How Catholic is Notre Dame?

The University of Notre Dame has invited President Obama to speak at its commencement ceremonies. Obama has accepted the invitation. At the ceremonies, as is the custom, Notre Dame will award him an honorary degree.

Notre Dame, of course, is a Catholic institution. The Catholic Church has always condemned abortion as a grave evil. President Obama, by contrast, believes that woman should be able to have abortions on demand. So committed is he to making abortions available that he has struck down the Bush administration’s ban on giving federal money to international groups that perform them. From the Catholic and anti-abortion perspective, he has thereby, in the words of the Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, “brought the American government, for the first time in history, into supporting direct destruction of innocent human life.”

It is shocking to me that Notre Dame would honor Obama under these circumstances. Indeed, in 2001, the U.S. Catholic Bishops declared

The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.

However, as a non-Catholic I thought I should consult a devout member of that faith before writing on the subject. Here is how a good friend and devout Catholic responded when I asked for his view:

Notre Dame has a history of inviting pro-choice public officials to speak.

Then-Governor Mario Cuomo spoke there in the 1980s. He purported to explain how he could be a loyal Catholic and, as a person sworn to defend the Constitution, support the Constitution’s supposed “right” to have an abortion.

To Catholics who actually accept the Church’s teaching that abortion is intrinsic evil, Mr. Cuomo’s remarks were and remain an outrage, analogous to Adolph Eichmann’s “I owed a duty to Germany to follow orders” defense.

Mr. Cuomo’s speech also became the expression of the typical liberal Catholic line. Senators Edward Kennedy and John Kerry, Governor Tom Ridge, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and others followed.

Now comes Mr. Obama. President Obama has endorsed the most pro-abortion policies during his entire public life, and he continues to do so. And Notre Dame apparently seeks to honor him.

The U.S Bishops are acutely and painfully aware of allegations about “Hitler’s pope” and Church complicity in the Holocaust. They have a duty to oppose evil, and they are rightly concerned about a Catholic institution honoring an individual who is so devoted to legal protections for abortion.

So you would think.

UPDATE: Suggesting that Notre Dame has placed “prestige” over “truth,” the Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend has said he will not attend Notre Dame’s commencement. It will be the first one he’s missed in his 25 years as bishop.


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