Monday, March 23, 2009
So, I believe that the University of Notre Dame should not, at this time, honor President Obama with a ceremonial degree and the commencement-speaker role. To say this, by the way, is not to endorse the tiresome anti-Notre Dame "great hate" screeds that are circulating around the web, from people who long ago gave up on Notre Dame in any event. As I've said many times, Notre Dame matters, and it is precisely because it still *is* meaningfully Catholic that its mistakes are disappointing. It's easy for [insert name here] Completely Pure Catholic College to avoid dilemmas (and mistakes) like Notre Dame's, because no one cares about that College.
Rob asks if there is a "bright line" principle that yields the results (a) it was fine for Notre Dame to honor President Bush in 2001 and (b) Notre Dame should not honor President Obama, in the same way, in 2009. In my view, "probably not." That is, I have no objection to hosting (indeed, I agree with Fr. John Jenkins that it is, generally speaking, a good thing to host) Presidents -- including Presidents with imperfect records and unsound views -- at Catholic universities. Certainly, it would be fine for Notre Dame to invite President Obama to give an address -- as opposed to commencement, with an honorary degree -- at Notre Dame.
Its a question of degree, it seems to me. The "Bush in 2001" / "Obama in 2009" comparison -- with all due respect -- seems quite weak. That Bush failed to block some executions while Texas governor is not the same thing, and just isn't as bad, as what Obama has done, and will do, on the abortion and embryo-destruction fronts. After all, at the time, Bush's signature policies were education reform and the faith-based initiative. (By the way, does anyone think that, had Vice-President Cheney been elected in 2008, that he would have been invited to give the 2009 commencement at Notre Dame?)
But, to be clear -- I am not ruling out the possibility that Notre Dame could invite President Obama to speak at graduation. But not now, not so soon after his insultingly bad statement regarding embryo-destructive research (in which he brushed aside moral philosophy as "politics"). There are, I am happy to admit, things about his election and achievements that a Catholic university can celebrate. No doubt. But now? There is no way to avoid the impression, given the recent stem-cell and abortion-related decisions, that Notre Dame is un-bothered by these deeply unjust actions.
And, just as bad, in my view, is the fact that the wonderful awarding of the Laetare to a real hero of the Church -- Mary Ann Glendon -- is now cast in a strange "balance / both sides" kind of light. (I do not believe that is how it was intended.)
Again, though: I am quite put off by the "Christendom College is the only way to go! Notre Dame sux! No real Catholics go to Notre Dame" crowd's reaction to all this. If you decided long ago that the future of the Church is the catacombs, and that the future and mission of Notre Dame is not worth contributing to, then why is Notre Dame's (mistaken) decision here something even worth your notice?
UPDATE: More, in a similar vein, from me here.