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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 news.

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 truth.

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 Court?”

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.


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