Notre Dame’s invitation to President Obama to be its honored guest at this year’s commencement is shocking to many Notre Dame alums and of course to many Catholics. Imagine the reaction if the National Right to Life Committee were to invite President Obama to receive its leadership award. By contrast, imagine if the ACLU were to invite Secretary Rumsfeld to receive its leadership award. Both organizations could easily be seen inviting high profile opponents of its policies and central organizing principles to debates and forums, but not to be honored as a champion of its cause, and that is the problem of ND’s invitation to the president.
In a single gesture, ND has undone much if not all of the work of last fall during which the Roman Catholic hierarchy in America labored mightily to deliver the message that the Church really does mean what it says about protecting the unborn. The public rebukes to Speaker Pelosi and candidate Biden about their distortion of Church teaching on abortion underscored the resolve of the Church’s leadership to deliver a message about the centrality of the Church’s position on life to the Church’s mission in the world.
By inviting President Obama to be honored, Notre Dame’s leadership undermines all of that effort in a stroke, sending a message to the entire culture that those crazy bishops and cardinals don’t speak for Catholicism in America. The country’s preeminent Catholic institution just doesn’t care about abortion, or embryonic stem cell research, or even late term abortion or the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, at least not enough to stand in the way of a good party and a lot of camera time.
CatholicVote and the Cardinal Newman Society is organizing a protest, but too late. President Obama will soon have his reply to every objection to his abortion policies that will ever be mounted by any Catholic leader: “As I said in my commencement speech at Notre Dame,” will begin every answer he is ever obliged to deliver on the subject, a reminder to every voter on every occasion that no matter what the Church teaches about life, what the Church’s most visible institution in America has done about life is to demonstrate beyond argument that the issue doesn’t really matter to Catholics.
Of course the cardinals and the bishops should speak to the issue, but they know that the University is beyond their control, and thus their powerlessness over the institutions they supposedly control will be demonstrated if they do. What ND has also done is also to demonstrate that the Church is really impotent in its control over its own institutions. Sort of a bonus point for the leadership there in its unannounced but apparently quite real mission to undermine Catholic faith and teaching.