I recently received an e-mail asking me for my help in “taking Notre Dame back for Our Lady from the Forces of Darkness.” The writer was “scandalized by the disobedience by Fr. Jenkins, in the dishonoring of the sanctity of life on Commencement Day, with an honorary Doctor of Laws, of all things, to this pro-abortion leader.” She was referring of course to Notre Dame’s decision to invite President Obama to deliver the commencement address at the University this year.
I had been thinking about blogging the Obama controversy, but hadn't done so yet because I hadn't fully fleshed out my opinion on the matter. The e-mail gave me an excuse to focus on the issue, and this post is actually an expanded version of my thoughts as I expressed them to my passionate e-mailer.
While I strongly disagree with Obama's pro-abortion policies, along with just about every other policy he has, I'm not really able to translate that into being upset that Notre Dame has invited him to speak. The University has something of a tradition of inviting Presidents of both parties to speak at commencement. For example, I was very proud that Ronald Reagan chose to speak at Notre Dame. I'm sure if I looked for it I could find some area of disagreement between Church teaching and Reagan's policies.
I think my biggest reservation about condemning the invitation comes from the way conservatives are treated at liberal colleges and universities. I don't know how many articles I have read decrying the way Justice Scalia, or Justice Thomas, or other conservative thinkers are treated by academia. They get dis-invited, they get boycotted, they get protested, they get shouted down, and in the end they are often denied the opportunity to freely present their views and opinions. I have always found such behavior on the left to be deplorable. To me there would be a significant level of hypocrisy involved if Notre Dame and movement conservatives were to decide that liberal opinions and ideas would not be permitted to be heard at Our Lady's University. Not because the left doesn't deserve to be treated that way. But because if we go down that road we would be no better than those we criticize for being closed minded. We will have become that which we despise.
Maybe I am naive, but it is my hope that Notre Dame can be classier than those other schools by being a shining example of what real free speech, real diversity, and real honest debate and disagreement look like. I understand the passion of my e-mail correspondent and pro-lifers everywhere, and I agree with their views about abortion. So let President Obama come to Notre Dame and face those who disagree strongly with him. This President rarely faces a crowd that isn't hand-picked and filled with fawning supporters and his enablers in the press. I would be very proud of the Notre Dame student body if, as the President steps to the podium, the graduating class rises as one holding aloft large signs expressing their views of the President's pro-death policies. 2,000 students holding "Choose Life" signs under the President's nose as he speaks would be more powerful than dis-inviting him so that he could go speak instead to some adoring crowd at a lesser institution.
It also is not lost on me that, according to the The Observer, the graduating seniors are by a large majority very excited that the President of the United States will be speaking at their graduation. I'm not sure that all the "adults" who are so upset should be dictating to the Notre Dame Class of 2009 who their invited commencement speaker should be. At my graduation from Notre Dame in 1986 we had a Catholic Cardinal speak (I don't remember his name). No doubt his theology was right. But the speech itself was a boring and disappointing end to my four years at Notre Dame.
And finally, I think Notre Dame is being singled out here for some very selective outrage. The University has invited a non-Catholic President with non-Catholic views to visit the University and give a speech, and this is scandalous? Where is all the Catholic outrage over all the so-called Catholics in the Congress, in the state legislatures, and in the Governors' mansions across America who act daily as accomplices of the abortion industry? Where are the bishops’ condemnations of pro-choice “Catholics” Nancy Pelosi, Joseph Biden, John Kerry, Christopher Dodd, and Rudy Giuliani? These people call themselves Catholics, yet they have enthusiastically supported the public financing and easy availability of abortions across America for years. The Catholic Church is in a position to take substantive action to promote the sanctity life. They could deny “pro-choice” politicians the right to receive Holy Communion at mass or even ex-communicate them. But they don’t. When Pope Benedict visited the United States last year, Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, Christopher Dodd, Edward Kennedy, and Rudy Giuliani all very publicly received the sacrament of Holy Communion at Papal masses. The Pope even received Nancy Pelosi at the Vatican in February, giving her a much grander platform than a speech at Notre Dame could. Every election cycle bishops and other Church leaders have the opportunity speak out against pro-choice “Catholics” on the ballot and encourage the faithful to cast their votes for pro-life candidates. Yet they don’t. They remain silent or even support the pro-death Democrat candidates, usually because it is the Democrats that are more closely aligned with the Church’s views of “social justice.” Rather than taking a meaningful, concrete stance that would have a material impact in protecting the unborn they remain silent, eschewing substantive action that would save lives in favor of symbolic outrage against Notre Dame that accomplishes nothing.
So bring President Obama to Notre Dame. Let him face a fired-up crowd of educated, articulate, politically active young Americans who passionately disagree with him and his policies. Let him feel the heat. Engage him and challenge him. That is how you bring about change.