Hesburgh and Hyperbole

Hesburgh and Hyperbole May 25, 2013

Father Theodore Hesburgh is one of “four great Americans”—along with Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln.

At least, that’s what Cardinal McCarrick says.  The Cardinal, speaking at a tribute for the priest who served as the president of the University of Notre Dame from 1952 to 1987, said of Father Hesburgh’s contributions that he had helped change the course of U.S. history, and described his service to those who faced discrimination as well as his work at the university.

The Catholic News Agency offers more:

Just as Washington began to build a nation, Father Hesburgh showed “an understanding of what a country should be,” Cardinal McCarrick said. Just as Lincoln showed his concern for the poor, Father Hesburgh showed how the poor “should be a concern for all of us,” he added. And as Jefferson knew what freedom of religion was, Father Hesburgh, the cardinal noted, “has tackled the whole question of human relations.”

Now I’m not usually one to criticize a Cardinal in a public forum—but REALLY, Cardinal McCarrick?  Hesburgh certainly played a role in the success of Notre Dame; but his political positions in other matters make it highly inappropriate to canonize the guy.  Father Hesburgh distinguished himself by his participation alongside Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights movement in the 1960s.  But what comes to my mind are the controversies:

  • Father Hesburgh with former Speaker of the House, Congressman Nancy Pelosi, at the event honoring the former Notre Dame president

    He was a principal organizer and a signatory of the controversial Land O’Lakes Statement, which pitted Catholic universities against their local bishops.  In the Land O’Lakes Statement, Catholic university presidents declared their “true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical.”  I’ve seen firsthand the deleterious effect which this model has had on Catholic higher education in America, and I cannot celebrate or honor this accomplishment.
  • Father Hesburgh also served as a board member and chairman of the Rockefeller Foundation, which has advocated for population control—a decidedly non-Catholic position.
  • Father Hesburgh, in a 2008 interview in the Wall Street Journal, stated that he had no objection to the ordination of women, another untenable position within the Church.

Father Hesburgh may be mistaken, idealistic, poorly catechized—but he has not always spoken with the mind of the Church.  To suggest that this dissident priest holds a high place among the heroes of America is, sadly, just not true.


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  • moseynon

    I dunno… I guess I would cut some slack for someone who praises a recently deceased friend. And the memorial was being held in the US Capitol, attended by numerous government officials, which probably added to the emotion.

    I looked up what Fr. Hesburgh said about female ordination back in 2008. This is from the 2008 interview with the Wall Street Journal:

    WSJ: Is the lack of leadership why the Church ended up in the priests’ scandal?

    Father Hesburgh: Everything is part of an organic whole, and the
    scandal is one aspect. I wouldn’t want to be personally buffaloed about
    whether there was a scandal, because there is no question there was. The
    answer is to find a different caliber of training and of selection and
    of inspiration of young men going into priesthood. And I think, more and
    more, women have to be involved in this, and I suspect that in the long
    run, married people are going to be a lot more involved in this whole
    problem than we have today.

    It has to evolve over time. I have no problem with females or married
    people as priests, but I realize that the majority of the leadership in
    the Church would. But what’s important is that people get the
    sacraments. You have to remember, there were married priests, even
    married popes, in the first 1,000 years of the church.


    It seems like an off-the-cuff tangential remark, rather than advocacy. Labeling Fr. Hesburgh “a dissident priest” seems a bit much.

    • kathyschiffer

      Father Hesburgh is not deceased, Dale. He is still alive, and was being honored for his birthday.

      • moseynon

        oops….Oh boy, do I have egg on my face about that! Thank you, Heavenly1.

  • ANY time a Joe Biden agrees with what a Catholic says, it’s a dead giveaway that something smells rotten in Denmark . . .

    Thanks for the article!