Examiner.com: Notre Dame and Obama: Why is this an issue?

12 05 2009

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Although this will be considered by some to be “old news,” there still seems to be a confusion amongst the general public as to why Notre Dame’s decision to give President Obama an honorary doctorate and allowing him to be the commencement speaker is an issue, much less newsworthy. After all, he is the President, right? For this, he could just as well be given an honorary doctorate at any university. So, why is this an issue at the nation’s best known Catholic university?

The mission of Catholic schools, first and foremost, is to spread the Gospel through its environment, its curriculum, its decisions (both public and private), etc. This does not mean that everyone who attends must be Catholic, nor that every class (in whatever subject) will be used as an opportunity for captive-audience-proselytization. Rather, it means that through its various classes and other works, it will retain (and be faithful to) its Catholic identity. That is, it should remain a faithful Catholic. This, I think, is to be expected of any institution, that it remain faithful to its identity and roots in order to continue to identify itself with said group. When a living thing dies, it is no longer “alive,” but “dead.” It no longer belongs to the “institution” of living things.

Unfortunately, as will be readily attested by many faithful Catholics, just because a university (or other institution) was begun as a Catholic institution, does not mean that it remains so. As a matter of fact, the list of “steadily” Catholic institutions of higher education (as compiled by the Cardinal Newman Society) is rather small. (There is the possibility that there should be more – or less – schools on that list, but that is besides the point.) The granting of an honorary doctorate and the opportunity to deliver the commencement speech at a university is, well, an honor. And this honor is bestowed on an individual in order to recognize some accomplishment(s) of the recipient. One would assume that the commencement speaker sought would not be found in contradiction to the school or its principles. For example, I cannot imagine that Auburn University (which has a strong agricultural program) would honor Pamela Anderson (a loyal and outspoken PETA supporter) with a degree, nor an opportunity to deliver the commencement speech. In a similar, but more serious way, the (Catholic) University of Notre Dame has invited a man, regardless of which office he holds, of whom it is well-known that he stands in direct opposition to fundamental teachings and beliefs which it should hold proudly and joyfully as a Catholic institution (and would certainly be justified in being humored by such a proposition). I mean, would a Jewish institution invite Mel Gibson’s father, who has denied that the Holocaust ever happened, to receive such an honor (or any honor, for that matter)? Would Islamic jihadistsinvite George Bush over to congratulate him for a “job well done”? Why would an institution whose name means “Our Lady” invite a man who has consistently promoted agendas which are in direct opposition to many of its most sincere and foundational beliefs to their ceremony to grant this honor to him? They (being Father Jenkins and the supporting staff) have honored a man who, in action, hates what they (should) hold most dearly.

The problem which arises from this is that this is a source of tremendous scandal, especially so amidst the confusion which already exists amongst both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. What message is this sending to the world? It would surely seem as if everyone knew that the Catholic Church is opposed to many of President Obama’s actions (an understanding ofwhy this is so is a different issue), yet here is a Catholic institution honoring him with a doctorate. This can be easily interpreted (especially for the estimated 50-plus percent of Catholics who voted for Obama), as a stamp of approval on a man who has continuously fought against beliefs which are (and should be) foundational for all Catholics. For whatever reason they have decided to honor him (more than likely because of some falsely perceived “social justice” platform), those responsible have simultaneously honored a man who has supported abortion at all stages of pregnancy (and, in Illinois, even for the killing of those babies who weren’t “successfully” aborted), sent millions of dollars to other countries in order to facilitate abortions in the middle of an economic crisis, intends to allow funding for the destruction of human embryos in order to harvest unstable stem cells which have never cured anything (while shunning adult stem cells which have already cured many), not to mention his apparent inclination to socialism (to which the Church is strongly opposed), and his general attitude of moral relativism (“I personally ‘believe’ this is wrong, but who am I to force my ‘beliefs’ on others?”, which Pope Benedict has repeatedly called “the major evil facing the church.“). This is not a man whom the Church (in any of her institutions) should honor because of his actions, thereby presenting the message that “This man is one whom we should uphold as a model to be followed,” because his actions are (intentionally or not) violent to the beliefs and teachings of Catholicism (especially those which are foundational to the teachings on social justice). I am not advocating that Catholics should write him off as intrinsically evil and condemn him outright, nor that the Church should close the possibility of open dialog with him, but I do not believe that providing an environment whereby his actions could be perceived as “acceptable” is in the realm of right judgment.

In closing, I would like to thank the 350,000-plus people who have petitioned Fr. Jenkins of Notre Dame to rescind his invitation to President Obama, as well as all of those who have protested, and the unfortunate few (including Dr. Alan Keyes) who have been arrested thus far because of their protest. Because of their actions, the murkiness of this event has been clarified some and the public was exposed to the dichotomy which has presented itself in light of the university’s decision.