I am not personally acquainted with the Rev. John Jenkins, C.S.C., the current president at the University of Notre Dame (where I was a graduate student in philosophy nearly a half-century ago). Not possessing an intimate knowledge of the workings of his mind, I can only speculate as to what he was thinking when he invited President Barack Obama to give the 2009 commencement address at his school.
But if I don’t know Father Jenkins as an individual, I know him as a type — or rather, as two types: He is a post-Second Vatican Council priest (post-VC), and he is one of the leaders — along with bishops and the heads of other important Catholic colleges and universities — of the Catholic Church in the United States.
Let’s begin with Type No. 1, post-VC priests. One of the marks of the typical post-VC priest is that he has always been determined not to make the mistakes made by pre-Vatican II (pre-VC) priests. The simplest way to accomplish this is for the post-VC priest to do the opposite of what the pre-VC priest would have done. If the old-school priest would sermonize often about human sinfulness and rarely about Divine Love, the new-school priest would do the reverse. If the old-school priest was preoccupied with the evil of sexual sin, the new-school priest would give the impression that he didn’t really mind sexual sin at all; he had more serious things to think about, such as the equal rights of women in the Church.
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One of the great failings of pre-VC priests and bishops was their sympathy with right-wing regimes in Europe. “Communism is the great enemy of the Church, and right-wing regimes are anti-Communist; therefore we churchmen should endorse, or at least not oppose, right-wing regimes” — that was the logic found all too often in the minds of pre-VC priests and bishops. In Germany, official Catholic opposition to the Hitler regime ranged from very mild to nonexistent. (The emphatic denunciation of the regime by Pope Pius XI in his letter “Mit Brennender Sorge” did not create much of an echo in Germany.) In Spain, and indeed throughout the Catholic world, the leaders of the Church regarded General Franco as a great Christian hero — if not a new St. Louis then at least a new Charlemagne. (There were some honorable exceptions to this generalized applause for Franco: Jacques Maritain in France and Commonweal magazine in the United States, among others.) The attitude of Catholic leadership was close to being this: “No enemies to the right.”
Now, the easiest way of avoiding this “no enemies to the right” mentality is to adopt a “no enemies to the left” mentality. I suspect that Father Jenkins, along with many other post-VC priests and bishops, has done something very much like this. President Obama is a man of the left. That is to say, he favors national health care; he’s against poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, and global warming; he disapproves of American “arrogance” in world affairs; he thinks the United States should rely more on diplomacy and less on military force; he wants to see more electric autos on the road; he wants us all to reduce our carbon footprint; he wants to put more money into public schools, etc. According to a typical post-VC priest, any politician who favors all these excellent things must be fundamentally okay. And if he happens to support public policies that facilitate the killing of more than a million unborn human beings per year, well, nobody’s perfect. Despite being a Protestant, President Obama has a “good Catholic” grade of at least an A-minus. Shall we keep him out of Notre Dame because he happens not to have an A-plus.
But Father Jenkins is not simply a post-VC priest. He is also, as the head of America’s most famous Catholic university, Type No. 2: one of the leaders of the Catholic Church in the United States. In general, the leaders of the Church have never understood the historical significance of the abortion-rights movement (and this can be said of the gay-marriage movement as well). What the abortion-rights movement wants is not simply the right to kill millions of unborn babies; what it also wants is the utter destruction of Christianity.
This is not the first time somebody has wanted Christianity to be wiped off the earth. Diocletian wanted this. So did Voltaire and his French Revolution disciples. So did Lenin and Stalin. So did Hitler. With the exception of Voltaire, who wanted to ruin it with ridicule and indignation, everybody on the list wished to ruin Christianity by the use of force. Today, in the “advanced” countries of the world, the way you destroy Christianity is by bringing about a massive rejection of the sexual and pro-life elements of its ethic. You persuade people that sexual license is fine, that same-sex marriage is fine, and — above all — that abortion is fine.
Most of our Catholic leaders don’t realize this. They think that abortion is simply about abortion and that homosexuality is simply about homosexuality. They don’t realize that in our current historical situation, abortion, homosexuality, etc., are also about the destruction of Christianity. And so they don’t fight back; at least, they don’t fight back hard enough. And sometimes they give a helping hand to the enemy — witness Father Jenkins and Notre Dame.