Last week, all week, was Vienna. Which, for readers of this site, had the advantage of a full week of Joseph Bottum’s inimitable reflections on what struck his fancy and elicited his considered fears. He was supposed to have been in Vienna as well, but last-minute editing of a new issue of First Things required giving precedence to meeting our deadline. Somebody has to mind the shop.
I will be writing more about the Vienna conference in a forthcoming issue. For the nonce, some general impressions. The subject was the “growing gap” between Europe and the United States, and what might be done about it. The event, which included about sixty participants, about half from the U.S. and half from various European nations, was prompted by George Weigel’s article in a 2004 issue of First Things , ” Europe’s Problem—and Ours ,” which led to his later book, The Cube and the Cathedral . The conference was hosted by Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, a truly remarkable man whose writings are familiar to readers of First Things .
Participants were housed in the 13th century barracks of the Teutonic Knights, next to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The knights are now called the Deutsche Ordern and are devoted to less martial apostolates in parish and hospital ministries. In Vienna, the weight of a Christendom past lies heavily on one’s thinking about Europe present and future. And on one’s thinking about whether Europe has a future.
Most Europeans, quite understandably, resist the idea that theirs is a dying continent. And there is the inevitable distinction between “old Europe” and “new Europe,” the latter represented preeminently by Poland. In response to Weigel’s original article, Cardinal Schönborn underscored the promise of the many new renewal movements springing up in Europe and spreading throughout the world, including the United States. Most importantly, he urged that, however grim the present European circumstance, we must not let sociological, political, and demographic analyses trump our confidence in the divine promise attending the centuries-spanning mission of the Church. In my presentation, I seconded the cardinal’s admonition, and the participants, good Catholics that they are, did not disagree, but it is fair to say that the reflections on Europe’s future were generally dour.
There were philosophers, political scientists, historians, moral theologians, and a smattering of journalists. The Americans were, I thought, generally on their good behavior. A few told me they were surprised, even taken aback, by how strongly the Europeans feel—with a mix of gratitude and resentment—the American global hegemony. The language of American “imperialism” is pervasive, even as Americans politely but persistently point out that that is not how we understand our role in the world.
Marcello Pera, who was serving his last days as president of the Italian senate, made a vigorous case for a “Christian civil religion” that would put millions of Muslim immigrants on notice that they are living in a culturally Christian society. He met with considerable resistance from Americans who have been around the track on the problems with civil religion, but there is much merit in his argument and it is sympathetically engaged by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, in the recent book, Without Roots .
The conference included a public lecture by the redoubtable Joseph Weiler, professor of law at New York University. The chancellor of Austria and other notables were in attendance. Weiler, an observant Jew, has written a much-discussed book on “Christophobia” and Europe’s abandonment of its Christian identity. The book is much discussed in Europe, not here, since English is not among the many languages into which it has been translated. He is determined to do the English translation himself, and I very much hope it appears soon. But it was something to have a large audience of European intellectuals and public dignitaries listening attentively as an observant and very scholarly Jew chastised them for their betrayal of Christian Europe.
As of this writing, I still have a touch of jet lag. I’m sure I learned a great deal during the week in Vienna, although I’m not sure just what I learned. I’ll be collecting and distilling my thoughts for a more considered reflection in the pages of the magazine. Meanwhile, I can report that my limited but first-hand experience with the Teutonic Knights suggested nothing to support Dan Brown’s fevered imaginings in The Da Vinci Code . But then, being the sinister bunch that they are, they were not likely to tell me their secrets, were they?
In the forthcoming First Things , I have further reflections on the controversy surrounding the decision of Fr. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame, on what it means to be a Catholic university. It may be remembered that, when there were cries of disappointment and outrage over his decision about The Vagina Monologues and other matters, I urged calm, holding out the hope that his April statement did not necessarily define the direction of his leadership as president. I confess that, as a consequence of statements by others at Notre Dame and of conversations with knowledgeable parties, I am now much less sanguine. The statement by Bishop John D’Arcy was not available at the time I wrote my reflection in First Things . In an excruciatingly civil but devastating statement, Bishop D’Arcy said, among other things:
My pastoral concern is not only because of the decision not to ban the play, but because of the rationale that accompanied the decision. It fails to give room to the great truths of the faith. The teaching of the Church on sexuality, on academic freedom, on the relationship between a man and a woman and on the human body is hardly mentioned, except to admit that the play stands apart from, and is even opposed to, Catholic teaching. The truths of faith seem not to have been brought to bear on this decision. Is this an omission that will mark the future of such decisions for this school so blessed by Our Lady and by countless scholars and students over the years? I pray that it not be so; for that would, indeed, mark it as a mistake of historic proportions. As a shepherd with responsibility to Notre Dame, I must point out to her leaders that this judgment and the way it has been explained calls for further, more informed consideration.
Otherwise, our beloved Notre Dame will go down a road, which it has always resisted traveling, and which, with the help of divine grace, I pray it may resist once again. As always, this matter must be considered within the university. In my 21 years as bishop here I have never interfered with university governance, and I have never required the university to adopt any particular policy, nor have I ever asked, required or demanded any particular action of the university. My path has always been rooted in these words in "Ex Corde Ecclesiae":
Bishops have a particular responsibility to promote Catholic universities, and especially to promote and assist in the preservation and strengthening of their Catholic identity, including the protection of their Catholic identity in relation to civil authorities. This will be achieved more effectively if close personal and pastoral relationships exist between university and church authorities, characterized by mutual trust, close and consistent cooperation and continuing dialogue. Even when they do not enter directly into the internal governance of the university, bishops ‘should be seen not as external agents but as participants in the life of the Catholic university.’
¯Ex Corde Ecclesiae, 28
Some have said that this is a watershed moment in Notre Dame’s history, and certainly any discussion of academic freedom and Catholic character goes to the heart of Notre Dame’s everyday life¯both in theory and in practice. Consequently, I believe that many people of good will who wish only blessings on Notre Dame will share my concern that on matters such as academic freedom, human sexuality, the nature of truth, and the link between freedom and truth, the teaching of the Church was not brought to bear on the wide-ranging dialogue and did not seem to find adequate room in the president’s closing statement.
For the full statement by Bishop D’Arcy, go to Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend . It is well worth reading.
Wednesday, the noted sociologist of religion and my dear friend Peter L. Berger undergoes heart bypass surgery in Boston. He told me before he went into hospital, “They say it’s routine, but routine means an operation that somebody else is having.” A prayer would be welcome.
In addition to which :
Where does theology fit into the self-understanding of the contemporary university, if it fits at all? That’s the question initially posed by philosopher James Stoner and addressed in the May issue of First Things by three theological luminaries: Stanley Hauerwas, Paul Griffiths, and David Hart. Isn’t it time for you to subscribe to First Things ?
Archbishop Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has this to say about the new book by Father Richard John Neuhaus, Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth :
"When it comes to ‘Catholic matters,’ Father Richard Neuhaus’ thoughts matter a lot. He unfailingly challenges, enlightens, fascinates, inspires, humors, and occasionally even vexes me. And I would not miss reading a word he writes."