Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Scandal in Notre Dame: Utilius est illi si lapis molaris ....

In assessing Fr. Jenkins's invitation of President Obama to Notre Dame, one must focus on two parts of the matter. First, one should look at Fr. Jenkins's act of inviting President Obama and awarding him with an honorary degree considering President Obama's extreme views and voting record on abortion and stem cell research. In this regard, one must ask whether it was scandal, or perhaps merely bad judgment or imprudent. Second, one should look at President Obama's speech itself, and see why the speech was not a call toward peace and cooperation, but a call to the Christian soldier to surrender to secularism and consequentialism if he is to participate in the democratic process. I will address the issue of scandal in this post, and will assess President Obama's speech in a subsequent post.

In assessing the propriety of Fr. Jenkins's act, it behooves us to reflect on the meaning of the word "scandal." It is a word that comes to us from the Greek word "skandalon" (σκάνδαλον). The word refers to that part of the trap to which bait is attached, and, as a synecdoche, to the entire trap. It also has the meaning of a stone or tripping hazard on a road or pathway. The word has wended its way into the idiom of the Church, as most things have, from Scripture. There are myriad references to "skandalon" in the Scriptures, and any good Greek concordance will point you to them. But perhaps the most ominous use of the word is the Lord's own appropriation of it in the Gospel of Luke (17:1-2):
It is impossible that scandals should not come; but woe to him through whom they come! It were better for him if a millstone were hung about his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.

We have lost the sense of the seriousness of scandal, largely because, as Pope John Paul II reminded us during his pilgrimage on earth, modern man's sin is that he has lost the sense of sin. If you lose the sense of sin, you will lose your grip on the seriousness of giving scandal.

In inviting President Obama and awarding him with an honorary degree, did Fr. Jenkins cause "scandal"? Did he lay a "trap" or a "stumbling block" to others to sin? In answering the question, we should turn to the resources of the Church, specifically, her moral theologians. Over the centuries, as moral theologians have reflected on God's Word, they have made useful distinctions regarding the sin of scandal. The principal concern surrounding scandal is avoiding the occasion, incitement, or excuse to another to sin. For scandal to occur, sin need not necessarily follow; it is sufficient that there be the strong probablity that sin could be occasioned, incited, or excused as a result. In other words, it is sufficient if the scandal could tempt another to sin. Moral theologians also distinguish between direct and indirect scandal. Scandal is indirect if the incitement to sin is not intended by the person giving scandal, even though it may be foreseeable that such incitement could be occasioned. The scandal is direct if the incitement to sin is intended by the person giving scandal. Scandal is diabolical if the person causing scandal has the specific intention of manifesting his hatred of God by inciting another person to sin. Finally, there is the so-called scandal of the weak. This latter notion derives from St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 8:9, 13). Christians have an obligation to take reasonable steps to avoid giving scandal to the weak, to the confused, or to the ignorant, even when the particular action that may be involved is, in itself, good or at least indifferent. If it is foreseeable that scandal could result from a certain act, we ought to refrain from that act, if it can easily be done, even though the act itself may not be wrong. So did St. Paul instruct the Corinthians when he advised them not to eat flesh that had been sacrificed to idols, though there was no sin in it, "lest perhaps this right of yours become a stumbling block to the weak .... If food scandalizes my brother, I will eat flesh no more forever, lest I scandalize my brother." Ultimately, causing scandal--whether direct, indirect, or of the weak--is considered a sin against Charity, that is, Love. One who gives scandal does not obey the Golden Rule. He does not obey Christ's injunction to love his neighbor as himself, or to love his neighbor as God loved us.

I do not think anyone accuses Fr. Jenkins, the President of Notre Dame, of diabolical or even direct scandal. The issue is whether Fr. Jenkins caused indirect scandal or scandal to the weak by inviting President Obama to give the commencement address and by awarding him with an honorary doctorate in law. In assessing Fr. Jenkins's behavior, and whether it is the indirect cause of scandal, one should consider other circumstances. First, one should consider the Statement of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2004 entitled "Catholics in Political Life," of which Fr. Jenkins was aware. That document, states:
The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.

Clearly, the intendment of this directive by the U.S. Bishops was to avoid scandal. The Christian faithful have an expectation that the pronouncements of their bishops will be obeyed by the clergy.

More, in assessing Fr. Jenkins's decision, one should consider that he failed to consult with his own ordinary, Bishop D'Arcy, before inviting President Obama to campus. This was imprudent and disrespectful to his ordinary, to say the least. After the matter became public, it became clear that Bishop D'Arcy had informed Jenkins of his disapproval, his belief that he "considered it settled" that awarding any honorary degree contradicted the 2004 USCCB directive, and that Bishop D'Arcy himself was aware of the "outpouring of hundreds of thousands who are shocked by the invitation clearly demonstrates, that this invitation has, in fact, scandalized many Catholics and other people of goodwill." "In my office alone," Bishop D'Arcy informed Fr. Jenkins, "there have been over 3,300 messages of shock, dismay and outrage, and they are still coming in. It seems that the action in itself speaks so loudly that ... the action has suggested approval to many."
Given Fr. Jenkins's awareness of President Obama's public stances on stem cell research and abortion, and given his awareness of the 2004 USCCB directive as construed by D'Arcy, and given his knowledge that hundreds of thousands of the faithful would be confused, angered, and shaken by the invitation and granting of an honorary degree to a person so publically against the Church's teaching, it seems beyond argument that Fr. Jenkins went far beyond scandal of the weak, and is guilty of causing indirect scandal to many of Christ's faithful. We are dealing with far more than imprudence or bad judgment. We are dealing with a scandal, the result of which is a further erosion of the moral authority of the Church. It is just a skirmish, perhaps, in the long social war against abortion's blight. Symbolically and politically, however, it was a great concession to our opponents in America's culture war. And to those of our brothers and sisters who are smallest and weakest, and who are refused the right to life, liberty, and happiness, it was a sad betrayal. We should have expected more from Fr. Jenkins, and from Notre Dame.

St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, refused to allow the Emperor Theodosius entry into his cathedral after the emperor slaughtered thousands in Thessalonica who had rebelled against his authority. The massacre of innocents shocked St. Ambrose, who demanded 8 months penance from the Emperor for this imprudent and sinful act. Whatever Fr. Jenkins is, he is no St. Ambrose. The Church should demand the smug, proud, and self-assured President Obama, what it should demand of all, that he should come to his knees and repent for his participation and promotion of a massacre, a constant holocaust of victims, to the insatiable appetite of Moloch. It is a message President Obama must hear, not only for the souls of his little victims who have no voice, but for his own soul.

First, Moloch, horrid King, besmeared with blood
Of human sacrifice, and parents’ tears;
Though, for the noise of drums and timbrels loud,
Their children’s cries unheard that passed through fire
To his grim idol. Him the Ammonite
Worshiped in Rabba and her watery plain,
In Argob and in Basan, to the stream
Of utmost Arnon. Nor content with such
Audacious neighbourhood, the wisest heart
Of Solomon he led by fraud to build
His temple right against the temple of God
On that opprobrious hill, and made his grove
The pleasant valley of Hinnom, Tophet thence
And black Gehenna called, the type of Hell.

Milton, Paradise Lost, i. 391-405

No comments:

Post a Comment