Playing Politics

by Shaker Anitanola

I love New Orleans. I love the people, the music, the food, the scent of sweet olive and magnolia. This is a place where artists and writers come to live for a while, because the muses are here. This is a place where homeless people come in the winter so they don't freeze to death. This is a place where brave kids from small towns in mid-America, who come to college hoping to find someone like themselves, discover whole communities that wrap their arms around gay students—and dance with them in the street.

And there is ugly racism, cruel corruption, and abysmal poverty—and Catholicism.

And self-appointed spokesmen who consistently embarrass us are never in short supply. Remember David Vitter? Remember Bobby Jindal's speech following Obama's state of the union message? Sunday in South Bend, President Obama addressed the Notre Dame class of 2009, while across campus, a priest from one of New Orleans' cherished black institutions mounted a platform on the South Quad to speak out in an "alternative commencement."

The Times-Picayune had the story of this self-appointed Louisiana spokesman who, like Jindal, spoke in rebuttal of the President: The Rev. John Raphael is principal of St. Augustine High School, a cherished New Orleans institution. Their academic reputation is outstanding and St. Aug's band, the Marching 100, is highly acclaimed and much loved. Bringing St. Aug back after Hurricane Katrina was as important as any restoration in the city. Fr. Raphael helps tell that story.

Although the students at St. Aug voted 99-1 for President Obama in a straw vote last fall, and Fr. Raphael celebrated with them what he called the nation's long "moral maturation" in the election of a black man as president, on the other hand, he now publicly chastises the President.

He wrote in the Clarion Herald on February 7: "If abortion is OK, then slavery was OK because it was always a matter of choice – the choice of those who were in control."

The students at St. Aug are encouraged to respect those in control in a rather problematic way, which is sadly reminiscent of earlier times. St. Aug still uses a wooden paddle to hit students who break the rules. Potential faculty members are specifically required to sign off on the policy.

Clearly, Fr. Raphael also follows the party line of what America, a less-dogmatic Catholic weekly, calls the "self-appointed watchdogs of orthodoxy." This May 11th editorial in America points out:
For today's sectarians, it is not adherence to the church's doctrine on the evil of abortion that counts for orthodoxy, but adherence to a particular political program and fierce opposition to any proposal short of that program.

…Their highly partisan political edge has become a matter of concern. That they never demonstrate the same high dudgeon at the compromises, unfulfilled promises and policy disagreements with Republican politicians as with Democratic ones is plain for all to see. It is time to call this one-sided denunciation by its proper name: political partisanship.
The partisanship that America is concerned about is exactly what is going on with this demonstration at Notre Dame. America rightly identifies it as politics. And that is what much of religion has so blatantly become. Even according to America, it is not principally about the "evils of abortion."

One wonders if St. Aug's principal is at all familiar with St. Augustine of Hippo's characterization of the sectarians of his day, "these frogs sit in their marsh and croak–'we are the only Christians!'"

"At least 70 bishops" are opposing Notre Dame's president, The Rev. John Jenkins, a 55-year-old philosophy scholar who has spent much of his adult life at Notre Dame. Campus is being bombarded with flyovers trailing pictures of fetuses and protesters with bloody dolls parading outside a recent board meeting. This is vulgar and mean and does disservice to the people of the church and the students of Notre Dame. It is politics—it is indifference to reality for the sake of maintaining and expanding power the church hierarchy's power and control.

Fortunately, wiser heads prevail. Fr. Jenkins has the "full support" of the trustees, according to Richard Notebaert, chairman of the board of trustees. The 91-year-old former president, The Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, said that the school was right to invite Obama and that universities are supposed to be places where people of differing opinions can talk. Solutions to difficult problems are going to come from "people from universities. They aren't going to come from people running around with signs."

Meanwhile, here in New Orleans, the Katrina classes are graduating. These students entered local universities just days before the storm, were evacuated, and returned over the next year.

Actress Cicely Tyson addressed the Dillard graduates. Ellen DeGeneres spoke at Tulane's graduation in the Superdome. Loyola, chastised for honoring Sen. Mary Landrieu at a past commencement, invited Gov. Jindal this year. The bishop was silent.

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