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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tom Resse SJ, Notre Dame, Obama

Earlier I had posted a short note about the Notre Dame/Obama thing, but since have seen Jesuit Thomas Reese's longer comment on the situation at The Washington Post's On Faith and thought I'd post it here .....


Notre Dame Right to Invite Obama

By Thomas J. Reese

Controversy over commencement speakers at Catholic universities pops up every spring along with the tulips. This year the controversy is over President Obama speaking at Notre Dame University May 17. Some have objected that this is a violation of the bishops' statement Catholics in Political Life. This is absurd.

According to Catholics in Political Life, "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."

I would argue that having Obama as a commencement speaker and giving him an honorary degree does not violate Catholics in Political Life because:

1. In his personal life, Obama has never acted in defiance of the fundamental moral principle that abortion is wrong.

2. Publicly, Obama has never spoken out against the fundamental moral principle that abortion is wrong.

3. He supports legal restrictions on third trimester abortions with a health-of-the-mother exemption.

4. Although he does not believe that other abortions can be made illegal, he supports programs to reduce the number of abortions.

5. Notre Dame is not honoring Obama because of his views on abortion but because he is President of the United States, as has been made clear by the Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame's president.

A fundamental principle of canon law is that it should be interpreted "strictly," which means "narrowly," that is in a way limits its restrictions.

How do I know that Notre Dame is not violating Catholics in Political Life? Because Notre Dame is doing nothing more than what has already been done by Cardinal Edward Egan of New York, who taught canon law and worked as a judge in the Tribunal of the Sacred Roman Rota, a church court based in the Vatican.

If Cardinal Egan can invite Obama to speak at the Al Smith dinner in October of 2008 when he was only a presidential candidate, then there is certainly nothing wrong with Notre Dame having the President speak at a commencement. Other pro-choice speakers at Al Smith dinners included Al Gore and Tony Blair (a Catholic). What is OK for a cardinal archbishop is certainly OK for a university. Or are bishops exempt from "Catholics in Political Life"?

Canon law aside, people need to recognize that Catholic universities have to be places where freedom of speech and discussion is recognized and valued. Not to allow a diversity of speakers on campus is to put Catholic universities into a ghetto.

When I was a student in the 1960's, Jesuit-run Santa Clara University was attacked for performing "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?" and for having a Marxist speak on campus. Now we are fighting over the "Vagina Monologue" and pro-choice politicians. If Catholic universities are afraid to have people on campus who challenge our views, then we are not training students to listen and think critically. We are admitting that our arguments are not convincing.

For a report on the organization leading the attack on Notre Dame, see "Catholic academic ayatollah shows true colors" by Joe Feuerherd in the National Catholic Reporter.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

None of today’s “outraged” protesters had much to say when pro-choice, pro-death penalty, pro-war, pro-torture Condoleezza Rice spoke at Notre Dame’s commencement. At least President Obama agrees with the Catholic Church on most of these issues.

Support the University’s decision. Sign the petition:


12:40 PM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...


You have 24 new posts since I last visited! Hard to keep up.

I signed this today, actually, and forwarded it to my aunt, who's in with a bunch of Franciscans.

Hey, when did you leave Facebook? I was trying to invite you to a Scrabble game and you were gone. It's a better app now.

Hope you're well. You're certainly energetic!

4:31 PM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...

Phew, thank goodness. I guess I forgot to clear Google Reader. You didn't have 24 posts. I was intimidated.

You're doing a nice job of blogging, btw. I've always liked your mixture of topics and atmospheres. You should feel proud of your blog and all the great work you've done over the years.

5:15 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I think i left Facebook about a week ago. Just can't keep track of all the social networking. Scrabble still lives at lexulous, though :)

6:28 PM  
Blogger Michael J. Bayly said...

Thanks for posting this commentary, Crystal.



1:20 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi, Michael - thanks for the comment.

1:42 AM  

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