We’ve been here before. In his response to an inquiry from this reporter, Dennis Brown, the university’s spokesman, wisely ignored a question asking whether “ambiguity” would be the word to describe a similar decision in 1984 to give Mario Cuomo, then governor of New York, the Notre Dame platform he so famously used to advance his personally-opposed-but argument. Or the decision a few years later to bestow its highest Catholic award on Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, another supporter of legal abortion. It seems that whenever Democratic leaders find themselves in trouble over their party’s abortion record, some Notre Dame honor or platform will be forthcoming to provide the needed cover…
With its billions in endowment and its prestigious name, Notre Dame ought to be in the lead here. But when asked for examples illuminating the university’s unambiguous support for unborn life, Mr. Brown could provide only four: help for pregnant students who want to carry their babies to term, student volunteer work for pregnant women at local shelters, prayer mentions at campus Masses, and lectures such as a seminar on life issues.
These are all well and good, but they also highlight the poverty of Notre Dame’s institutional witness. At Notre Dame today, there is no pro-life organization — in size, in funding, in prestige — that compares with the many centers, institutes and so forth dedicated to other important issues ranging from peace and justice to protecting the environment. Perhaps this explains why a number of pro-life professors tell me they must not be quoted by name, lest they face career retaliation.
The real question here isn’t whether Notre Dame is still Catholic in any meaningful sense, it’s what it means to be “Catholic” in America today. 54 percent of Catholics voted for The One last fall and 67 percent approved of his job performance as of three weeks ago; majorities approve of torture in at least some circumstances and say they’re more likely to consider common sense and experience when making decisions than Church teachings; a narrow plurality think priests should be allowed to marry. Even on abortion and stem cells, those calling themselves Catholic are almost indistinguishable from non-Catholics (although there are sharp differences between non-Catholics and Catholics who attend mass regularly). And of course the Vatican itself is as squishy as can be when it comes to taking on Obama for his stances. The Church, ironically, seems to have the opposite problem from the GOP these days: They’re so comfortable with “centrists” that it’s no longer clear what American Catholicism stands for. Which puts Notre Dame squarely inside the mainstream.