The Bishop's Forum: Notre Dame University
Bishop Gerald A. Gettelfinger
Bishop of Evansville, IN
The Message Online
Diocese of Evansville, IN
April 17, 2009
Very recently I was giving a parish mission at St. Gabriel
Parish in Cave Creek, Arizona. The pastor, a dear friend of mine, had invited me
out to preach the mission.
Every evening after my talk, I opened the floor to questions about anything
anyone wished to raise.
One evening after the news had broken that the president of the University of
Notre Dame had invited President Barack Obama to deliver the commencement
address, the question was posed: “Why don’t the bishops do something about
that???!!” Another asked: “Why doesn’t the Holy Father close Notre Dame down as
a Catholic University.” Yet another: “Why don’t the bishops write about the
evils of abortion?” In short, they were unpleasantly excited about that bit of
President Obama has been very clear and consistent about his attitude toward
abortion, both by his stated intent as a candidate and by his recent executive
actions as President of the United States. In doing so he has pandered himself
to the pro-choice movement, i.e. those who are anti life, while offering a deaf
ear to the silent cries of the voiceless unborn and helpless elderly.
By their actions, President John Jenkins and the Board of Trustees of the
University of Notre Dame are by affinity also pandering to the pro-choice
movement, and in doing so, they are betraying their faithful alumni and
supporters of this once great university.
Bishop John D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese said it so very well in
challenging President Jenkins about caving in to prestige at the expense of
The irony of it all is that the university, by the vote of its trustees, will
confer on President Obama an Honorary Degree of Law. Clearly that degree will
not include the moral law. If so, then the honor is shallow — indeed empty — as
God is the source from which all law is derived. God is truth. God is the author
and guardian of all human life. God does not allow for selective obedience. Do
Father Jenkins and the Board of Trustees by their decision see any disconnect of
themselves from the Infinite Truth?
So, what can you do?
Neither you nor I participated in the election of the Board of Directors of the
University of Notre Dame nor appointed its president. You and I are powerless to
alter that reality. President Obama has accepted the university’s invitation to
deliver the 2009 commencement address and to be granted an Honorary Degree of
Laws, and we appear powerless to change the intent of either the university or
of the president. The outcry from bishops, church leaders and faithful laity
seems to be falling on deaf ears. The University of Notre Dame did not have to
invite President Obama.
As for President Barack Obama, he has been duly elected as the President of the
United States — by the electorate — including you and me. He is head of the
Executive Branch of our government. Except by executive order, he is powerless
to legislate, i.e., to make the laws. He is bound nonetheless to uphold the duly
enacted laws of the Congress of the United States — or hide behind them. He
cannot sign a law into effect unless it comes to his desk! Even his veto can be
overridden by Congress.
As for members of our Congress, they too, are duly elected by their respective
states. You and I voted for our representatives and senators. We have power to
influence them by being proactive but we render ourselves powerless if we
abdicate to their uninformed judgment and political expediency.
As for the Judges of the Supreme Court of the United States, they are powerless
to enact laws. However, how often have you heard politicians, allegedly in
defense of life, assert that the Roe vs. Wade decision in 1972 was bad law?
Duh?? What legislative action have our political leaders taken — or are they now
taking — to legislatively correct this so-called “law enacted by the Supreme
The long and short of it is this: if you and I choose to wring our hands after
the fact, then so be it. However, we are not powerless. If we wish to affect
legislative and judicial decisions we must start by being alive, alert and
active in the political process. We must never allow ourselves to depend on
someone else to do it for us.
As for us bishops, God is witness to what we do and say, and we must answer to
God who is TRUTH. TRUTH however does not sell well in the political realm, nor
does TRUTH seem to carry much weight even in the lives of many Catholics who are
pledged to be faithful to it.
More from our