NRO draws top Catholic analysts into Notre Dame's Obama invite row

NRO draws top Catholic analysts into Notre Dame's Obama invite row


Under the title “A Moral Exemplar? Should the University of Notre Dame honor our most anti-life president?” National Review Online has gathered some of nation’s most prominent Catholics to weigh-in on the university’s decision to invite President Barack Obama to be the principal speaker and the recipient of an honorary doctor of law degree at its commencement on Sunday, May 17.

Kathryn Jean Lopez, Editor of National Review Online, explained to CNA that the announcement from the University of Notre Dame that it will be having Obama speak at their commencement “is an important news event.”

“It’s significant for this administration, which has put itself at odds with Catholic teachings (on embryo-destroying stem-cell research, among others) and promises more (the Freedom of Choice Act, among others). This decision by Notre Dame – along with the pro-choice Catholics Obama has surrounded himself with – provides the White House a certain amount of cover,” Lopez also told CNA. 

“It is important for Catholic higher education, as the administration at ND made a choice that calls into question why they consider themselves any different than any other good school with a football team. This is an issue of political and cultural significance; NRO exists to highlight and advance and debate such things,” she added.

The NRO symposium opens with a comment from George Weigel, the biographer of Pope John Paul II and Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

“Notre Dame’s decision to make President Obama its 2009 commencement speaker is a very bad thing,” he says.  

“The invitation to deliver a commencement address, especially when coupled with the award of an honorary degree, is not a neutral act. It’s an act by which a Catholic institution of higher learning says, ‘This is a life worth emulating according to our understanding of the true, the good, and the beautiful,’” Weigel explains.

“It is frankly beyond my imagining how Notre Dame can say that of a president who has put the United States back into the business of funding abortion abroad; a president who made a mockery of the very idea of moral argument in his speech announcing federal funding for embryo-destructive stem cell research; a president whose administration and its congressional allies are snatching tuition vouchers out of the hands of desperately poor Washington, D.C., children who just as desperately want to attend Catholic schools.”

Jesuit Father James V. Schall, a professor of government at Georgetown University, argues that “the accepting of the honor to the president evidently meets his purposes. The awarding of it seems to meet the purposes of the university. Some say that it is a perfect fit. Others suspect that both parties, in accepting and giving such honors, manage to demean each other in what each is, in truth, expected to stand for.”

Richard W. Garnett, a professor of law at the University of Notre Dame, believes that the school “is the only real hope left for a great university that is meaningfully Catholic.” “This great need imposes a weighty burden.”

“Unfortunately,” Garnett continues, “by honoring President Obama…Notre Dame has clouded what should be clear, and deeply disappointed not just her usual critics, but also those of us who want very much for her to succeed (and work hard to help her succeed).”

Prof. Garnett believes that to say this “is not to question President Obama’s accomplishments or to deny that his election was, in many ways, historic. Certainly, a Catholic university should engage, challenge, learn from, and ‘dialogue’ with, the wider world. Still, to do these things, to be what the world needs her to be, Notre Dame has to be distinctive not weird, ‘sectarian,’ narrow, or nostalgic, but authentic, courageous, integrated, and . . . interesting. Here, I am afraid she failed.”

Patrick Lee, Director of the Institute of Bioethics at Franciscan University of Steubenville, takes issue with the fact that Notre Dame will award Obama an honorary doctorate. “Not a recognition of demonstrated knowledge (as are other degrees), this is a public declaration of honor to a recipient for what he is best known for, in this case his political ‘service.’ It is therefore an enthusiastic affirmation by Notre Dame that Obama is a worthy public servant. To affirm that is to embrace the idea that denying the personhood of the unborn is just a minor mistake.”

“This,” Lee argues, “is not a mere theoretical disagreement. This act of promoting a virulently pro-abortion politician will cost lives — the lives of many unborn. And it will harm young men and women by obscuring the ugly truth about abortion.”

Ralph McInerny, the noted professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, takes a more ironic tack by affirming that “Barack Hussein Obama, enabler in chief of abortion, has agreed to speak at the 2009 commencement and to receive an honorary doctorate of law. That abortion and its advocacy violate a primary precept of natural law reinforced by the Catholic Church’s explicit doctrine is a mere bagatelle. Wackos of all kinds will kick up a fuss, of course, but their protest will go unnoticed in South Bend. The pell-mell pursuit of warm and fuzzy Catholicism will continue.”

“When the president dribbles onto the stage at the great event, the hall will erupt in ecstatic applause; the president, Father Jenkins, will wring his hand; and a final nail will be driven into the coffin of a once-great Catholic university. No one will note nor long remember what Barack Obama says on the occasion. Who listens to commencement addresses? But the Lady atop the golden dome, recalling the flight into Egypt, will exhibit one of her many titles: She who weeps,” McInerny says.

Charlotte Allen, author of “The Human Christ: The Search for the Historical Jesus,” argues that despite the ND’s “tradition” of inviting U.S. presidents, Bill Clinton was never invited. Any one Clinton’s anti-life actions which ought to have properly disqualified him from setting foot on Notre Dame’s South Bend campus “were spread out over the eight years of his presidency. By contrast, Obama has scarcely been president for eight weeks, and already he’s  forced U.S. taxpayers to subsidize overseas abortion clinics;  announced he’ll rescind a Bush-administration rule allowing health-care workers to refuse to provide services (such as abortion) they deem morally repugnant; and opened the sluice-gates for federal funding of embryo-destructive stem-cell research, all the way up to cloning.”

“If Bill Clinton wasn’t invited to be commencement speaker, why on earth has Obama been issued the implicit endorsement of his views — plus a bully pulpit — by the nation’s premiere Catholic university?,” she concludes.

R. R. Reno, features editor of First Things and professor of theology at Creighton University, says he can see “good reasons for the University of Notre Dame to invite Barack Obama to give a speech…  But a commencement address? It’s not an academic event of intellectual exchange and debate. It’s entirely and richly symbolic.”

“What was the leadership at Notre Dame thinking? In May the university will give Mary Ann Glendon the Laetare Medal, its highest honor. Glendon has heroically devoted a great deal of her life to defending innocent life. And then Barack Obama — a man who has devoted a great deal of his life to representing elite liberal and anti-Catholic moral views about sex, marriage, and reproduction — enjoys the spotlight. It’s an insult to Glendon.”

“Alumni and donors need to wake up,” says Reno. “By all means write John Jenkins, CSC, the Notre Dame president. But don’t stop there.”