Big thinkers to study…evil

If you read this blog, you know that I have been somewhat obsessed with digging up religious explanations for natural disasters — big shots of natural evil that devastate the innocent.

I even wrote a book about it.

In recent weeks, I’ve been sorting through religious perspectives on the earthquake in Haiti and now the quake in Chile.

So I was surprised to get a release today from the Templeton Foundation announcing a new, three-year study into the (listen for Orsen Wells’ voice here)…”problem of evil in modern and contemporary thought.”

headerTempleton (providing a $1.7 million grant) is teaming with the Center for Philosophy of Religion at Notre Dame to bring scholars together to hash out some very old, very difficult questions.

We’re talking fellowships, conferences, seminars, publications, public events — the best academia has to offer!

As the project’s website puts it:


The widespread and devastating effects of evils are often all too clear. The questions of how and why such evils exist in a world that, according to many, is created and sustained by a loving and powerful God have been collected under the name “the problem of evil.” In its most general form, the problem of evil concerns the relation between God and the broken world around us. If God is all-powerful and all-loving, whence evil?


A project overview notes that critics of religion often cite “natural evil” like the Haitian quake as proof that “the world is, after all, blind, pitiless, and indifferent.”

Things will start cooking this fall with a conference at Notre Dame (not likely to pull too many fans away from football) on Leibniz’s classic work, Theodicy. It will shape up like this:


Leibniz’s Theodicy: Context and Content, held on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the publication of Leibniz’s Theodicy aims to explore this seminal work, the only book length treatise published by Leibniz in his lifetime. The conference will explore its contents, its fit within the Leibnizian corpus, its broader historical context, and its subsequent reception and impact. However, unlike typical conferences focused on a publication anniversary, this conference will also explore how the views expressed fit into the larger intellectual landscape of the period, standing as it does at crucial crossroads: the waning of the post-Reformation, the maturing of the Scientific Revolution, the dawning of the Enlightenment, and the maturing (or some might say implosion) of the rationalist philosophical framework introduced in the early seventeenth century. As a result, papers will focus both on Leibniz and the text of the Theodicy as well their relation to these broader themes.

Did Obama miss an opportunity at ND?

Westchester’s own Ken Woodward has a fine column on about the “lessons” of Obama at Notre Dame.

Woodward is the former longtime religion editor at the newsweekly and now serves as a contributing editor.

A graduate of Notre Dame and a self-described “pro-life Catholic,” Woodward approves of Obama’s invitation. He writes that both Obama and ND President Father John Jenkins showed “courage” for following through with the program.

But he takes Obama to task for not using the opportunity to reach out to Catholics:


For example, he could have signaled his support for the Pregnant Women Support Act, a common-ground initiative that Democrats for Life have introduced in the House and Senate, which has the endorsement of the Catholic bishops Pro-Life Committee.

He might have reassured the Catholic community, beyond a passing phrase, that new regulations governing health-care providers will contain strong clauses protecting the consciences of doctors and nurses who find abortion evil. American Catholics, after all, operate the largest private-hospital system in the world.

As a political gesture, he might have announced a White House liaison to American Catholics. A hundred days into his presidency, there is no one in that post.

Above all, he could have clarified his stand on the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), a bill that would remove all state and local restrictions on abortion. As a candidate, Obama declared his support for FOCA; since then he has said that it is no longer high on his list of legislative priorities.


In the end, Woodward writes, Catholic universities actually enhance their religious identity by “respectfully engaging” those who disagree. He writes: “The message of Notre Dame is that thoughtful Catholics wish this president well. They will work with him if he will work with them.”

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Another ‘mistake’ for Fordham?

Obama wasn’t the only pro-choice pol to be honored by a Catholic university this past weekend.

Fordham gave an honorary degree to Mayor Bloomberg.

And Sen. Schumer apparently spoke, unannounced, at Fordham Law’s graduation.

The NYPost reports that Archbishop Dolan didn’t know about Bloomberg’s honor. He probably couldn’t have known about Schumer, who tends to show up at graduations around NYS and nab a few moments at the podium.

Last fall, Cardinal Egan slammed Fordham Law for giving an award to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, saying that the decision was a “mistake.”

A statement from the archdiocese at the time said that Egan addressed the matter with Fordham and that “As a result of these discussions, the Cardinal is confident that a mistake of this sort will not happen again.”

The week that I missed

I’m back. Hope you had a good week.

I’m about half way through my 1,500 new emails. The worst part is that my email storage is full and I can’t send any emails until I empty it out.

So if you’re waiting for a response from me — as so many people are — please keep waiting.

Here are some odds and ends as I try to catch up with the news:

1. While I was on furlough, I read a stack of magazines from the past few months. In the Jan. 5 New Yorker, there was a quirky story about two rabbis who fly around China checking out factories that produce kosher food. Over $1 1/4 billion worth of kosher-certified foods are exported from China every year. Who knew?

Anyway, the article noted that one of the rabbis was drinking a Coke, and that the Orthodox Union has certified Coca-Cola as kosher since 1993. The article raised a very interesting question: How can you certify a product when its formula is a closely guarded secret? The answer: “Grunberg explained that the Coca-Cola Company presents the O.U. with a long list of ingredients to be approved, including some that are red herrings, just to foil any industrial spies who might be masquerading as rabbis.”

Fascinating, no?

2. I was in Macys buying socks and noticed a T-shirt that said: “FREE speech thought religion expression”

It had a very interesting design for some reason I checked the tag: “Made in Pakistan”

I couldn’t help wondering where in Pakistan it was made? Whose factory? Do the people there believe in all those freedoms — or even know what they are? What would the Taliban think?

3. I wrestled with whether or not I have to see “Angels & Demons.” I don’t think I do. Although it’s the number one movie this week, I haven’t heard any serious talk about the plot or any connections between the story and the real world.

I read “The Da Vinci Code,” saw the movie and wrote about it several times because I heard people wondering whether the plot was true — or based in truth or somehow connected to truth. Many people read it as historical fiction.

Not so with A&D, I think. We’ll see how things develop — and whether I need to see Tom Hanks running around like a mad man. I hope he got a different haircut this time out.

4. I read some of the coverage of B16’s trip to the Holy Land. Somehow, neither what he said nor the reactions to what he said surprised me. Some Israelis were not satisifed with his comments about the Holocaust. Well, B16’s not a great communicator. When it comes to highly symbolic moments, people still expect JPII. But B16 is a different guy.

He favors a Palestinian state and finds the Wall to be a sad sight? Who could be surprised by that?

Benedict is 82 and gave 28 speeches during the trip. He had no major gaffes that I’m aware of. Give the guy some credit.

5. The NYS Assembly’s passage of a bill to legalize gay marriage sets the stage for a fascinating debate in the Senate.

The NYS Catholic Conference calls the Assembly’s move “terribly misguided:” “Marriage is not simply a mechanism with which to provide people with benefits. By creating same-sex ‘marriages,’ the state is endorsing the notion that procreation is completely disconnected from marriage and that a nontraditional family structure serves a child as well as a traditional one.”

The Orthodox Union is “gravely disappointed:” “Legal scholars on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate agree that codifying same-sex marriage without providing robust religious accommodations and exemptions will create widespread and unnecessary legal conflict that will “reverberate across the legal and religious landscape.” We have already seen religious congregations, social welfare agencies and youth groups which object to same-sex unions penalized by authorities in states where such unions have been legalized.”

6. I wish I was around last week to write something about Obama’s Big Day at Notre Dame, which crystallizes the Catholic Church’s struggles over abortion like nothing else (Yes, I know that many Catholics would say that there is no struggle and that Catholics who disagree are dead wrong).

I haven’t had a chance yet to really digest Obama’s remarks. Maybe after I clean out my emails…

7. Finally, I am a finalist for the Religion Writer of the Year Award given out by the Religion Newswriters Assocation. A nice thing.

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.

Fighting Irish: War of words over Obama’s invite to Notre Dame

Notre Dame’s invitation to President Obama to speak at its upcoming commencement has unleashed a torrent of reactions.

This will only heat up as the May 17 graduation comes closer.

The Catholic bishop whose diocese includes Notre Dame, Bishop John M. D’Arcy, says he will not attend. He writes, in part:


President Obama has recently reaffirmed, and has now placed in public policy, his long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred. While claiming to separate politics from science, he has in fact separated science from ethics and has brought the American government, for the first time in history, into supporting direct destruction of innocent human life.

This will be the 25th Notre Dame graduation during my time as bishop. After much prayer, I have decided not to attend the graduation. I wish no disrespect to our president, I pray for him and wish him well. I have always revered the Office of the Presidency. But a bishop must teach the Catholic faith “in season and out of season,” and he teaches not only by his words — but by his actions.


Others, including David Gibson and Father Tom Reese, have raised what has to be a very important point: Cardinal Egan hosted Obama at the Al Smith Dinner and was quite willing to be photographed chatting and laughing with the then-presidential candidate, who had the same views on abortion that he does today.

What gives?

Reese writes:


How do I know that Notre Dame is not violating Catholics in Political Life? Because Notre Dame is doing nothing more than what has already been done by Cardinal Edward Egan of New York, who taught canon law and worked as a judge in the Tribunal of the Sacred Roman Rota, a church court based in the Vatican.

If Cardinal Egan can invite Obama to speak at the Al Smith dinner in October of 2008 when he was only a presidential candidate, then there is certainly nothing wrong with Notre Dame having the President speak at a commencement. Other pro-choice speakers at Al Smith dinners included Al Gore and Tony Blair (a Catholic). What is OK for a cardinal archbishop is certainly OK for a university. Or are bishops exempt from “Catholics in Political Life”?


The gloves have also come off on the question of who gets to decide which public figures can be invited to Catholic colleges.

The Cardinal Newman Society, which insists on orthodoxy at Catholic colleges and regularly slams certain colleges’ choice of speakers, has an online petition going to oppose Obama’s appearance at ND.

Their letter to ND’s president includes this:


This nation has many thousands of accomplished leaders in the Catholic Church, in business, in law, in education, in politics, in medicine, in social services, and in many other fields who would be far more appropriate choices to receive such an honor from the University of Notre Dame.

Instead Notre Dame has chosen prestige over principles, popularity over morality. Whatever may be President Obama’s admirable qualities, this honor comes on the heels of some of the most anti-life actions of any American president, including expanding federal funding for abortions and inviting taxpayer-funded research on stem cells from human embryos.


Joe Feuerherd, publisher of the left-leaning National Catholic Reporter, chastises Patrick Reilly, head of the Cardinal Newman Society, as an “academic ayatollah.” He writes:


Here’s what is really going on. Ayatollah Reilly searches for hot button issues on Catholic campuses — anything that has to do with gays gets them excited, as do performances of “The Vagina Monologues” and, of course, pro-choice speakers (few of whom actually even discuss abortion in their presentations) – that will energize their base of donors and activists. Then they highlight these offenses on the Web and through direct mail to generate revenue.