President Obama & Notre Dame?

Many of you know that I am a 1984 graduate of the University of Notre Dame.  And many of you know a little about the controversy surrounding Notre Dame’s invitation to President Obama to be the speaker and to receive an honorary law degree at this year’s graduation ceremony.  Since you’re reading about it at other places, I thought I might address it here.
Many people are justifiably happy that race relations in the United States are at the point where our country can elect a minority as President.  And President Obama brings many important gifts to that office, most particularly his intellect, his education, his eloquence and his ability to inspire people.  But President Obama’s policies on the important issues of human life are inconsistent with basic principles of natural law – that it is immoral to kill innocent human beings.  This isn’t about “Catholic dogma”; we’re talking about the natural law.  The President’s recent policies have opened up Federal taxpayer funding for abortions as part of our foreign policy; they have opened up funding for experimentation on human embryos; and they threaten “conscience clauses” that allow health care workers to refuse to take part in medical procedures (like abortions and sterilizations) that offend their moral conscience.

By honoring President Obama, Notre Dame is tacitly presenting him as someone to be admired and emulated.  Yet, the President’s own policies are inconsistent with what it means to be Catholic.  It is this type of conflict that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops desired to avoid when they issued a directive in 2004 that “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.” In giving the award and recognition to the president, Notre Dame is acting in defiance of this directive.

Be assured that the bishops don’t intend to “shun” the President.  In fact, they seek “engagement” on the political issues facing our country and world.  It is for the bishops (and us priests) to try and form the consciences of people so that they can make choices based on sound moral and social teaching.  The bishops are committed to maintain communication with public officials who make daily decisions that touch issues of human life and dignity.

So should President Obama be allowed to present his views at Notre Dame?  Yes, as long as such views are presented alongside Catholic moral teachings so that consciences might be formed.  But should he be honored for those views?  Unfortunately, he should not.  And that is why I pray for him daily at Mass. Nobody wants him to be a great president more than I do.  But his heart needs to be awakened about the sanctity of each human life.