Tip O' the Hat to Fr. John Zuhlsdorf
The Concern at the University of Notre Dame
By The Most Reverend Frederick F. Campbell, D.D., Ph.D.
Bishop of Columbus
Undoubtedly, you have heard or read about the controversy surrounding the decision of the administration at the University of Notre Dame to invite President Barack Obama to give the commencement address and to confer upon him an honorary degree.
It is important to understand why such a decision has occasioned such controversy. As a Catholic institution, Notre Dame lives its academic life within a particular context. It seeks to pursue truth, in its many and various disciplines, with the understanding that all truth ultimately derives from God and is oriented toward the enhancement of human dignity from conception to natural death and beyond. Every human person possesses a destiny that stretches into eternity.
President Obama, in his political career, has repeatedly voiced his support for abortion “rights” and for embryonic stem cell research, both offenses against human dignity. The Catholic Church opposes such offenses, not because of some special revelation or particular creed, but because these things are matters of basic natural justice. In 2004, the Catholic bishops of the United States agreed that no institution that claims the name Catholic should honor proponents of such activity by inviting them to speak on prestigious occasions or to confer upon them honorary degrees. President Obama was not invited to an academic seminar or a simple discussion on moral questions. [Which would not have been so bad.] The invitation to give a commencement address is often a privileged occasion to propose policy or to encourage certain principles. [Even that might be tolerated.] An honorary degree is given to individuals, not only to recognize their achievements, but also to indicate that their lives and work exemplify the ideals of the institution. [That is the crux of the problem more than anything else.]
The Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, John D’Arcy, in whose diocese the University of Notre Dame lies, has cogently reminded the university of how its invitation to President Obama undermines its responsibility to its Catholic identity. [Catholic identity] I believe that Bishop D’Arcy’s decision not to attend the commencement (for the first time in years) is a proper one and morally courageous. I pray that Our Blessed Lady, under whose patronage the University of Notre Dame was founded, will assist by her prayers the university’s more authentic understanding of its identity as a Catholic institution.