Wednesday, May 9, 2018
Our own Rick Garnett is quoted in this pretty even-handed piece in The Atlantic about the challenges Catholic universities face in having political figures speak at major events like commencement: from Obama at Notre Dame to Betsy DeVos this year at Ave Maria University. Since Catholicism cuts across the political parties' platforms, any such invitation is likely to trigger strong criticism from some significant number of people:
There are unclear areas in what Catholicism recommends—for example, the Church holds that members should care for the poor, but what that means in practice is debated—that make it hard to associate the religion with one party exclusively. [True, although I'd say it's more that each party has, in different ways, moved away from some important aspect(s) of Catholic social teaching.--TB] But the rigidity of polarized American politics isn’t accommodating of a cafeteria-line approach to political positions: There’s no taking a little from one party, a little from another, and a little from a third. It’s all or nothing. That often means that if someone picks a side in one policy, he or she will be criticized for aligning with the broader agenda of that side.
Richard Garnett, a professor at Notre Dame who writes about freedom of speech and religion, put it like this: “It’s going to be a rare politician [who is] going to line up with the catechism on all fronts.” So, predictably, when a political figure is invited to speak at a Catholic event, it is going to be divisive. “It’s almost always going to be true given American politics and the way our parties divide up,” he said.
The answer is probably, as others have suggested, to stay away from politicians for a while and invite people doing good things in other walks of life. After all, there's not a lot to hold up as exemplary in the national political parties right now.