Notre Dame’s Poor Judgment

Last Friday, Notre Dame University announced that President Obama accepted their invitation to speak at commencement this May. The University will also be awarding the president an honorary doctor of laws degree.

From The Observer Online:

“The invitation of President Obama to be our Commencement speaker should in no way be taken as condoning or endorsing his positions on specific issues regarding the protection of life, such as abortion and embryonic stem cell research,” [Notre Dame President Fr. John I.] Jenkins said.

. . . . “We are not ignoring the critical issue of the protection of life. On the contrary, we invited him because we care so much about those issues, and we hope for this to be the basis of an engagement with him,” Jenkins said.

. . . . “We want to recognize his very real and significant accomplishments and his leadership. At the same time, we want to engage him in the future, and I think this occasion will be a wonderful time to do that,” [Jenkins] said.


Many Catholics are finding this a bit hard to swallow. (In fact, the Cardinal Newman Society’s petition opposing ND’s decision––has already received over 120,000 signatures.)

But should we be surprised? Sadly, no. Notre Dame follows in a long pattern of Catholic institutions inviting and honoring speakers whose viewpoints on fundamental moral issues (i.e., abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, etc.) directly oppose Catholic teaching. The only difference is magnitude. This just happens to be the premier Catholic university in America inviting and honoring the most visible representative of our country. Others invite governors or senators or congressmen; Notre Dame invites the president. It’s just the crest of the wave.

Yesterday, Bishop John M. D’Arcy, the Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, announced that he will not be attending the commencement exercises. Read the story here (it’s also on the diocesan website). A snippet:

I wish no disrespect to our president, I pray for him and wish him well. I have always revered the Office of the Presidency. But a bishop must teach the Catholic faith “in season and out of season,” and he teaches not only by his words — but by his actions.

My decision is not an attack on anyone, but is in defense of the truth about human life. . . .

Even as I continue to ponder in prayer these events, which many have found shocking, so must Notre Dame. Indeed, as a Catholic University, Notre Dame must ask itself, if by this decision it has chosen prestige over truth.

Tomorrow, we celebrate as Catholics the moment when our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, became a child in the womb of his most holy mother. Let us ask Our Lady to intercede for the university named in her honor, that it may recommit itself to the primacy of truth over prestige.

One would hope that the Bishop’s decision would send a clear message to the University, but experience (again) has unfortunately shown otherwise.

Here’s the extra twist of irony: At that same commencement ceremony, Notre Dame will be awarding Mary Ann Glendon, former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, known for her pro-life stance, with the Laetare Medal. From the ND newswire:

“Both as a public intellectual and as a diplomat, Mary Ann Glendon has impressively served our Church and our country,” said Notre Dame’s president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. “She is an articulate and compelling expositor of Catholic social teaching who exemplifies our University’s most cherished values and deserves its highest praise.”

Which begs the question: What are Notre Dame’s “most cherished values”? They are honoring two people whose viewpoints on a fundamental moral issue are diametrically opposed. The one has worked for the protection of all human life, the other against. As Thomas Peters over at American Papist wrote, “It’s going to be an interesting stage up there with Obama. Having served on the President’s Council for Bioethics, Glendon probably won’t claim abortion is above her pay grade.”

I had wondered what someone in Glendon’s position might do in such circumstances. Here’s Bishop D’Arcy’s advice:

I have spoken with Professor Mary Ann Glendon, who is to receive the Laetare Medal. I have known her for many years and hold her in high esteem. We are both teachers, but in different ways. I have encouraged her to accept this award and take the opportunity such an award gives her to teach.

More articles and commentary:

2 responses

  1. I signed the petition and wrote Fr. Jenkins an email encouraging him to retract the invitation to the president. I often listen to Catholic radio, constantly reading and studying my faith. I chair a CUF chapter in Florida and recently took on the task along with many others of bringing “40 days for life” to our community. I don’t say any of this to toot my own horn because I don’t boast on anyone but Christ alone.

    In my studying of the faith the one constant that hold true is what St. Augustine call the beginning of all sin. That is pride. Every form of disunity or dissent stems from this most diabolical of all the deadly sins. It comes to us in such subtle and unassuming ways. Hidden and dressed in such beautiful and well intentioned behavior.

    The one scripture that I continually run threw my mind is when Jesus is speaking to the apostles and tells them when they hear you they hear me and when they hear me they hear the one who sent me. If I in my flesh feel dissent in my mind about the church’s teaching on a topic who has the obligation to change? I must study, pray and meditate on that teaching to have my mind renewed. If I hear the Church I hear Christ.

    No one is immune from this sin. We are all infected to some degree, but Jesus has the antidote. We must all pray for a meek and humble hearts in which we can receive God’s agape so that we will be able to do His holy will that He has created for us from the beginning of time.

    God Bless,


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