Bishop Finn Interviewed on Notre Dame Commencement
Monday, May 18, 2009
Bishop Robert Finn
Bishop of Kansas City - St. Joseph Bishop
Kansas City - St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn agreed to an
interview with Catholic Key Editor Jack Smith on the subject of yesterday's
Commencement exercises at Notre Dame. The full text follows:
Dialogue was the big theme of the Notre Dame commencement. Is it possible
for the Church to dialogue on abortion?
There are many associated elements that have to do with taking care of women in
distress, offering alternatives to abortion. We have to work together, discuss
and study how best we can provide for the needs of women and families. How can
we reduce the number of abortions? These are elements for dialogue. But the
rightness or wrongness of abortion – this is an intrinsic evil. The direct
taking of an innocent life can never be negotiated.
Dialogue is a means to an end. The purpose of dialogue has to be a change of
heart. If I listen well and we each speak the truth, then the dialogue may have
a chance of being productive. But I have to have some authentic principled goal
President Obama asked in his address, “Is it possible to join hands in
common effort?” Can the Church join hands in common effort with the
As a country we want to see an end to racial prejudice. We want a more secure
peace in the world. We want sound economic justice for people. So we can’t give
up on working with the administration.
But we’re fighting for our lives – literally. We are attempting to protect real
unborn children by the thousands. We’re fighting for the right to exercise a
rightly-formed conscientious difference with public policy. We shouldn’t
underestimate the danger of dragging our feet in this effort, or taking a “wait
and see” approach. If we are not ready to make a frontal attack on the
protection of conscience rights, the overturning of Roe v’ Wade, and the primacy
of authentic marriage, we will lose in these areas. I think the rug is already
being pulled out from under us. If we sit back and allow ourselves to be lulled
into a false sense of peace and cooperation in regards to these things, then we
will lose these battles and, later, wonder why.
Without identifying any person or group, Notre Dame President Father John
Jenkins in his introduction of the President warned against a tendency to
“demonize each other”. Were the bishops who spoke in opposition to an honorary
doctorate of law for President Obama “demonizing” him or Notre Dame?
I think the bishops (and many others) were pointing out the hurtful nature of
the invitation. As I reread Fr. Jenkins’ remarks I found it fell into three
parts. In the first part Fr. Jenkins himself uses a whole series of very, very
hard words. He uses the words - division, pride, contempt, demonize, anger,
distort, hateful, condemn, hostility. And one might wonder whether he uses these
words as a kind of a caricature of the 60 to 70 bishops who have spoken out
against his invitation.
The center part is all about dialogue. He uses the word dialogue, I think, six
times. And he quotes it from Pope Benedict, and he quotes it from Ex Corde
Ecclesiae and he quotes from the Second Vatican Council.
And in the third part, he expresses his admiration for the President. So this
seems to be the way he sets up the President’s talk for him – to speak in a very
negative way about anyone who appears to be contrary to the decision they made,
and then to stress the primacy of dialogue, and then offer his admiration of the
President. Dialogue is important, but the question is fairly raised, “May we
negotiate about things that are intrinsic evils?” and I think the answer is no.
The President also spoke against reducing those with differing views to
caricature. Is that what these bishops have done with regard to the President’s
actions on life?
The bishops realize the very destructive decisions that President Obama promised
to make concerning the life issues, and now has been making in connection with
abortion and human embryonic stem cell research. This is serious business; it is
about life and death. If in speaking out on these things, we are characterized
as being angry or condemnatory – then so be it. Such actions are worthy of
This is part of the scandal of Notre Dame’s invitation to the President - that
it has the potential of confusing people concerning the Catholic teaching
against abortion, and on the priority of abortion among other issues of public
Was there an overriding message to the commencement proceedings that came
I think the message of the day was this – that the President of Notre Dame said
that they had invited the President of the United States and decided to honor
him for the sake of dialogue. And then the President got up and said that the
differences that we have on abortion – namely the Catholic Church’s staunch
opposition to abortion and his staunch support of abortion were
“irreconcilable.” And at that moment, it would seem to me that the dialogue came
to a screeching halt. Father Jenkins’ expressed desire for dialogue, whether it
was well-founded or justified, at that point got thrown back in his face. The
President shut the door on dialogue by saying that there was not going to be any
change in his position on abortion and he understood that there was not going to
be any change in the Church’s position on abortion. To me, that was the lesson
of the day. I am glad that Mr. Obama was so clear.
And then, amazingly, everybody gave him a standing ovation. The perception
unfortunately was that this was a completely acceptable position of his and,
because he is a bright and talented man, this trumps the destructive decisions
that he’s making day after day.
Is President Obama’s call to work together in reducing unintended
pregnancies a new way to find common ground?
I fear that the specific way that the President frames this in terms of
“reducing unintended pregnancies” is through the promotion of Planned Parenthood
and contraceptive services. The President has supported the Prevention First Act
bill that’s going forward. This is not about abstinence education. This is about
promoting contraception and giving Planned Parenthood a huge blank check. If
Catholics don’t see a problem with this then I don’t think they understand the
threat it represents to the meaning of marriage, to fidelity, to chastity, to
the very sanctity of human life and intimate love.
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