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Tarnish on the Golden Dome

May 1, 2009

Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr.
Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, MO

In my first year as bishop no issue has generated more mail expressing dismay and sadness as the recent decision by the leadership of the University of Notre Dame to honor Pres. Barak Obama at this year’s commencement. Regardless of whether it is deserved or not, Notre Dame holds a special place in the hearts of a vast number of Catholics who see it as a proud symbol of the Catholic Church’s place in American life. No doubt, much of this is connected to the football tradition, immortalized by Knute Rockne, George Gipp, etc. It is also due to the fact that this Catholic university is named for our Lady, and has indeed contributed in a rich way to the Catholic Church in America and to American life in general.

Given this goodwill and wholesome pride, it is no wonder so many were stung by the decision of such a prominent Catholic institution to bestow this honor on Pres. Obama. In his first 100 days, the president has taken steps on multiple fronts to undermine the protection of innocent human life which had been established in law or policy (see my March 13, 2009 The Mirror column, “President Continues Disappointing Trend”).

Given Pres. Obama’s determination to dismantle prior policy that put limits on the destruction of innocent human life, and his administration’s proposal to remove legal protections that would safeguard the conscientious objections of institutions and individuals to these procedures, it is saddening and bewildering that Notre Dame would act in this manner. This honor will cause confusion and scandal among many.

While we must pray for our president, respect his office, and acknowledge and support the good things he does to lead our nation, it is also our duty to make known our opposition to those actions and decisions that stand in direct opposition to the moral law and the foundational principals of America. Such is the case when innocent human life is attacked and left open to the exploitation of the powerful. This is a position which is totally incompatible with Catholic faith and life. A person who holds such a position should not be honored in any way by a Catholic institution.

I lend my support to Bp. John M. D’Arcy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend in Indiana, and his decision to not attend this year’s commencement at Notre Dame. I also join those calling for Notre Dame to reconsider this decision. Even at this late date, such a reversal would be a credit to Notre Dame’s leadership, and would restore the near-universal goodwill that Notre Dame is now almost assured of losing.


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