“There are some ideas and some causes that a Catholic college campus cannot treat pleasantly,” wrote the outraged editors. “Doesn’t deliberate opposition to Catholic social doctrine come close to being anti-Catholic?”
History can be humbling. The editors eager to censor views they disagreed with were the Jesuits at America. The object of their ire was the outspoken conservative William F. Buckley Jr. The year was 1961, and the dispute erupted over an editorial in Buckley’s magazine, the National Review. Pope John XXIII’s encyclical Mater et magistra, the editorial claimed, “struck many as a venture in triviality.” The National Review editors speculated that the new encyclical would, like Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors, “become the source of embarrassed explanations.” Buckley had judged Mater et magistra insufficiently alarmed over the threat of communism, and in turn America’s editors judged Buckley insufficiently docile in his reception of doctrine, and urged that he be banned from speaking at Catholic colleges. The National Review is “a journal which, in our opinion, seriously and consistently undercuts positions which we judge to be central to our faith, the natural law, or the explicit and long established social doctrines of the church,” wrote America’s editors. Thus what might have been an honest and useful dispute over the interpretation and scope of church teaching quickly degenerated into a show trial regarding Buckley’s Catholic loyalties. (See Garry Wills’s Politics and Catholic Freedom.)
Commonweal is trying to setup a parallel here when it comes to Notre Dame, they do have one real problem. The fuller quote is:
“Whatever its final effect, it must strike many as a venture in triviality coming at this particular time in history” since “there is scant mention” of the successes of the Communists and “insufficient notice is taken (of) the extraordinary material well-being” of countries like Japan, West Germany, and the United States.
In fact in later issues of NR that year Buckley also said:
“National Review (29 July 1961) 38.Actually, National Review has made no substantive criticism of Mater et Magistra. Simplistic interpretations in secular terms are notoriously unwise. It merely pointed out that ‘coming at this particular time in history,’ parts of it may be considered as trivial.”
William F. Buckley, Jr. National Review (23 September 1961) 188. “The editorial in question spoke not one word of criticism of the intrinsic merit of Mater et Magistra. Our disappointment was confined to the matter of emphasis, and timing, and by implication, to the document’s exploitability by the enemies of Christendom, a premonition rapidly confirmed by the Encyclical’s obscene cooption by such declared enemies of the spiritual order as the New Statesman and the Manchester Guardian, which hailed the conversion of the Pope to Socialism!”
Pundits commenting on the timing of Vatican documents is rather common and in fact this is often a common complaint that the Vatican will issue a document on a subject that seems to be years late in response. Interestingly the part that Commonweal quotes can be found on the internet only on Commonweal and a George Will book. There was a quite common urban legend that Buckley had said “Mater si, Magistra no” and George Will quotes this as being the article title that had the initial criticism. This was totally false and in fact Buckley said that George Wills was the source of this quip that was briefly mentioned in “For the Record” section containing Multiple items. It is not something that was ever a NR column title or something that Buckley ever said. But this has been used for years as an example of conservative disloyalty to the Church. But I guess it says a lot that the example they use was no such thing.
The Buckley and Obama incidents are not, of course, strictly analogous. Obama is not a Catholic, and his support for legalized abortion is a more serious problem than Buckley’s alleged rejection of papal teaching.
Yeah not strictly analogous or even in the same ballpark or that matter same moral universe. Have to love the complaining about the timing as an “alleged rejection of papal teaching.” Funny how Commonweal can actively deny papal teaching on so many subjects and find that Buckley’s case could be considered as rejection of papal teaching.
Prudential judgment was also needed in assessing Pope John’s encyclical. In both cases, however, the real issue is how the motives of those with whom we disagree about the application of church teaching are put in the dock. In the Buckley case, the papacy’s outraged defenders could imagine only two options: either Buckley accepts the encyclical in its entirety, or he is an apostate. In Notre Dame’s invitation to Obama, the university’s critics see a similar betrayal on the part of the university’s administration. Thus the invitation to Obama has been damned as a symptom of the school’s craven desire for recognition and prestige, its slavish obedience to “elite” liberal opinion, and its perverse determination to betray its Catholic identity.
Was there really such an outrage over Buckley’s comment about encyclical’s timing when it came out? Notice how Commonweal gives the basis of the motives a strawman that has not been the thrust of the argument made by so man. I can hardly remember anybody giving this as the motive, and the argument was about the invite itself and how it was scandalous, not an attribution of motives to Fr. Jenkins and his administration.
Some of the objections to the invitation have been more reasonable. Some say that a Catholic university might legitimately invite President Obama to give a talk or to engage in a colloquy, but giving him an honorary degree is tantamount to an imprimatur. Yet university officials have made no secret of Notre Dame’s disagreement with the president about abortion and stem-cell research, and certainly the president and the public cannot be in doubt about the church’s opposition to his policies in those areas. Honorary degrees signify an institution’s admiration for the accomplishments of the recipient. They do not signify blanket moral approbation
Thanks a lot that you acknowledge that “some” of the objections are reasonable. Sorry though you just can’t make noise about being pro-life and then pass out honors. If an honorary medical degree was given to a doctor who assisted in suicides you could not just use the excuse that you are against suicides. When you give an honorary law degree to a supposed Constitutional scholar who believes that abortion is shrined in the Constitution your are honoring his legal views – no two ways around that. Of course as the USCCB stated they are not to receive honors at all in the first place.
The church is not simply the prolife movement, and to the extent that every interaction between the church and our political system is held hostage to the demands of the most confrontational elements of that movement, the church’s social message, including its message about abortion, will be marginalized and ineffectual.
What! “The church is not simply the prolife movement” – wow we didn’t know that. I think it is a law that dissidents must bring up the single issue thing at every chance. Sorry the Church message about abortion is marginalized and ineffectual when so-called social justice types are not bothered by it and people who support murder of the innocent are seen as an acceptable pick to honor. Every time pro-abortion advocates are picked out as being acceptable you are saying that there belief is not beyond the pale. If they advocated the death penalty for the homeless they would be shunned at every level. But advocate the murder of the innocent in the womb, then it is just one issue of many. We must never forget the evil of abortion and must never minimize it – unfortunately when we coddle the supporters of the culture of death we are forgetting exactly that. But of course Commonweal did not spend any time being outraged about the President removing the Mexico City policy or federally supporting embryonic stem-call research and removing federal funding for adult stem-cell research. No they keep their ire for pro-life Catholics being upset about what the Notre Dame invite means.