Catholic Civil War. That is what the New York Times thinks is going on among Catholics.

Discord is nothing new for Roman Catholicism. But the controversy surrounding the appearance of President Obama at the University of Notre Dame’s commencement on May 17 suggests that run-of-the mill discord among American Catholics is escalating into something closer to civil war.

Now listen to Bishop Robert W. Finn, bishop of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese in Missouri. “We are at war!” he told an anti-abortion convention on April 18. “We are engaged in a constant warfare with Satan.”

Although this war must never involve violence, he said, and Christians must love the human enemies who come under Satan’s power, “even without their fully realizing it,” he went on to say that the most dangerous enemies were not those openly attacking the church but “more subtle enemies.” These included Catholics who “attack the most fundamental tenets of the church’s teachings.”

Mark Noll is a leading historian of American Christianity, an evangelical and a strong opponent of abortion who joined Notre Dame’s faculty last year. In an interview this week, he said “temperate objections” to Mr. Obama’s appearance could stimulate useful thinking about the role of the church in politics and the nature of a Catholic university. Still, he said, “I am surprised at the visceral level of the opposition.” [Isn’t it so nice when you can be so level headed, so moderate, so – what is the word – lukewarm?]

An editorial in America, the weekly magazine published by the Jesuit order of Catholic priests, characterized much of the opposition in even stronger terms: “They thrive on slash-and-burn tactics,” the editors wrote, adding that “their tactics, and their attitudes, threaten the unity of the Catholic Church in the United States, the effectiveness of its mission and the credibility of its pro-life activities.”

Of course, the editors are now being accused of “slash-and-burn tactics” themselves, if not of falling under the power of Satan.

Sorry for the long exceprt, but I wanted you to get a feel for how the New York Times establishes the concept of ‘Civil War.’ Twist some remarks in order make them seem extreme and then quote some moderate Catholics who just cannot understand what all the fuss is about. And of course, since this is the NYT, get a quote from America magazine. Blah Blah.

For the record, I am firmly in the camp of civil protest. I think the actions or potential actions of Randall Terry and Alan Keyes are not particularly helpful in this instance, I understand them. They really care. Tactically, I disagree, but I understand them.

One last thing on this Civil War analogy. Believing Catholics are definitely the North in this scenario and are on the side of God and history. Even if the NYT tries to portray the more strident among us as modern day Shermans slash and burning their way to victory, the North still wins.