to secularism was too systemic a problem among the Holy Cross order of priests that operates Notre Dame to be cured by a change of leadership.
“Only Christ has the power to rebuild Notre Dame,” he said.
Margaret Ann Moon of St. Mary opined that only a massive prayer effort can save the university from itself.
“Notre Dame basically sold its soul for money,” Moon said. “It’s a tragedy, but it could become a turning point for not only Notre Dame but for all Catholic institutions. If we seek to do God’s will, God will provide. Good things could come out of this, in the end.”
Michele Houmis of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Mauldin said it was even possible that Obama may have encountered Christ when he spoke at the university’s commencement exercise and that could change the course of the school and the nation.
“It’s Jesus Christ working through us. If with him we can heal the sick, we can rebuild a university,” Houmis said.
Keith Kiser, principal of St. Joseph’s Catholic School, agreed that the University of Notre Dame sold out.
“Their goal was to become a world class university. They achieved their goal, but what did they lose in the process? I think that the church has become afraid of Christ,” he said.