Normally, a university would consider a presidential address a great honor, which explains why the one school that landed Barack Obama for its commencement speech this year has proudly announced it. For a Catholic university, though, the choice of an abortion-rights absolutist has other Catholics wondering whether Notre Dame’s own president, Rev. John Jenkins, has taken leave of his senses:
President Barack Obama will be the principal speaker and the recipient of an honorary doctor of laws degree at the University of Notre Dame’s 164th University Commencement Ceremony at 2 p.m. May 17 (Sunday) in the Joyce Center on campus.
Mr. Obama will be the ninth U.S. president to be awarded an honorary degree by the University and the sixth to be the Commencement speaker.
The University will confer degrees on approximately 2,000 undergraduates, 420 MBA students and 200 Notre Dame Law School students.
Fellow Catholic Kathryn Jean Lopez calls it “shameful”:
Last week the president of the United States perpetrated an assault on human dignity. No statements or press releases will undo what Notre Dame’s position in the eyes of the world is in response: “Doesn’t matter.” We’ve got THE ONE. So much for the One to whom the school’s namesake gave birth. I’ve been optimistic that the radicalism of this administration on life could be a real catalyst for renewal in many churches. At Notre Dame, the administration there just made a choice. They took a giant step away from their identity as “Catholic.” They would rather be of this world than the one they supposedly exist to bring people toward.
I agree with Kathryn on this, and not because I don’t like Barack Obama. Regardless of his politics, he would make a fine commencement speaker at most law schools, and such institutions would be fortunate to get him to appear. Presidential addresses have less to do with the specific president and more to do with the nature of the office itself.
However, its seems that Rev. Jenkins has forgotten the mission of Catholic education. They have just as much of an imperative to fully educate students as any other university, but they also hve a separate mandate to champion Christian and Catholic values. That doesn’t restrict itself to abortion, but as I’ve reminded people many times on this blog, the sanctity of human life is at the core of those values and cannot be reconciled with the casual slaughter of unique human life. In fact, The Anchoress and I wrote an extensive Catholic apologia for our opposition to Obama as a candidate that I published the day before the election. We wrote:
[C]onsider why the Church supports social-justice issues. Our faith does not emphasize fighting poverty and oppression as mere Boy Scout merit badges, or to give Catholics something to do on the weekends. The emphasis on social justice springs from the foundational belief that all human life is sacred, anointed by God for His purposes, and not ours. The need for social justice is for us to recognize the spark of divinity in all of us.
What does abortion says about human life? It reduces it to commodity, and values it based on convenience. If that is what we think about human life, then that rejects the entire idea that God created humankind at all, let alone for any divine purpose. Without that fundamental understanding of the faith, then all kinds of horrors become possible — abortion, euthanasia, genocide on massive scales, war for acquisition, and the exploitation of the poor.
Why care about the poor if humans have no divine purpose? If we can kill millions of our offspring without a second thought, why not leave the poor to their own devices? Abortion represents the ultimate rejection of God and God’s plan.
And bear in mind that Barack Obama is no moderate on abortion. The FOCA will federalize the question of abortion with the specific intent of striking down every moderating state law concerning abortion: parental notification, waiting periods, term limitations, and information requirements will end with its passage. It will also re-impose federal subsidies of abortions by repealing the Hyde Amendment, forcing taxpayers — including Catholics — to pay for the abortions of others.
If they invited the President to participate in a debate with a Notre Dame theologian on the issue of life, that would be quite different, and certainly intriguing. By giving President Obama a platform and honoring him with a degree, the university is tacitly endorsing Obama and these positions. According to the church’s catechism — which Pope Benedict reminded Nancy Pelosi last month — Obama would have effectively excommunicated himself already had he been Catholic, but a Catholic university now welcomes him for their commencement with an honorary degree.
It seems to me that Kathryn has this right; Notre Dame has become far too focused on its temporal mission to the detriment of its spiritual mission if they think this is a good idea. Rev. Jenkins should reconsider this invitation and honor for a politician who supports views antithetical to the Catholic faith.
Update: Obama will also give the commencement address at the Naval Academy, a much more appropriate venue — although I should be clear in that the question of Obama getting honored at Notre Dame is for the school, and not Obama himself.