A Disturbing Trend

A Disturbing Trend March 26, 2009

A minor detail of the Notre Dame controversy has been various organizations and people springing up claiming to speak for the whole.  For example, ND Response was organized to protest the visit.  My second or third thought on this was “Who made them representatives?”  Then I thought about it some more, and I thought of  “Catholics for Sebelius.”  Thinking some more, I thought about “Catholics Against Biden.”  The more I thought about it, the more kept coming up with examples.  Breaking outside religious examples, every campaign features front groups with catchy sounding names that imply they are representative of someone other than just themselves.  It is so common place that I see people say Vox Nova believes or Vox Nova says when we have explicitly stated many times that Vox Nova doesn’t take corporate positions and won’t be for the foreseeable future.

I ain’t here to beat anybody up.  This is a cultural trend.  It has been happening for a while.  At some point the priesthood of all believers morphed into the magisterium of all believers.  A so common believe is that since I’m a member I can speak on behalf of.  I’m still somewhat surprised when I hear in casual conversation an organization belief is stated and the reply will be, “Well, I don’t think you have to believe that.”  Such isn’t a statement of the veracity of the organizational belief but rather a dismissal of the organization’s authority.

In the case of Notre Dame, there is a speaker for Notre Dame and he is Fr. Jenkins.  Likewise, I’m sure there is some Student Senate President or something similar that can claim authority to speak on behalf of the student body.  Don’t get me wrong, whoever is the head of the pro-life student group on campus, I also believe he has the authority to speak on behalf of that organization.  But we also have a number of groups that try to claim some sort of authority that are little more than interlopers.  There’s nothing wrong in principle with being an interloper; being an interloper just leads to less respect going into the game, so they try to avoid being identified as such.  As for me, I just speak for myself.


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14 responses to “A Disturbing Trend”

  1. Catholic=Republican=Federalist Society? (Link inserted by M.Z.)

    March 26, 2009, 6:22 am Posted by Cathleen Kaveny

    I’ve been at Notre Dame long enough to know that controversies here –and on the Catholic blogosphere–are like tempests in a teapot. You talk to someone from somewhere else and they are surprised to learn what’s going on–especially if they’re not Catholic.

    Still, if you grab onto the teacup handle for balance and look around, some interesting tea leaves with broader import float by. My colleague Rick Garnett, who is opposed to the Obama invitation, commends to our attention a petition protesting it. In addition to the St. Thomas More Society (the Catholic law students group), it was also signed by the Notre Dame College Republicans and the Notre Dame Law School Federalist Society.

    Now I understand (although I don’t agree with ) with the position of the St. Thomas More Society. I think they are completely within their rights to express their views, given the nature of the organization. But I don’t understand the College Republicans and the Federalists. Do the College Republicans oppose the Democratic President speaking at any and all graduations? Does the Federalist Society take a stand against any and all speakers with a different agenda for the court system receiving any honor at any institution of higher learning? I wasn’t aware that they did.

    Or are the College Republicans and the Federalists taking a stand on whether a Catholic institution ought to invite the President? The petition itself certainly suggests that they are. But what special competence, precisely as Republicans or Federalists, do they have in issues of Catholic moral theology and Catholic institutional identity?

    At Notre Dame Law School, I suspect that there is a heavy overlap among the three groups, among students and some faculty, such as Professor Garnett.

    Nonetheless, I would think this would be a good “teaching” moment to suggest, especially, that the equation in the title of the post does not inevitably and always hold true. Qua Republican, qua Federalist, it does not seem to me that one has a particular interest or competence in what a Catholic institution does.

    For the good of the Church, and the political community, it seems to me we ought to keep these distinctions in mind. It’s very easy, for example, for Catholics who are not Republican to dismiss some of our most outspoken prelates as Republican party operatives when they speak on the life issues. Incidents like this make it even easier.

  2. It is sad to see a law professor at a Catholic university, who qua Catholic worked for the election of the current president, publicly declaring that students who belong to the other major political party are not within their rights to express their views opposing the university honoring the president.

  3. publicly declaring that students who belong to the other major political party are not within their rights to express their views opposing the university honoring the president.

    I think what she is saying is not what you say she is saying, and is a great deal more complex than what are claiming she is saying.

  4. Correct David. She said nothing against students who belong to the other party. She spoke of an organ of the other party commenting on Catholic moral theology and practice. And she didn’t say Republican Party organs don’t have a right to speak; she said she didn’t understand why they are speaking what they are.

    Personally, I’m waiting for the Indiana Republican Central Committee to express itself on the Immaculate Conception. I think they might have a lot to add and the Church has been deficient by not hearing from them.

  5. “there is a speaker for Notre Dame and he is Father Jenkins”

    I can think of several retorts.

    The first being you have obviously never been in Rockne Stadium on a game day when the crowd is encouraged to chant “We Are ND. . . We are ND”.

    Another is that you have obviously never been on the receiving end of countless mailings from Father Jenkins and his predecessors reminding you that as an alumni you remain a part of the big ND family and have an obligation to support your family.

    I realize that in today’s society where we love to have (at least if he comes from our party) our monolithic unitary executive (formerly known as a “fuehrer”) who speaks for us all and from whom no dissent can be tolerated. Excuse me if I do not fall within that realm of thought.

    Apparently, the good CSC’s want their students to move from a an in loco parentis mentality to a pater familias mentality once they graduate and become alumni. Being a townee from Mishawaka I have never been a rabid ND alumnus, but I will defend to the death my right to speak out on its behalf since while the University may have Father Jenkins as “a voice” the University as an institution and as a symbol is much bigger than Father Jenkins. Again, the good CSC mentality is similar to that of the Bishops during the abuse crisis . . . don’t worry just give us your money and your trust . . . you can depend on us.

    MZ, as the pater familias of your family, are you the only person authorized to speak for your family as a whole or do you permit your wife and children to hold dissenting views and to voice them outside the family? Or, can they voice dissenting opinion if they do so under a pseudonym or with a disclaimer that they are not speaking for the rest of the family?

    Final rant:

    Don’t forget that Notre Dame has spent years marketing itself as a “Catholic” Harvard and making itself synonymous with the Catholic faith in America and as a source of pride for each and every American Catholic. This marketing has been for their benefit in that it attracts the best and brightest Catholic students to apply and more importantly attracts money through direct contributions and indirectly through lucrative TV football deals.

    It shows the utmost hypocrisy of Father Jenkins and others to argue that this invitation does not put any sort of stamp of approval by the Catholic Church on Obama. Would it have mattered as much if Obama was speaking at Fordham, Georgetown, Boston College or even the Catholic University of America . . . Hell no!!! Rightly or wrongly, as a result of the University’s efforts today when an individual is invited to be a member of the faculty or is given an award by Notre Dame it is viewed as that person’s view being given the imprimatur by the Catholic Church . . . just as being invited to speak at Bob Jones shows you’ve passed the hard line evangelical litmus test. Does this honor represent the Catholic Church endorsing all the policies of the Obama administration? No, but in the public’s eye as a result of the University’s efforts it creates this impression and many times appearances, whether they be right or wrong, are what matters.

  6. From dotCommonweal:

    A bit of perspective on the current student body’s political sensibilities.

    Current ND students appear to have voted for Obama over McCain by about 10 percentage points.

    Many of them identified the economy and foreign policy as major factors in their votes.

  7. A very interesting debate

    Many people proclaim that Catholics should not segrea themselves into certain groups and make a certain ethos trump their Catholic Faith.

    But yet their seems to be a assumption that Catholic Ferderalist or Catholic Republicans cannot be a part of what is voiced in the Catholic Social compendium of SOcial Justice.

    There seems to be an opposition between the Church teaching and I must say a quite more secular view here.

    I have no idea what the ethos at the Federalist Society of Notre Dame is and lets say the Federalist Society of USC. Perhaps one has a more Catholic ethos and one does not.

    In fact I would think and I would hope the Catholic Democrats and Catholic Republicans would have a Catholic ethos.

    It seems this opposition that many proclaim is opposed to the Catholic faith?

    WHy is that?

  8. I think it would be helpful if people can give a list of organization that have no Catholic voice on these things

    I am one of those horrible converts that have been often told to shut up. But when I converted I was told my Catholic faith was part of my vocation

    So is the Business Fraternty at Notre Dame if it opposes Obama from coming prohibted from speakng wheather yea or nea. THe Journalism department?

    If so there seems to have been a radical departure not promulgated about the link of Faith and vocation in many forms when I came into the Church so many years ago

  9. I think what she is saying is not what you say she is saying, and is a great deal more complex than what are claiming she is saying.

    No. It’s not complex. It’s really not.

    Cathleen Kaveny is a sophist. She strings words together to support Obama and vilify anyone who challenges him — or the Democratic party in general — on his (and their) virulently pro-abortion policies. She has been particularly appalling in her treatment of Archbishop Chaput, but will target any Catholic who opposes Obama on religious grounds, attacking them as “Republican party operatives.”

    This post was of a piece with her past writings, made all the more necessary because the NDResponse petition is a direct challenge to her earlier implication, in referring to Obama’s ten-point victory among ND voters, that Notre Dame is solid Obama Country.

    Since she can hardly get away with saying, “Shut up, you,” to the entire group of protesting students, she identifies those students she thinks she can get away with saying it to — and, among the people she’s writing for, she actually can, as witness David’s and Kurt’s comments.

    As for the rest of the protesting students, the ones who aren’t so easily impugned as Republican operatives, she let’s them off with a warning: Never work with or alongside Republicans, because if you do, I and those who think like me will write you off, too.

    That said, I will give her this much credit: I don’t think she is dim enough to have written that post in good faith.

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