The Cock Crows at Notre Dame

Betrayal is not too strong a word to describe the actions of Notre Dame in inviting President Barack Obama to speak and receive an honorary doctor of laws degree from the university. This betrayal explains why normally docile Catholics have been stirred to unprecedented protest and anger.

Rev. John Jenkins, C.S.C., president of the University of Notre Dame who offered the invitation, has felt the wrath of thousands of Roman Catholics who see him as a Judas Iscariot. In a more sober assessment, Jenkins should be viewed as Peter the apostle, in his emotional denials to a watching and judgmental world, rather than as a Judas, the brazen traitor.  

Sophisticated opinion might scorn such appraisals. "What is the big deal?" they question. Any university with serious aspirations and credentials should welcome the President of the United States to speak on campus, the thinking goes. Surely the president of a nation that observes the separation between church and state should not be prevented from addressing a university commencement just because his policies or issues are not in agreement with particular religious doctrines.  It is patently wrong to prevent the airing of ideas from authoritative sources that may not concur with Church teachings. Great universities must engage in the great discussions of the day. Truth must never hide from controversy.  It ought never be determined that questions of right and wrong have been settled, and only those that agree with the settled consensus be given a hearing. Finally, openness and tolerance of disagreement are the hallmarks of great centers of learning. Surely Notre Dame is just such a great center of learning.

This is how Jenkins would like to frame the controversy. Taking the intellectual high road (he believes) in addressing the critics, Jenkins poses as a positively heroic scholar and patriot...    

"... In every statement I have made about the invitation of President Obama and in every statement I will make, I express our disagreement with him on issues surrounding the protection of life, such as abortion and embryonic stem cell research. If we repeatedly and clearly state that we do not support the President on these issues, we cannot be understood to 'suggest support'.

"...We need to do more to persuade all people that human life is precious and human dignity must be defended. This requires more effective dialogue and engagement with all public officials... However misguided some might consider our actions, it is in the spirit of providing a basis for dialogue that we invited President Obama.

"On May 17 we will welcome the ninth President who will receive an honorary degree from Notre Dame. It will be an important opportunity to bring the leader of our nation to Notre Dame, and, I hope, a joyful day for our graduates and their families."

 (Father Jenkins to the Board of Trustees at the University of Notre Dame:)

Sounds pretty reasonable. No?

In Jenkins' view, there is simply a "disagreement" and the president is simply "misguided."

Playing to elite opinion rather than the churchgoing rabble, he uses words like "dialogue" and "engagement" rather than condemnation in referring to the culture of death embodied in the policies of our new president. Being judgmental, after all, is without doubt the gravest sin to modern eyes and Father Jenkins knows this and counts on it. Besides, on social issues (whatever they are) the new progressive president effectively cancels out his misguided notions on life.

But if we are to believe the prelate, where exactly does the imaginary engagement of Obama occur? Is Jenkins inviting Obama to address a seminar on life issues? Will there be a rebuttal of the president's pro-abortion policies after his address? Will they "roundtable" and "brainstorm" and "dialogue" about abortion, stem cell funding, euthanasia, and infanticide?

Sadly, what the awakened and disgusted American Catholics see happening is lost on, or of no interest to, Father Jenkins and his supporters. The university officials are obviously much more interested in securing the good graces of the ninth president to address the school than in supporting Church teaching. As intellectuals they share denseness with thinly disguised contempt.

As Hilaire Belloc said one hundred years ago, "Real intelligence resides in the ability to make distinctions." In this case the distinctions are everything. Notre Dame means literally Our Lady. The University of Our Lady has been founded, promoted, supported and loved by devout Catholics of this country for a long time. The issues of life have been settled in the eyes of the church for over two thousand years and no amount of engagement will change that. Notre Dame should never bestow an honor on the likes of our current president.

The event all works perfectly for the President. Cocktails and chatter with some noted Catholic VIP's, photo-ops, good-humor, perhaps a few thoughtful frowns, some vague-but-pleasing Obama rhetoric, and off the president goes.  On to the Naval Academy and another commencement ceremony with a new legitimacy and the unofficial imprimatur of America's great Catholic University.
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