NCR: Richard McBrien interview on “one issue” politics

The increasingly cliche ultra-lefty National Catholic Reporter has an interview with the long-time Notre Dame University sourpuss dissenter Fr. Richard McBrien.

My emphases and comments.

Theologian says one issue bishops violate their own teaching
By tfox
Created 10/06/2008 – 19:48

October 7, 2008

Kansas City, Mo.

Bishops who make a case for one-issue politics or openly oppose a political candidate are in violation of the guidelines set out repeatedly in their own documents on political responsibility, said noted theologian [and plagiarist] Fr. Richard McBrien in a recent talk here.

McBrien of Notre Dame University, [Why is he still on the faculty?] author of a number of major works on Catholicism, including the recently published The Church: The Evolution of Catholicism, was speaking to an overflow, mostly Catholic audience of several hundred at a Unitarian Church in Kansas City, Mo. [Yah… that’s about right…]  His talk was hosted by a group of lay Catholics who run a speaking forum called “Topics to Go.”

In his talk, McBrien listed five Catholic principles, taken from Catholic teachings, that he said can be applied to the current political process.

1. Although bishops and other Catholic officials have the constitutional right to participate in public policy debates and in the political process generally, they impose certain limits upon themselves as a matter of prudence.

2. Catholic voters and their bishops should examine the positions of the candidates on the full range of issues as well as their integrity, philosophy and performance.  [This last Sunday I gave a sermon in which I made sure people knew to watch out for "code language" like "full spectrum" of Catholic teachings.  This language is used when people want to dissolve the "life" issue into a big soup of other issues, and thus down play its importance.]

3. Catholic voters and their bishops must not forget the distinction between moral principles and their application in the political order. It is possible to agree on an important moral principle and yet disagree, in good conscience, on the way that principle is applied in the political order.

4. Because there is a distinction between the moral law and the civil law, Catholics and others–-Christians and non-Christians alike – cannot expect that every element of the moral law, as they understand it, can or should [Really?  Votes decide that through their elected executives, legislators and, I suppose, judges.] be translated into civil law.

5. Given the principle of sacramentality, [?] in the final analysis the most effective way for the church and its members–-or for anyone–-to influence public policy is by force of their own example[Uh huh.  That might mean not vote… stay outside the process.  Or maybe "don’t make waves… go with the herd".  It seems not to mean, vote for the right position.  After all, trying to shape society is not in contradistinction to voting properly.]

McBrien cited a statement by the Administrative Board of the United States Catholic Conference issued in March 1984 titled, "Political Responsibility: Choices for the ’80s." In that statement the bishops wrote that they “specifically do not seek the formation of a religious voting bloc; nor do we wish to instruct persons on how they should vote by endorsing candidates.”   [But bishops and priests can and must instruct people about fundamental principles, including which issues have greatest importance.]

He said that following a 1984 attack by Cardinal John O’Connor on then Democratic vice-presidential candidate Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro from the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral the bishops added the words “or opposing” after the word “endorsing.” This has been the policy of the U.S. bishops since, having been re-affirmed in statements of 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007.  [BTW… remember that individual bishops are not bound by these statements of conferences.]

He cited last November’s election policy statement, which reads: “The consistent ethic of life provides a moral framework for principled Catholic engagement in political life and, rightly understood, neither treats all issues as morally equivalent nor reduces Catholic teaching to one or two issues. … Catholic voters should use the framework of Catholic teaching to examine candidates’ positions on issues affecting human life and dignity as well as issues of justice and peace …”

McBrien noted that the U.S. bishops’ policy was most recently reiterated in a letter to The New York Times that appeared Sept. 24, written by Bishops William Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., and Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, N.Y.

The letter made the point that the bishops do not teach that abortion is the only issue, but that it is an issue of high moral importance, [only "high" importance?  What did the letter really say?  – See a comment below, where someone posted the what they wrote.] which nevertheless must be seen within the context of "the whole teaching of the church on justice and peace, serving the poor and advancing the common good …”  [Notice that this is the "full range" thing again.]

In a question and answer period, on a different subject, he asked the audience to imagine a scenario in which President Bush “were in office for life and that he had the authority to make appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court and throughout the federal court system at will, without even a U.S. Senate to hold hearings and vote on the nominees.”

That’s exactly what Pope John Paul II — or any other pope for that matter — was able to do in his long term of office, and that is why the Catholic church finds itself today — and especially during the height of the sexual-abuse crisis in the priesthood — with such a dearth of pastoral leadership.”  [Incredible.  He just did two things.  First, he has argued that bishops should be elected by the people rather than appointed by a kind of dictator for life.  Second, he negatively criticized Pope John Paul for the type of bishops he appointed.]

McBrien said John Paul’s greatest failing, as pope, were the bishops he named. [See?] “Men were appointed bishops or promoted within the hierarchy on the basis of loyalty to the Holy See rather than on the basis of pastoral aptitude, theological sophistication and leadership skills.”  [Why is this guy still on the faculty of Notre Dame?]

McBrien added that he prefers Benedict XVI to John Paul II because of their difference in style. “Benedict tends to be laid-back and self-effacing, in contrast to John Paul II who usually occupied center stage, the theologian explained. “John Paul II tended to personalize the papacy to the point where agreeing or disagreeing with his devotional preferences, spirituality and theology became, for many inside and outside the Vatican, the touchstones of fidelity to Catholicism.”  [I don’t think that criticism is well-grounded.]

Fox is interim NCR executive editor

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Mike says:

    Fr. McBrien is one of the reasons I have informed my three high school granddaughters that they can expect no help from me with college tuition, should they decide to enroll at Notre Dame.

  2. a catechist says:

    I graduated from Notre Dame and came out quite orthodox–by avoiding him like the plague. Because there are so many priests on campus & students generally choose their pastors and profs, a determined student can still get quite a faith-building education there. There are still faithful priests and lay professors there.
    ND ’91

  3. Dan says:

    Is that a photo of a…priest??!!

  4. Mark says:

    The biggest joke (well, one of the biggest jokes) about that line (mouthed by others, not just McBrien) about the supposedly authoritarian, Vatican-loyal bishops JPII appointed can be summed up in one word: Mahony.

    And others of course. 2/3 of the California episcopate over the past 20 years. Lynch in St. Petersburg. The guy in Cincinnati. The guy who used to be in Cleveland. We could go on and on.

    Interesting that some traditional/conservative Catholics also have complaints about the bishops JPII appointed.

  5. Father McBrien’s comments are highly inaccurate concerning the USCCB statements on Faithful Citizenship, and he seriously distorts Bishop Murphy and Bishop DiMarzio’s letter to the editor. (See many other bishops’statements on Catholics and Political Responsibility – Women for Faith & Family web site )

    Here is the NYTimes letter from Bishops Murphy and DiMarzio:
    Published: September 23, 2008

    To the Editor:

    “Abortion Issue Again Dividing Catholic Votes” (front page, Sept. 17) says the bishops’ statement “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” would “explicitly allow Catholics to vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights if they do so for other reasons.”

    Actually, the bishops said candidates who promote fundamental moral evils such as abortion are cooperating in a grave evil, and Catholics may never vote for them to advance those evils.

    A Catholic voter’s decision to support a candidate despite that gravely immoral position “would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.”

    This standard of “grave moral reasons” is a very high standard to meet. The bishops added that “a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support.” This is timely in light of offensive comments on race quoted in the article.

    What the article calls the “running debate between Catholics” — with some saying “abortion is the only issue” and others saying “you have to look at the whole teaching of the church” — is not a dilemma for the bishops. One must look at the whole teaching of the church on justice and peace, serving the poor and advancing the common good — beginning with a fundamental priority on protecting innocent human life from direct attack as in abortion.

    (Bishop) William Murphy

    (Bishop) Nicholas DiMarzio

    Brooklyn, Sept. 19, 2008

    The writers, the bishops of Rockville Centre and Brooklyn, are chairman and former chairman, respectively, of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

  6. Matt Q says:

    Oh, please. This mental patient again??!!

  7. James says:

    Isn’t it about time to suspend Fr. McBrien? He is a disgrace to the priesthood. At least then he can’t continue his “I’m in good standing!” dance.

    When conservative Protestants and Eastern Orthodox ask me how someone like McBrien maintains a prestigious position at a leading Catholic university and still possesses full faculties as a priest, I have no idea how to respond. We are a joke.

  8. dominic1962 says:

    I’m not even going to bother to respond to most of the article because I agree with what other posters have said. O’Brien is a joke. St. Joseph, patron of the Universal Church, grant that his eyes may be open to the truth or shut forever.

    However, on a bit of a side note, I would agree with a little bit of what he commented on JPII. While this certainly isn’t an official situation, certainly many of us (especially the traditionally minded here) have run into those folks who do pretty much worship in the cult of personality of JP II, think that JP II’s devotional opinions were Church dogma, and look on any of us who might be a little less than zealous about him as heretics or deviants of the first order. I guess I’m just not willing to tack “the Great” to his name when we compare him to popes like Gregory the Great, Leo the Great, Leo XIII, Pius X, Pius XII, etc.

  9. Bill says:

    To follow on Dan’s point, I find a meaningful measure of a priest is his appearance in public. A priest in a tie is rarely orthodox and usually an embarrassment to the Church. Which seems fitting since he’s embarrassed to be a priest.

  10. Craig says:

    Why do they always have to make speeches at the UU 2 blocks from my home? I suppose I could make my place HQ for a prayer presence when these people show up.

  11. Jim Dorchak says:

    All this is moot.

    He is a Catholic priest and the CHURCH continues to let him say these things. Therefore (TO THE PUBLIC, BOTH CATHOLIC AN NON CATHOLIC) his word is just as good and valid as the Holy Fathers. [piffle] He is after all an esteemed theologian. [piffle]

    Just like in Wind Swept House…………

    Jim Dorchak

  12. Son of Trypho says:

    Its a bit harsh to call this fellow a “heresiarch”. He’s probably not significant enough to qualify for that kind of big league title. [You have a point.]

    As a non-Christian I find it particularly odd that stacks of these people who constantly criticise the Catholic Church seem to live off it. I don’t understand why he doesn’t leave and/or join/start a new/alternative movement which reflects his vision?

  13. Kelly says:

    I think John Paul II did tend to enjoy center stage.
    I’m quite certain that Fr. McBrien does.

  14. Kelly: I believe that, in his way, Benedict XVI also enjoys center stage. He has, after all, embraced his vocation as Pope. Every Pope has center stage.

    However, I think there is a bit less focus on the person of Pope Benedict and more focus on what he is saying.

  15. David Kastel says:

    Has the pope or the American bishops conference ever made a statement specifically stating that holding or advocating the “pro-choice” position with regard to the civil law is a sin?

    Were Justices O’Connor or Kennedy (I assume they are both Catholic) ever denied Communion on these grounds?

    Giuliani has now been denied Communion by Cardinal Egan due to his adulterous ‘marriage.’ That’s because adultery is a sin.

    If it’s not a sin, then it is allowed. If a person held the belief that adultery is a sin, but it should not be prohibited by the civil law, is he guilty of sin?

  16. Barb says:

    As much as I wince at what we have to deal with where this misguided soul is concerned, I must point out that
    he looks kinda long of tooth and might not be around to disgrace the Church in america for much longer. I
    just pray that he repents of his sins sufficently to squeak into Heaven.

  17. opey124 says:

    It is quite simple.
    McBrien believes in a “democratic” church, meaning, the most voices, etc win.
    I say, we vote to see if HE gets to remain in his position and present our petition.
    It is, the way he operates, after all…

  18. Diego says:

    I echo Catecheist’s (ND ’91) comments above. As a student at Our Lady’s University, I must say that while the state of my school is often disheartening and disappointing, I believe (and am continually experiencing) that it is possible to ‘create’ an orthodox and faith-filled education at Notre Dame. Where else will you find a campus ministered to by an army of religious priests, brothers, and sisters; where Holy Mass is celebrated over 100 times each week, now in both forms of the Roman Rite; where a small, but growing and faithful core of Catholic professors continue to teach the Faith, in spite of attempts from every side to diminish their work; and where students diligently pray and offer sacrifices for their school, peers, and professors, that they might remain faithful to God and His Church? Many speak about Notre Dame as if it is being left on the wayside. Be assured, there are many of us ‘loyal sons of Notre Dame’ who are praying for a renewal and change of heart and mind at our university.

    Despite the criticisms, and they are many, I remain hopeful that the Blessed Mother, the patroness of Notre Dame, will obtain for all affiliated with Her University the graces of perseverance and faithfulness. Please pray for us.

  19. William Tighe says:

    Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is an Episcopalian.

  20. Padre Steve says:

    I forgot he was still a priest! Wow, that whole generation is still trying to hang on to the stale 60s and 70s mentality. They need to let it go already!

  21. Father Kowalski says:

    Meaning no disrespect to Fr. McBrien’s priesthood, but this guy is like a bad penny [and no disrespect to pennies, bad or otherwise] just just keeps showing up!

  22. While Notre Dame may have some good and orthodox profs, I still wouldn’t give them a dime of tuition or donation until they clean house.

    How much more does the Holy See need to bench this priest from playing his games at any Catholic institution?

  23. Steven says:

    Without going into the “full sprectum” nonsense I do honestly feel I have a moral quandry with either candidate with responds to the sanctity of human life. Senator Obama has made his views on abortion well known. But on the other side McCain and the neocons have engaged in an unjust war and many of his advisors promote spreading wars to Iran and Syria. The worse of them even advocate creating a first strike capability against Russia. Do I support an imperial America who spreads wars throughout the world or do I support a man who will help make abortions more common in our country and around the world. Not a very attractive choice. Which is the greater evil?

  24. David Andrew says:

    I know this is a very serious issue, but I can’t help but try to lighten things up.

    And, at the risk of going “over the top . . .” Is it just me, or does he look like. . . well, you have a look:

  25. TJM says:

    I am a Double-Domer with strong connections to the University. No one takes McBrien seriously there AT ALL! He’s a has-been, a 1960s left-0ver. The TLM has returned to the Campus along with Gregorian Chant, polyphony, solid Catholic doctrine, Corpus Christi processions, etc. The media is desperate so they use him because they couldn’t find a younger priest or theologian there with his ultra-liberal views. Tom

  26. Tom says:

    The reason this clown is still around is the 1967 Land O’Lakes Statement.

  27. Mark G. says:

    Nice tie!

    I guess he understands “Tie one on!” in a different sense.

  28. Matt Q says:

    This is just on the human level. At what point does a Roman Catholic priest such as this individual ( gratuitously applied ), depart from reality? He was ordained from a time when theology was more solid, and profoundly explained than today, yet he continues to spout ideas and thinking which is beyond what the Church teaches and totally distorts what She does. This then on face value is heresy because he deliberately speaks against Church teaching point by point, so it isn’t just something thoughtlessly off the cuff ( which we all have done at one moment or another ).

  29. Lucia says:

    Having priorities and principles does not make me a “one-issue” voter. If it does, yahoo, I’m proud of it.

    If the “one issue” was the Iraq war, we wouldn’t hear a thing about it.

    Pity my future lies in such hands.

  30. Barb says:

    1960’s lava-lamp theology….you know, the kind that keeps changing shape.

  31. Aelric says:

    Unfortunately, I fear that every time some like McBrien gets coverage such as this, he wins (and I recognize my own self-referential inconsistency in so posting).

  32. Son of Trypho says:

    “Do I support an imperial America who spreads wars throughout the world or do I support a man who will help make abortions more common in our country and around the world. Not a very attractive choice. Which is the greater evil?”

    An interesting question and controversial.
    One could suggest that you consider the impact and longevity of warfare, which is usually defined by a timeframe whereas abortion legislation is very difficult to repeal once in place and will eventually inflict greater casualties than any one particular conflict.
    (To my mind the only western country which was repealed it since enacting said legislation is Poland, all the rest don’t appear to have done this which is something to ponder as well)

  33. Jordanes says:

    “Do I support an imperial America who spreads wars throughout the world or do I support a man who will help make abortions more common in our country and around the world. Not a very attractive choice. Which is the greater evil?”

    Well, it’s a good thing that’s not the dilemma we face this year.

  34. David says:

    Gang, pray for this priest. He obviously needs it.

  35. TJM says:

    An imperial America? You must be drinking the New York Slimes kool-aid. I wish now that we had left Europe alone during WW II and made them suffer the consequences of their failure to confront evil. Tom

  36. McBrien’s not the only yet unmelted snow in Notre Dame’s new springtime. Former university president Fr. Hesburgh is making news again… and not in a good way.

  37. shadrach says:


    You hate Europe so much? Shame.

    Am I alone in finding the obvious impatience abroad that individuals haven’t died yet uncharitable and malicious? (In any case, McBrien isn’t taken seriously, except by people who define themselves as a particular brand of Catholic. Hesburgholatry is already an artefact.)

    Many might be surprised at the amount of thinking Catholics (especially younger ones) who move from sympathies with shallow pundits like McBrien (often an entry level for them) to a richer understanding of the Church’s wisdom and the fact that its wealth comes from its living tradition. They work it out themselves. For this reason it is important that orthodox Catholics present a more attractive face and are full of joy. Malice is unattractive and, by definition, has nothing to do with the Truth.

  38. Guy Power says:

    Fr. Z: …This language is used when people want to dissolve the “life” issue into a big soup of other issues, and thus down play its importance….

    Good point, Father. No matter how delicious the soup looks, nor how hungry one may be … a cockroach floating in the soup makes it unpalatable!

    Abortion is the cockroach in the Democratic soup of progressiveness.

  39. Fr. Michael says:

    In response to the article and in particular to Diane at Te Deum Laudamus and Grandfather Mike let me add the following.

    First and by the way, McBrien loooooves that this article is getting all these responses. Loves center stage? You betcha.

    Second, while the question “why is this guy still on the faculty at ND” may be valid, the PRIMARY question to ask is, “Where is the Bishop of Hartford, CT?”

    The relationship between priest and his bishop is stronger and more important than the relationship between a professor and his employer.

    For years (decades) the heat has been on ND with people crying, “why does ND allow this?”. But all along the heat should have been on his diocesan bishop who has the primary and ultimate responsibility to pastor his priests. BUT, noooooo that didn’t happen. And so friends, let’s just wait until life takes its course as it does for all of us eventually.

    Lastly, to Grandfather Mike, as a two time grad of ND and a religious priest of its founding community, I gently encourage you to take a look again at Our Lady’s University and not judge it based on one faculty member. God bless.

  40. It’s ridiculous for traditional Catholics to abandon the University of Notre Dame. That is giving up the fight. Like it or not, Notre Dame is the flagship of Catholic Universities in the United States.

    As someone who lives near Notre Dame and knows a few of the faculty and students, and am a traditional Catholic, I can assure you it is filled with good and faithful professors and an ever growing student body that is traditional. Does it have problems? Of course. But where else are you going to send your children or sink tuition money? Ave Maria? Georgetown? Some state school wherein anti-Catholicism is a core course?

    Send your kids to a University with sound academics and is in close contact with traditional Catholicism. Notre Dame has a way to go, but it is certainly better than 99% of your other choices.

  41. Ben Trovato says:

    Fr McBrien’s argument against single issue voting is a like saying: Hitler may get the trains running on time and restore some national pride: don’t vote on the single issue of anti-semitism… The abortion holocaust is as big and defining an issue as Hitler’s holocaust: not to see that is moral blindness. There are some issues that really are that big.

  42. Mary says:

    I’m listening and I’ll try to keep an open mind about our daughter attending Notre Dame. Frankly, I had nixed it after our visit this summer. While the campus is absolutely beautiful, our visit was tainted by a very liberal guide who spoke of things we disliked and spoke not of what we wanted to hear.

  43. It may be prejudiced of me to say this, since I am a professor at a non-Catholic university, and since I attended three Jesuit schools where tradition was to be found (you just had to hunt for it), but Notre Dame is hardly the “flagship” of American Catholic universities. Much of the Notre Dame mystique is, I think, founded on sentiment more than anything.

  44. Angelo says:

    Ahhhh, “The Suited One”. I see he still spews his errors. Does he really have an audience anymore? Shame if he does. Where, oh where is Rome? How hard can it be to just curl a papal finger in a beckoning motion to the bishops of these heretics? Where is the mercy of fraternal correction?

  45. Sid says:

    In reply to the earlier entry on this website “A newbie to the TLM writes with observations after which Fr. Z rants”, in the context of Rudolf Otto and “The Holy”, I have raised the question of whether the phenomenon of Richard McBrien be an example of the “mundane”, if not the “anti-holy”. For what he represents goes beyond Moral Theology. He may represent an inability to acknowledge the holy as a category of experience, if not an utter hostility to it. For the sacrosanctity of life implies its sanctity.

  46. Gerard E. says:

    As I have learned in another setting, context determines conduct. The secular Bible of the aging 60s dissident market features one of its last living advocates. Even the secular media, always on the hunt for cheeky rebels, disposed of McBrien’s office phone number in its files. This third-rate Hans Kung impersonator has nothing more to offer, not even in this equivalent of preaching to the choir. Same with this publication that has served as a print soapbox for his wacky views. Don’t go away mad, Rich. Just. Go. Away.

  47. DoB says:

    on of Tryfo,

    Why does he not leave?
    He has no spiritual integrity that is why. He is content to present false teaching and leech. He has separated himself from the body but is quite content to leech off it’s blood, injecting poison as he does so. Why this man is allowed to do so beggars belief.

  48. Chris says:

    I’m not saying every priest has to be in a cassock (although I wish they would), but isn’t there a bare minimum of a Roman Catholic collar at all times other than sleeping???

  49. Memphis Aggie says:

    This “Father” appears to be practically self-laicized – I think the Church should do us all a favor and make it official, after offering him a chance to repent.

  50. Xpihs says:

    Fr. Z,

    It would be very interesting to see that sermon you gave, as, I am sure, it would be very interesting to see most of the sermons you give.

  51. Supertradmom says:

    Father McBrien came to ND when I was there and I went to his initial presentation, complete with question and answers. After giving a banal lecture and revealing his less than stellar theological background, he asked the audience for questions. A famous professor, now at Duke I believe, stood up and said, “Well, Dick what you just said was b……s….” McBrien replied, a bit flustered, “That is not a question, Stanley.” To which the reply was, without a second wasted, “Well, Dick, how can you question B…S…?” The students and many faculty loved it. Sadly, the priest has never been ND quality and I came to the conclusion that he was hired merely for some sort of “media mania”, as he was constantly on television for his so-called Catholic opinions. Hope the reference is not too raw for publication….

  52. Baron Korf says:

    See, this is why we used to have the Inquisition. (j/k, well, mostly)

  53. TJM says:

    Dr. Fratantuono,

    Although there are many fine Catholic colleges and universities in the US, the University of Notre Dame is the Catholic flagship school
    in the US. It consistently ranks higher academically than any other Catholic University you could mention. Sorry.


    No I do not hate Europe or Europeans. My daughter is married to one. However, he has abandoned Europe because of attitudes like the tired
    old canard of “Imperial America,” their lack of innovation, a stifling class system, and a second rate intelligentsia which derives
    some sick pleasure from trashing their protector, the United States of America. Maybe they would prefer Russia?


  54. Mike R. says:

    Fr. Michael makes a very good point. The bishop of Hartford could call McBrien back to service (or, I presume, retirement) in the diocese any time he so chooses. And the fact that he is apparently (I’ve never actually heard of anyone see him use his priestly faculties or wear a Roman collar or anything; I’ve certainly never seen him on a campus Mass schedule or (haha!) hearing Confessions) still a priest does show a certain level of tolerance for his positions by the Church hierarchy. It’s hard for a university to overturn someone’s tenure when the Church hasn’t taken any truly serious actions against him. If he’s good enough to, in principle, teach the faithful in a parish, why would it be so horrible to put him in a classroom where students will actually argue with him (and, if his professor reviews are any indication, take everything he says with a grain of salt)?

    I’m by no means saying he should still be on the faculty, but he shouldn’t still have faculties as a priest, either. At least he spends much more time on ABC News and at Call To Action conferences these days than he spends in a classroom.

  55. John Enright says:

    Fr. McBrien said “Because there is a distinction between the moral law and the civil law, Catholics and others–-Christians and non-Christians alike – cannot expect that every element of the moral law, as they understand it, can or should be translated into civil law.”

    Apparently, Fr. McBrien appears to be unfamiliar with paragraph 1903 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church which states: “Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, ‘authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse.'”

    We can indeed expect that civil law will be consistent with moral law!

  56. Fr. Aidan Logan, O.C.s.o. says:

    In my Sunday bulletin and sermon I used the following quote from the USCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities:
    “No amount of good social policy, such as programs that feed the hungry and shelter the homeless – as vitally important as they are – can make up for bad policies concerning the protection of life itself. Without the fundamental right to live, the right to not be killed, no other rights are meaningful. In fact, without life no other rights can exist.”
    So much for Fr. McBrien’s take on the bishop’s teaching!
    To my great surprise and delight one could have heard a pin drop as I read this out — especially at the 7:00 PM Mass, attended exclusively by Midshipmen (Ages 17-25). Everyone knew exactly what I was talking about.

  57. John Enright says:

    Chris said “I’m not saying every priest has to be in a cassock (although I wish they would), but isn’t there a bare minimum of a Roman Catholic collar at all times other than sleeping???”

    Indeed there is just such a requirement in the 1983 Code of Canon Law: “Canon 284 Clerics are to wear suitable ecclesiastical dress, in accordance with the norms established by the Episcopal Conference and legitimate local custom.” (Italics added for emphasis.)

    I’m not aware of any relaxation of the general requirement to wear clerical attire by the USCCB, the Diocese of Hartford, the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend or any peculiar local custom.

  58. Notre Dame, first off, is a national university, as opposed to a liberal arts college. One can pursue a liberal arts college education there, though arguably one is often better off going to a SLAC (small liberal arts college) where undergraduates are the entire focus of the institution’s mission, than a national university with graduate programs.

    Notre Dame is certainly better funded than most Catholic colleges/universities, although quite frankly a University of Dallas, Thomas Aquinas, or Christendom will give a sounder education in theology (and philosophy).

    As for rankings, they are based more on such statistics as endowment, class size, and retention rate (admittedly important statistics) than on what actually happens in the classroom.

  59. Richard says:

    Oh, I don’t know. Sometimes I just sit back and ruminate over the fact that innocent babies are being slaughtered in their mother’s wombs. Well, I guess you could say that I just get *sigh* worked up on this “one issue”.

  60. “If he’s good enough to, in principle, teach the faithful in a parish, why would it be so horrible to put him in a classroom where students will actually argue with him (and, if his professor reviews are any indication, take everything he says with a grain of salt)?”

    This has indeed been done, most famously in the U.S. with Fr. Charles Curran, whose nihil obstat to teach Catholic theology from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was revoked, leading rto his firing from the Pontifical Faculty of Theology at the Catholic University of America. He remains, however, a priest in good standing of the Diocese of Rochester (though he is assigned to duties teaching at Southern Methodist University) and recently celebrated Mass and preached back in his home diocese.

  61. anon this time says:

    Dr. Lee,
    Those who want to earn a degree in theology or philosophy might well be advised to attend Dallas, TC, or Christendom. I know quite a number of such folks, and many of them are struggling to make ends meet, especially those who are married and trying to support growing families. For the vast majority of Catholic students who want to study economics, mathematics, engineering, business, political science, biology, chemistry, etc. at a nationally-ranked university committed (however imperfectly) to its Catholic mission, Notre Dame IS the flagship. No other Catholic university has the resources, academic standing, or solidly Catholic student body.

  62. There are plenty of academic disciplines were Georgetown can give Notre Dame a run for its money; so also Boston College.

    I do not mean to disparage Notre Dame; I object to calling it some sort of “Catholic flagship university”.

    But this thread has hit on a more fundamental issue than what number a given school merits in a poll or college ranking. The bigger issue is whether Catholics (indeed, anyone) should get an undergraduate degree in, say, business or a non-liberal arts field.

    One of the reasons the Church is in crisis (let alone Western society in general) is the slow but steady transition of college education from liberal arts, automatically assumed, to “what will [allegedly] get me a job after 4 years?”.

    For would-be liberal arts undergraduates, Notre Dame isn’t close to a few other Catholic options (both orthodox and less so).

  63. Mike R. says:

    Dr. Lee,

    I agree with you as far as the necessity of undergraduate degrees outside of the liberal arts, and with the fact that there are some disciplines where Georgetown or BC are neck-and-neck with Notre Dame. When we say that it is a Catholic flagship university, there are two reasons for this: 1) That is the overwhelming impression of the typical American and the typical Catholic, and 2) Notre Dame maintains high academic standing with some of the brightest and best students in the country while striving to a much greater degree than either BC or Georgetown to stay true to its Catholic identity.

    As someone with a theology degree from ND (along with taking quite a few philosophy and other liberal arts courses) and a Master’s from a more orthodox institution, one thing that has troubled me in my interactions with students and graduates from the more orthodox schools is that they have very little understanding of the fact that there are more than one orthodox school of thought. I have no inside knowledge of these schools, but from my interactions with their alumni, they tend to usually have a great deal of exposure to a single tradition (usually Neo-Scholasticism), with no consciousness that there are major theological and philosophical arguments within the bounds of Church doctrine today. The students are catechized on the whole much better than ND students are, but as far as serious academic discussion, I’m definitely glad that I went to a school where I was at least aware of important trends in speculative theology, the distinctions between Thomism and Scotism, the various schools of thought concerning free will and predestination, not to mention the various competing moral theologies (New Natural Law, virtue-based ethics, etc.) in the Church for the past century and competing interpretations of Catholic social teaching.

    As to a sound education in philosophy, I think it’s a bit difficult to argue with Notre Dame’s department, which includes such formidable thinkers as Alasdair MacIntyre, Thomas Flint, Ralph and Daniel McInerny, Alfred Freddoso, Alvin Plantinga, and John Finnis.

  64. TJM says:

    Dr. Frantantuono, you omitted one important fact. It is true those surveys include in their calculus endowment,class size, retention, etc. but those surveys also rate academic excellence. I am not disagreeing that there are many fine Catholic institutions of higher learning they simply do not have the reputation or reknown of Notre Dame. I travel to Europe frequently. My European friends all know about Notre Dame, the others, not so much. By the way, Mike R, mentioned Dr. Ralph McInerny of Notre Dame who is a fine Thomist and an extremely orthodox Catholic who has far more intellectual heft than Father McBrien. He also enjoys greater respect among the students and faculty. Tom

  65. anon this time says:

    Dr. Lee,
    I completely agree about the importance of the liberal arts, and have given that speech to our own children countless times, but the unfortunate reality is that the tab for a Notre Dame or comparable private education now approaches $200K, and many large Catholic families simply don’t have the option of sending their children for additional professional education.

  66. Jennifer Swegler says:

    To David Werling and those commenting about Catholic universities…

    I attend the University of Dallas, and after 3 1/2 years will be graduating this December. Though we are pricey, we still come no where near the cost per year of Notre Dame seeing as currently: “Undergraduate tuition at the University of Notre Dame will increase 4.8 percent for the 2008-09 academic year to $36,340, the lowest percentage increase at the University since 1960, and the average room and board rates will be $9,828, for a total cost of $46,168” ( UD is about $32,656 for the full year which includes the room and board costs, and for those of us who live off campus, its $7,886 cheaper.

    Now, while we here at UD are a small liberal arts college, and yes, we have our problems just like everyone else, and perhaps our professors are not as well know as MacIntyre (I actually read one of his books for the Philosophy of History course I took last fall), we do offer a wonderful education and a sound understanding in philosophy and theology. Perhaps our professors are not yet the big names, but Dr. Rosemann is one of the up coming medieval philosophy scholars, and we have several professors who shine and will one day be well known, of that I have no doubt.

    As for Richard McBrien… I sincerely hope that his bishop reprimands him or suspends him, and though perhaps most don’t take him seriously, I’m sure that there are some who like to tout him as their theologian or interpreter of choice which is worrisome in itself.

    God Bless,

    Jennifer Ellen Patrick Swegler
    UD Class 09′

  67. Kim says:

    Richard Mcbrien Is Great ! He follows the greatest Liberal
    of them all Jesus Christ. Jesus condemned the pharisees
    of his day for dumping needless burdens on men & treating all
    matters of the law as equal. He healed on the sabbath(people first)
    He made issue of judgement regarding persons who won^t help the needy,
    feed the poor & clothe the naked. Popes have done great damage at tomes.
    Pope Gregory The Great taught sexual relatins in marriage are evil
    & unbaptized children go to hell.Pius the IX hailed democracy as madness
    & freedom of the press as wrong.Pius IX hailed slavery as moral too
    One Pope I forget his name,condemned the faithful to read the scriptures
    a practice the New Catechism encourages. Criticism of Popes is fine,
    Vatican II taught the church is the People Of God & that infallibilty also lies in the faithful when they recieve & accept a doctrine
    The Sensus Fidei. Most people accept the New mass & couldn^t
    care less about the Trent one. [“the Trent one”…. well… there it is…]

  68. Jordanes says:

    Kim said: Richard Mcbrien Is Great ! He follows the greatest Liberal of them all Jesus Christ.

    I defy you to find one liberal who agrees with all, or even most, of Christ’s teachings.

    Jesus condemned the pharisees of his day for dumping needless burdens on men

    He didn’t say they were needless. He said they were heavy and grievous to bear, and said the Pharisees wouldn’t even lift a finger to help people bear those burdens. But you won’t ever find Him saying the burdens were “needless.”

    & treating all matters of the law as equal.

    Jesus never accuses the Pharisees of treating all matters of the Torah as equal.

    He healed on the sabbath(people first)

    No, not People First, Jesus First. Read the Gospels. The Sabbath-day healings were to demonstrate that He is Messiah and Lord, not just to put people first. That’s
    why He didn’t just say, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” but continued, “That is why the Son of Man is Lord over the Sabbath.”

    He made issue of judgement regarding persons who won^t help the needy, feed the poor & clothe the naked.

    Doesn’t sound like much of a liberal to me.

    Popes have done great damage at tomes.

    No, the Tome of Leo was a great help to the Church.

    Pope Gregory The Great taught sexual relatins in marriage are evil & unbaptized children go to hell.

    I doubt you know much about what Pope St. Gregory the Great taught, but certainly sexual relations in marriage can be sinful, and whether or not unbaptised babies go to “hell,” it is dogma that anyone who dies with unremitted original sin cannot go to heaven.

    Pius the IX hailed democracy as madness & freedom of the press as wrong.

    Yes he did, God bless him.

    Pius IX hailed slavery as moral too


    One Pope I forget his name,condemned the faithful to read the scriptures a practice the New Catechism encourages.

    Nope, no Pope has ever condemned the reading of the Scriptures, only the reading of spurious scripture translations — and the unlearned were strongly cautioned against trying to read and interpret the Scriptures on their own. All quite sensible instructions.

    Criticism of Popes is fine

    Sometimes, when the critic is informed and intelligent and the criticism is valid and just.

    Vatican II taught the church is the People Of God & that infallibilty also lies in the faithful when they recieve & accept a doctrine The Sensus Fidei.

    You mean the sensus fidelium, which of course only refers to the faithful, not the unfaithful. Also, the sensus fidelium is the least clear organ of infallibility the Church has.

    Most people accept the New mass & couldn^t care less about the Trent one.

    Truth is not determined by a majority vote, Kim.

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