Notre Dame and Obama
“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”.
These words were written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in a statement in June, 2004. They should be at the center of the debate over the University of Notre Dame’s invitation to President Obama to speak at this year’s graduation and receive an honorary law degree. These words are the result of other Catholic institutions giving such honors or platforms to those who have acted in defiance of our fundamental moral principles before 2004, so this isn’t the first time the Church has encountered this. This situation is heightened, of course, because it involves the current President of the United States who is also the most powerful advocate of abortion and embryonic stem-cell research in the world.
I have seen, heard, and read different reactions of people to this– Catholics, non-Catholics, etc.. A parishioner and Notre Dame alumnus already regrets the contribution he gave his alma mater earlier this year. A Catholic commentator on a news cable network used this situation to present his laundry list of criticisms against the Church which he said is on “life support”. A commentary in yesterday’s Post referred to those Catholics who are protesting Notre Dame’s invitation as “conservative”. The author did not make a big point of it, but this is exactly how many in the media work: they use a catch word or phrase that immediately paints a biased picture. And, the image that was created with one word: “those crazy conservative Catholics are at it again!”
I would offer a couple of words that are more accurate and less polarizing: faithful and principled. First, we who object to Notre Dame inviting President Obama to speak at graduation and giving him an honorary degree are faithful Catholics. Faithful, mainly, because the U.S. bishops have said that Notre Dame shouldn’t do this! But, and this goes to the core of being a Catholic, more than that, we are faithful to the culture of life. President Obama has distinguished himself as a big proponent of the culture of death as a state senator (e.g., voted against the Infants Born Alive Act), as a U.S. senator (e.g., had the highest pro-abortion rating of any senator), and now as the President of the U.S. (ordered taxpayers to fund abortions overseas and embryonic-destructive research). In short, the University of “Our Lady” has invited the leader of the culture of death in the free world to speak to their graduates and to honor him with a degree. Catholics who are faithful to the culture of life are outraged by this.
Dr. Janet Smith (former professor at Notre Dame) made a compelling comparison in her letter to Notre Dame’s president:
“If someone like George Wallace had been elected president of the United States–no matter how much good he had done–no matter how many causes “near to Notre Dame’s heart” he had elevated, Notre Dame would not have invited him to be the commencement speaker nor given him an honorary degree, for the world would not have believed that Notre Dame remained “firm and unwavering” in its opposition to racism and would not have thought that Notre Dame was hoping to spark a national dialogue on racism. It would have thought Notre Dame had lost its mind and faith.”
Second, we are principled Catholics. It’s the principle of the thing! The principle of this thing has been very clearly laid out by the U.S. bishops: “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”. The fundamental principle is that a Catholic institution should not give a platform to someone who advocates the culture of death. This is not just because they might promote an agenda that is opposed to the culture of life in their speech, but because it scandalously gives tacit approval of their actions.
Finally, some people have asked if there would be protest among Catholics if former President George W. Bush were speaking at Notre Dame, mainly because of his support of the war in Iraq which the Church has opposed. This recalls many of the debated issues in recent elections; we remember what Pope Benedict XVI wrote in 2003 (as Cardinal Ratzinger) - “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion”. While the Church opposes the war in Iraq, it does not condemn war as an inherent evil which it does with abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. Catholics are not obligated by the Church to oppose war and capital punishment in every case as they are obligated to oppose abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, racism, etc. in every case. So, it would be logical to say that Catholics are not obligated to oppose someone like Bush (in favor of war and capital punishment) speaking at Notre Dame as they are obligated to oppose someone like Obama (in favor of abortion and embryonic research) speaking there.
Please click on today’s title to join in the opposition.