Can a culture of life be affirmed by intolerance?
As a Catholic, I have been asking myself this question again recently as a result of the controversy that arose around the invitation Notre Dame University extended to president Barack Obama. In a letter to the president of the university, ten Holy Cross priests have asked to reconsider the invitation. "Failure to do so--they wrote--will damage the integrity of the institution." The president of the American Bishop Conference, cardinal Francis George, echoed the protest and declared that the invitation to Obama was "an extreme embarrassment" to Catholics. An university alumni wrote:
Notre Dame will never again get another donation dime out of me. They have betrayed what they have stood for all these decades and I no longer recognize them as a school of moral certainty or principle.
The degree of intolerance that many Catholics are demonstrating against Obama is striking. Between 1871 and 1878 Chancellor Otto von Bismarck of the German Empire waged a culture war against the influence of the Catholic Church. Today it is often the other way around, and the Catholic Church, or at least certain radical sectors, appears to be engaged in a fearless fight against modernity.
I wonder if promoting intolerance and shutting the doors of dialogue is an appropriate (and effective) way to affirm a culture of life. Intolerance is violent by definition, especially when professed in the name of values such as life. Love should be synonymous with life and those favoring a culture of life certainly agree with this definition. But intolerance promotes hate, the opposite of love, and thus becomes the expression of a culture of death that promotes the politics of hate. It is exactly this kind of culture that President Obama is trying to reverse both domestically and abroad. This does certainly not mean that the Catholic Church should not express its differences with President Obama. But the way Catholics do so matters, because form is substance.
John R. Quinn, archbishop emeritus of San Francisco, poses Catholics some questions worth considering:
What if the president is forced to back out of his appearance at Notre Dame either because he withdraws or the university withdraws its invitation? If this happens, will that further the pro-life effort in our country? If the president is forced to withdraw, will that increase cooperation between the Catholic Church and the Administration, or will it create mounting tensions and deepening hostility? Will it enhance the mission of the church? Will it be used to link the church with racist and other extremist elements in our country? Will it be used to paint the bishops as supporters of one political part over another?
And archbishop Quinn added: "We must weigh very seriously the consequences if the American bishops are seen as the agents of the public embarrassment of the newly elected president by forcing him to withdraw from an appearance at a distinguished Catholics university."
The catechism of the Catholic Church affirms that the Church and the state "serve the personal and social vocation of the same human being." President Barack Obama has made dialogue (including talking to the enemy) and reconciliation the principles of his politics of change. In reaching out to the other and in searching for unity in diversity, the Catholic Church should not lag behind a secular leader. Otherwise, turning into a champion of intolerance, the Church will become the first impediment to the promotion of a culture of life.