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    AmP Countdown: Time left to demand that Congress make health care reform pro-life: 2009-11-07 18:00:00 GMT-05:00

    Saturday, March 21, 2009

    Omnicoverage: President Obama invited to give Notre Dame Commencement

    As is already well-known, Notre Dame University has announced that President Barack Obama will be its 164th commencement speaker on May 17th. He will at the same time receive an honorary degree in doctor of laws.

    This news has sparked a wave of protest, starting with graduates of the institution, one of whom immediately wrote an open letter to their President Fr. John Jenkins.

    The Cardinal Newman Society has also been a catalyst for protest, setting up an entire website ( with an online petition and contact information for the university, to rescind the invitation. They also faxed a letter to local Bishop John D'Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, notifying him of the scandal.

    Now, for the record, I'm extremely pessimistic about Notre Dame rescinding the invitation. You simply can't deny a sitting President from speaking once you have invited him. The cat is already out of the bag.

    What can and will happen, I hope, is a frank discussion in the public spotlight about a) the mission and identity of Catholic universities and b) a greater awareness of the anti-Catholic policies and legislation that Obama is currently pursuing. {update: Michael Paulson at his Boston Globe blog has picked this up.}

    Simply put, Catholics and Notre Dame graduates are not going to take this one lying down: If Notre Dame does not dis-invite Obama, [ND graduate Joe] Scheidler says "the Notre Dame campus can expect a massive pro-life protest on graduation day." (source.)

    This invitation comes at an ironic time for Notre Dame, as Kathleen Gilbert of LifeSiteNews notes that "The school's Center for Ethics and Culture recently established a pro-life fund in an effort to bolster Notre Dame's pro-life identity." Kathryn Jean Lopez says Notre Dame "... would rather be of this world than the one they supposedly exist to bring people toward."

    I am one of the first public signers of the petition and invite you to join the list.

    David Gibson at Commonweal thinks it's a "fine choice," but I strongly disagree. First of all, the comparison with Bush is a false one for many reasons, chief of which is that Bush, certainly prior to the Iraq War (when he was invited), was not repugnant to fundamental Catholic values and was not actively pursuing legislation which hurts Catholic institutions (for instance: repealing of conscience clauses, repealing the Mexico City policy, nominating Kathleen Sebellius). Granted, being President may entitle you to many things, but it does not mean that you are necessarily a model servant of the public trust, in Catholic eyes.

    Second of all, if Notre Dame wanted a debate, they chose the wrong way to go about it (honoring the President and giving him a degree). If one must have a substantive debate with someone, you should have it before you roll out the red carpet for them. Notre Dame has vitiated its ability to have this debate by inviting Obama as their commencement speaker. Here I note my agreement with Ed Morrissey at Hot Air.
    On a related note, lest we have a short memory of these debates, it should be remembered that in May of 2006 Boston College managed to get 100 of its faculty members to sign a protest letter - originating from its theology department - upon the occasion of Condoleezza Rice's invitation as a commencement speaker, because, the letter claimed, her activity in the Iraq War supposedly conflicted with Catholic and Jesuit principles.
    I'll be very interested to see if the same phenomenon of Catholic academic protest (and wider media interest) takes place in the coming days and weeks.
    But I won't be holding my breath. In the meantime, sign the petition. And say a Hail Mary to Notre Dame.
    [photo #1 credit: thegabester; photo #2 credit: slherbst01]

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