The Struggle for Notre Dame: Two Bishops and a Cardinal add their Voice


Deacon Keith Fournier

  CHESAPEAKE, Va. (Catholic Online) – The escalating outcry over the invitation to President Obama to be the commencement speaker at Notre Dame - and the decision to bestow upon him the “Doctor of Law” degree - has an astonishing momentum. I spoke with William H. Dempsey, one of the organizing members of the “Sycamore Project”, the Alumni group which has taken such a strong stand against both. Among the many insights he brought to the discussion was his belief that this has become a “transformative event”, capable of bringing good out of bad. Indeed it has. The Solidarity among Catholics, other Christians and other people of faith and good will, with one another and for our littlest neighbors the children in the first home of the whole human race, is a potent force for building a New Catholic Action in the U.S. and beyond.

Two more Bishops and a Cardinal have spoken out. Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix released his E-Mail letter to Father John Jenkins, the President of the University. The subject line summarized the strong concern “Saddened by your tragic decision”:

"Dear Fr. Jenkins,

"I am saddened and heavy of heart about your decision to invite President Obama to speak at Notre Dame University and even to receive an honorary degree.

"It is a public act of disobedience to the Bishops of the United States. Our USCCB June 2004 Statement “Catholics in Political Life” states: “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” No one could not know of the public stands and actions of the president on key issues opposed to the most vulnerable human beings.

"John Paul II said, “Above, all the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights — for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture — is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with the maximum determination.”

"I pray that you come to see the grave mistake of your decision, and the way that it undercuts the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel of Life in our day."

His Excellency’s clarity of expression and strong reliance on the admonition contained in the US Bishops “Catholics in Political Life” is becoming the norm as a growing number of letters and statements are being issued by the US Catholic hierarchy. His brother Bishop Gregory Aymond of the Diocese of Austin, Texas, released this statement:

“As was announced recently, the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., is presenting President Barack Obama with an honorary degree and have asked him to give the commencement address. I, along with many other Catholics, express great disappointment and sadness that a Catholic university would honor someone who is pro-choice and who holds many values contrary to our Catholic belief.

"In the midst of such a sad situation, as Catholics we must continue to be pro-life and to proclaim with even greater strength the values of Christ and the teachings of the Catholic Church. In my opinion, it is very clear that in this case the University of Notre Dame does not live up to its Catholic identity in giving this award and their leadership needs our prayerful support.”

They have been joined by the sweet song of a Cardinal, now himself a Texan by calling, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo who added these important words to his “Shepherd’s Message” to his faithful in his new Diocese:

“… I want to venture a comment on the recently released statement of the University of Notre Dame; that statement noted that the President has accepted an invitation to give the Commencement Address this year as well as receive an Honorary Law degree. The news release then outlines the fact that a number of other Presidents have given the Commencement Address at Notre Dame and have highlighted, in effect, the university's importance. I find the invitation very disappointing. Though I can understand the desire by a university to have the prestige of a commencement address by the President of the United States, the fundamental moral issue of the inestimable worth of the human person from conception to natural death is a principle that soaks all our lives as Catholics, and all our efforts at formation, especially education at Catholic places of higher learning. The President has made clear by word and deed that he will promote abortion and will remove even those limited sanctions that control this act of violence against the human person.

"The Bishops of the United States published a document a few years ago asking all Catholic universities to avoid giving a platform or an award to those politicians or public figures who promote the taking of unborn human life. Even given the dignity of the Office of the President, this offer is still providing a platform and an award to a public figure who has been candid on his pro-abortion views. Particularly troubling is the Honorary Law Degree since it recognizes that the person is a "Teacher," in this case of the Law. I think that this decision requires charitable but vigorous critique.”

The struggle for the soul of Notre Dame will escalate. The Administration is concerned. The President’s spokesperson Jen Psaki was the first to offer what has now become the "talking point" for the Administration as this "situation" has hit the radar screen of the secular press and shows no sign of fading away. The Administration is calling it a “healthy disagreement.” How horrid this turn of phrase truly is when we consider the fact that the ones whose health is really at risk are all of the children being killed daily by ‘legal’ abortion. Ms. Psaki said: "Notre Dame is one of the first universities President Obama will visit as president and he is honored to address the graduating class, their families and faculty of a school with such a rich history of fostering the exchange of ideas… While he is honored to have the support of millions of people of all faiths, including Catholics with their rich tradition of recognizing the dignity of people, he does not govern with the expectation that everyone sees eye to eye with him on every position. The spirit of debate and healthy disagreement on important issues is part of what he loves about this country."

This is an historic moment, a "transformative event". “Notre Dame”, the University of Our Lady, has become the symbol of our resolve as Catholics, alongside of other Christians and other people of good will, to take a clear stand for the Culture of Life. A New Catholic Action is being birthed. Catholics have found their voice.