If Notre Dame thought they scored a big one
….many are thinking own goal. And wincing, or worse.
The internet and air waves are burning up with forums and debates and commentaries and calls on the news about the commencement address deal.
My younger son will be graduating from the University of
Notre Dame in May. Last Friday, he informed me that President Obama
will be giving the commencement speech and will be awarded an honorary
degree. I was, frankly, stunned. The joyful event of our son’s
graduation has now been overshadowed by a dark cloud. I am proud of my
son and of all he achieved at Notre Dame, but I am ashamed of Notre
How can an institution that purports to be Catholic honor as a
“doctor of law”—literally a “teacher of law”—a President who has made
it very clear by word and deed that he intends to remove from the laws
of this nation anything that defends unborn human life? Of course,
there is more to Obama than his position on abortion and the life
issues. There are things about him that anyone, Catholic or
non-Catholic, can respect and admire. But can they justify overlooking
his appalling stance on abortion?
Abortion is a defining issue of our time, in the way that slavery
was in the mid-nineteenth century and segregation and racial
discrimination were in the mid-twentieth century. Overlooking the
pro-abortion views of a politician now would be analogous to
overlooking pro-slavery or segregationist views in those eras. Would
Notre Dame have invited a champion of segregation to be a commencement
speaker in the 1960s, however brilliant or talented, however
well-meaning in other ways and on other issues he or she may have been?
No. And everyone knows that, so people refuse to accept that
equivalence and instead, revert to a false one of openness to dialogue
with people who disagree. As if this is about that.
It’s actually about status.
There is a Faustian bargain being struck. President
Obama has been feeling great heat on the life issues due to the
courageous stands by many of the country’s Catholic bishops. Speaking
at and being honored by Notre Dame is a way for him to insulate himself
from that heat. In return, Notre Dame gets to seem important, by
basking in the glory of a presidential visit. The university is willing
to sacrifice the integrity of the Church’s moral witness on the central
social-justice issue of our time to pursue its institutional ambitions.
And the explanation for it only raised more questions. And ire. I
heard about it on the air yesterday, from a caller who said the letter
from ND president Fr. Jenkins was wholly unconvincing and even
confusing. Carl Olson says that, too.
Nope, I’m not tracking well with this “Persuasion By Praise” approach…
This is sad. Worse, it is scandalous. A friend of mine who is a
student at the Notre Dame law school wrote to me the other day: “Though
the school is by no means perfect, I have been proud of ND until now.
[My wife] and I are both disgusted.” Obviously he isn’t persuaded by
Fr. Jenkins’ methods. Nor am I.
(Referring to that NRO symposium…I only got as far as George Weigel yesterday…)
And Fr. George Rutler states, “This is a highly cynical
act, contemptuous of the Church’s prophetic voice in civil society and
wagering that there will be no retribution. If a midwestern school
seeks attention by granting Mr. Obama an honorary doctorate in law, the
next logical step would be to grant Judas Iscariot posthumously an
honorary doctorate in business administration.”
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