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Catholic Power, Catholic Morals

Notre Dame drops trespassing charges against pro-lifers.

May 30, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 35 • By JOSEPH BOTTUM
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Then came abortion—or, at least, the clear political divisions over abortion—and suddenly, from the early 1980s on, the Murrayans of the left and the Murrayans of the right were at each other’s throats. People like the Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon, who refused to participate in the controversial 2009 Notre Dame graduation when it became clear that she was being used to defang the pro-life complaints, were no longer perceived as liberal Catholics. People like Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, the longtime president of Notre Dame and liberal stalwart, were no longer perceived as traditional Catholics. The old Catholic confidence—the idea that the faith was going to provide both support and moral guidance for the nation—broke apart. 

The curious part, however, was the way that it broke. The liberals, the left wing of the Murrayans, chose the political side, electing to join and support the American political establishment. And the conservatives, the right wing of the Murrayans, chose the moral side, electing to use Catholicism to call the nation to a higher morality that sees abortion as an outrage against human dignity.

The result is things like the clash on Notre Dame’s campus in 2009. No doubt the protesters believed themselves good Americans. And no doubt Fr. Jenkins, president of a Catholic school, believed himself to be pro-life. But the sides they’ve chosen in the Murray Project compel them all to certain behaviors—on the one hand, to march against the simple appearance of a pro-choice American president at a Catholic college, and, on the other hand, to have Catholics arrested for protesting abortion.

Notre Dame’s decision to allow the 2009 trespassing charges to be dropped is not a solution to this divide. It’s not even a papering over of the split. The Catholicism that pursues power and acceptance in America and the Catholicism that pursues a moral agenda will not be reconciled—not, at least, until the abortion fight in this country is either abandoned or won.

Joseph Bottum is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and the author, most recently, of The Second Spring.

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