Can a cathedral be a secular hall?

Is it okay for public schools to rent out a big Christian church for commencement ceremonies?

The ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State don’t think so.

the-first-cathedralThey’ve asked the Enfield (Conn.) public schools to stop holding graduation at The First Cathedral in Bloomfield, Conn. (north of Hartford), a 120,000-square-foot church that “is steeped in Christian symbols and iconography,” according to an ACLU release.

The ALCU has also reached out to four other public high schools in Connecticut that rent out the First Cathedral:  East Hartford High School, South Windsor High School, Windsor High School and the Metropolitan Learning Center Magnet School.

Many high schools have trouble finding facilities large enough for their graduations. These days, many schools limited the number of relatives each student can bring.

So it’s understandable that the First Cathedral is in demand. The church’s website has a whole page on renting the place.

So what’s the ALCU’s beef?

Daniel Mach, Director of Litigation at the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, says: “In our constitutional system, public schools should not be in the business of embracing particular faiths or religious viewpoints. The graduation ceremony is a significant event in the lives of students and their families, and no one should feel like a second-class participant during this important celebration.”

What’s the message to Catholics of the Notre Dame controversy?

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with someone who is a church-going Catholic and who has a child graduating from Notre Dame in two weeks.

This person was trying to get a handle on what it really means that more than 50 bishops and other influential Catholics are furious that Notre Dame — Catholic U — is honoring the President of the United States at commencement services.

The only conclusion that one can draw, he said, is that abortion is the only issue that matters these days in the Catholic world. Period. Case closed.

But if this is so, he said, the church needs to come out and say so, directly and clearly, so that Catholics understand what is going on and can decide where they stand.

Because Notre Dame — which has a chapel in every dorm — is, in fact, honoring our pro-choice president and because most bishops have said nothing about it, the signals being received by most Catholics are decidedly unclear, he told me.

If you read Mary Ann Glendon’s letter to Notre Dame, explaining why she won’t accept an honor on the same stage as Obama, she seems to think that the church’s position is clear. She refers to “the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame’s decision—in disregard of the settled position of the U.S. bishops—to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church’s position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice.”

If you haven’t heard about the Pew Forum’s recent poll on this question….they found that half of Catholics had not even heard about the Obama at ND controversy (including 32% of regular Mass-goers).

Of those who had, 54 percent agree with the decision to honor Obama, and 33 percent disagree.

Breaking things down by Mass attendance, those who attend weekly disagree with the invite to Obama by 45% to 37%, with 18% undecided. Those who attend less often support the invite 56% to 23%, with 21% undecided.

Dolan: Notre Dame loses with Obama

So, Archbishop Dolan is making news before he gets to the Big City.

He told a Milwaukee TV station in a farewell interview that Notre Dame made a “big mistake” by inviting President Obama to give its commencement address: “They did, and I say that as one who loves and respects Notre Dame. They made a big mistake.”

You can watch the video here.

Dolan also said:


There’s a lot of things that President Obama does that we can find ourselves allied with and working with him on, and we have profound respect for him and pray with him and for him. But in an issue that is very close to the heart of Catholic world view, namely, the protection of innocent life in the womb, he has unfortunately taken a position very much at odds with the Church.


A taste of what’s to come from the Archbishop of New York?

Only two weeks from tomorrow, many eyes will be on St. Patrick’s Cathedral for the welcoming prayer service for the new boss. The next day, the Mass of Installation.

The Archdiocese is holding a press briefing tomorrow morning on what’s to come.

Also, EWTN — the Catholic TV network — will air everything: Solemn Vespers at 6:30 p.m. on April 14 and the Mass at 1:30 p.m. on April 15. I think that every TV system around carries EWTN, so this is big news for those who can’t make to the cathedral but want to see it all.