In seeking an answer to this pressing question, let's begin with this oddly triumphant, openly arrogant bit of spittle-stained spin from Michael Sean Winters, who writes regular diatribes for America magazine:
Admit it, wasn’t your first impulse to call Dr. Mary Ann Glendon and ask, "If you were still the ambassador, would you show up or would you boycott?" The Cardinal Newman Society, which spent the better part of the spring telling the world that no Catholic could in good conscience share the stage with President Obama, perhaps now they will start issuing press releases entitled "Pope Creates Scandal" or "Outrage at the Vatican." The Catholic News Agency, which featured the headline "Vatican announces Pope’s vacation without confirmation of Obama visit" just a few weeks ago, has nary a mention of the visit on its website this morning. Cat got your tongue?
Obama’s Catholic critics need to re-calibrate their message and it is difficult to see how they will compete with the pictures of Obama in the frescoed halls of the Vatican, his beautiful wife and children in tow, shaking hands with the Holy Father. Actually, in addition to shaking hands, it is traditional that the Pope will present a gift to the President. Does that count as an "honor" of the kind forbidden by the bishops’ document "Catholics in Political Life"? Notre Dame, of course, has a tradition of conferring an honorary degree upon every new president that pre-dates presidential visits to the Holy See.
Christopher Blosser has already noted that Winters' post fails in at least three substantial ways: it completely misrepresents the very different natures of the Vatican visit and the Notre Dame commencement, it misrepresents the 2004 document "Catholics in Political Life," and it disregards the actions and words of dozens of U.S. bishops. Those points aside, it's a brilliant piece of argumentation. I would add this to Blosser's comments: Benedict XVI and President Obama, according to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, will discuss "their shared belief in the dignity of all people." Regardless of the spin (does "all people", for Obama, include the unborn? I think not.), it's fair to say this meeting will involve some sort of actual dialogue—the sort of dialogue that didn't take place at Notre Dame, despite the spin (see a pattern here?) aggressively and shamelessly put into play by Fr. Jenkins and others.
It does not offend Obama's Catholic critics that the Pope is meeting with a non-Catholic. Not only does the Pope (as well as nearly all Catholics) meet with non-Catholics everyday—in situations ranging from formal to informal to private to public—we are mindful that Jesus often met with and ate with tax collectors and sinners (cf., Lk 15:2), which elicited complaints from the Pharisees and scribes. We are (or should be) mindful that all of us are sinners, and that when we have encountered Jesus, he has not publicly honored us and bestowed his blessing on it despite our sins, but has simply said, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 3:2). What Jesus did not do—and the Vicar of Christ will not be doing (unlike Notre Dame)—was to bestow public honor and praise on those who rejected the Law and rejected him.
If Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees for " shedding the blood of the prophets" (Matt. 23:30), what do you think he might say to those who claim to believe "in the dignity of all people" while unfailingly upholding the killing of the unborn? The scribes and Pharisees failed the Law; those who support abortion fail the law placed by God into the heart of every man, as Pope John Paul II so eloquently stated:
No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church. (Evangelium Vitae, 62).
Without meaning to sound glib in the least, I have to ask: "And how is that going for you? How has that worked out over the past, say, thirty years with the Democrat Party? Are you making progress?" (The same questions, to some extent, can and should be asked just as well of those who have hitched their wagon tightly to the Republican Party.) Some engagements lead to marriage; other engagements are manifestations of a conflict or disagreement over essential matters. Winters seems to prefer the former; I prefer the latter.
The second piece of evidence that America is (at least sometimes) living on another planet is found in a June 22nd editorial, which concludes with this:
Defenders of life must recall the warning of the Sermon on the Mount: “If a man calls his brother ‘Fool,’ he will answer for it...; and if he calls him ‘Renegade,’ he will answer for it in hell fire.” For the Gospel of Life to be good news, it must reflect a higher righteousness.
Jack Smith, editor of The Catholic Key, has done the heavy lifting on this bit of raw ugliness, writing, "Of course, in the convoluted (nuanced) style America’s editors are adept at, there is enough plausible deniability built into their argument to render the piece content-free on defense. But the message is clear – Bishop Finn’s comments are to be identified with O’Reilly’s, and whether or not they are responsible for Tiller’s murder, they and all pro-life people who speak forcefully in defense of life will find themselves in hell." He then goes on to list six ways in which the comments are wrong (I would say even slanderous). Point #2 is especially noteworthy:
So the editors of America, without a shred of evidence, imply that a good bishop who publicly upholds both the dignity of human life and the reality of spiritual warfare is somehow responsible, even if indirectly, for the actions of a mentally-disturbed, enraged murderer. And they are willing to denigrate a shepherd who is giving witness to the truth yet apparently cannot stand it when valid criticisms are made of Fr. Jenkins, Notre Dame, and, yes, President Obama. Perhaps they are in agreement with another leftward Jesuit that Obama is "the most effective spokesperson" for "the spirit of Vatican II", in which case, to heck with the bishops and their silly documents.
Exhibit #3 is not, strictly speaking, a piece in America; rather, it is a post by Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J., former editor of the magazine and one of this generation's most accomplished practitioners of misdirection, obscuration, and ad hominem, famous in my book for saying of Benedict XVI, "He's an extremely bright man, but he doesn't have any street smarts." His ability to misrepresent the issues at hand and the positions of those he disagrees with is impressive; in another life he could have become wealthy making these.
Fr. Reese's June 23rd post, made on the "On Faith" blog, is titled, "Pope's Delayed Message on Greed"; it begins innocently enough:
But then the urge to take cheap shots and let rip an ad hominem blast is too much to resist:
Consider the apparent assumptions behind that remarkably silly statement:
• Conservatives are especially supportive of unbridled capitalism.
• Conservatives are greedy.
• Conservatives will thus be "shocked and disappointed" by the encyclical.
• Liberals, by implication, are not supportive of capitalism and are not greedy.
All of these assumptions—which are, I think, fairly drawn from Fr. Reese's statement—is either blatantly false or seriously problematic. Part of the problem is that the term "conservatives" (like the term "liberals") is so ambiguous that it begs for at least some note of qualification. It reminds me of a wry anecdote made by a conservative thinker who was criticized for writing a book that did not espouse capitalism: "One could not understand what I was after, if I would embrace neither capitalism nor communism; he [the reader] seemed to imply that I must be engaged in some dismal Fascist conspiracy":
One might suspect the author had Fr. Reese in mind, except that Fr. Reese, to be fair, does not reduce everything to a matter of economic theory. Nor was he writing much in 1954 when Russell Kirk wrote the passage above in his book, A Program for Conservatives. Sure, Kirk was a certain type of conservative, often called "paleo-conservative," but he is also widely recognized as being a seminal (even the seminal) thinker in the appearance of modern American conservativism, a movement heavily indebted to his book, The Conservative Mind, published in 1953. That book, by the way, says almost nothing about economics, hence the anecdote above.
The natural objection is, "Well, we're not living in the 1950s, in but in 2009." True enough, but this only opens the door to this fact: conservatism today is a widely disparate, argumentative, and conflicting mess of competing groups, movements, principles, perspectives, and beliefs. The following folks are considered conservative, but are, I think it is obvious, widely divergent in many ways: George W. Bush, Michael Medved, Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh, John McCain, Sean Hannity, Jonah Goldberg, Bill O'Reilly, and Mark Steyn. And none of these, in my reading, are staunchly committed to Catholic social doctrine, even if some of them are certainly advocates of a nearly unbridled capitalist system of economics. But what, then, of Pat Buchanan, Fr. James V. Schall, Dr. David Schindler, Wendell Berry, or James Kalb?
But Fr. Reese wishes to push buttons, and facts often get in between a person and the button. Are we really to believe that liberals are not into capitalism and "greed"? What of Ted Turner, George Soros, Herb Kohl, Bill Gates, John Kerry, Warren Buffett, Michael Bloomberg, Oprah Winfrey, John "Jay" Rockefeller, and David Rockefeller Jr., just to name a few? Why is it that Big Money and Democrats stroll hand-in-hand, and why do Democrats tend to respresent the wealthier congressional jurisdictions? And why do Republicans/conservatives give more to charity than do Democrats/liberals? And so forth and so on.
Having said all that, what planet is America living on?
• UPDATE (June 27, 2009): Michael Sean Winters continues to not get it, writing (on the NCReporter site), "Admit it conservatives: You wish the pope had said, 'No!' You wish he had refused to meet with Obama." Uh, no. When a person has to base their argument on what they think their opponent wishes, well, they don't have an argument. Christopher Blosser responds.