Your Commander is going to put his toe in the water on a very emotionally and politically charged question. First, understand that I am not Catholic, but I am a Christian. Living in the shadow of the Golden Dome, a number of my good friends are either Catholic, worked at Notre Dame, or attended the school.
When President Jenkins of the University of Notre Dame announced the invitation for President Obama to speak at the May commencement, the sparks immediately began to fly. Our new President’s frequently announced position on abortion and stem cell research goes directly against the long established positions of the Catholic Church.
Some have said that it is a long-standing tradition for the University to invite the sitting President to speak, but I do not remember an occasion when the speaker had policies so diametrically opposed to the Church’s long established and firm positions. Sure, President Bush’s position on the War was opposed by many members of the Catholic Church and Notre Dame’s Institute for Peace, but I believe this latest issue is much more debatable.
Now Bishop John D’Arcy of the South Bend/Ft.Wayne Archdiocese who has attended graduations at Notre Dame for twenty years has announced that he will not attend if President Obama speaks. Local media are having a field day interviewing young Notre Dame Students for their opinions, and they have expressed responses intelligently on both sides of the question.
The South Bend Tribune asked its readers to respond to a poll today and the results are almost evenly split, 49% Yes; 51% No on the president’s appearance.
As a total outsider on this question, it is my opinion that this is a controversy that the University did not need to take on at this time. I believe, too, that President Obama was ill-advised to accept the invitation, and walk into the middle of a well predicted controversy. Is an Honorary Degree from Notre Dame worth getting 50% of his Catholic constituency upset? I think not.
I believe the University is placing their desire to be a friend of the new administration above their basic Catholic principles. Pleasing Obama surely gets the University in a stronger position to attract large government grants, however it ignores its core values.
Numerous Universities and Colleges have made similar judgmental errors. Harvard’s former president spoke out on the lack of abilities by women in the Sciences; Duke University failed to support its Lacrosse players prior to full disclosure of rape allegations, the University of Illinois bowed to unwarranted political pressure on Chief Illiniwek, etc.
Emotional issues of this nature lead to absurd reactions, such as one I just heard on Sports Talk Radio: We could expect President Obama’s brother-in-law to be the next basketball coach at Notre Dame following his speech at Notre Dame’s Commencement. This ridiculous statement implied that the entire invitation was a Pay for Play deal like the Blagojevich fiasco in Illinois. That kind of talk does not even deserve my repeating, but it shows you how issues gain traction and distortion.
Notre Dame has enough people who dislike their very existence, so why walk into the middle of a highly emotional public relations controversy? President Father Jenkins’ invitation and announcement appears to try to walk both sides of this controversy, and curry the favor of President Obama. Incidentally, Mr. Obama has accepted the invitation. It just proves that priest’s can make mistakes, and sometimes be a little hypocritical, too.