The Controversy at Notre Dame
Bishop George Murray
Bishop of Youngstown, OH
Published by The Catholic Exponent
Diocese of Youngstown, OH
April 3, 2009
The recent announcement by Notre Dame University that President Barack Obama
would be this year’s commencement speaker and receive an honorary degree has
generated a substantial amount of comment. At root is the request made by the
American Catholic bishops some years ago to the presidents of Catholic colleges
and universities that they not give a platform to or honor those persons who
took public positions contrary to the teaching of the Church.
The protection and defense of all human life from conception to natural death is
both a fundamental and essential tenet of our faith. As Pope John Paul II wrote
in his encyclical, The Gospel of Life, because of the teachings found in the
Scriptures and the example of Jesus Christ, we as Catholics have an “inescapable
responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life.”
While I greatly respect the office of President of the United States and the
historic achievement of Mr. Obama, his polices to date have not recognized the
intrinsic value of the life of the unborn. In politics, one cannot functionally
separate a politician from his polices. Mr. Obama’s policies of expanding the
availability of abortion at home and exporting that availability overseas have
demonstrated that he does not believe that the life of the unborn is very
important. As a result, I cannot but be deeply disturbed by the decision made by
the president and board of Notre Dame.
Notre Dame is a Catholic university. Universities are places where there is a
free exchange of ideas for the purpose of learning. Notre Dame is also a
Catholic university, which means that its intellectual foundation is built on
fundamental moral principles. Remove those moral principles and you remove the
word “Catholic” from an organization’s self-definition.
As a Catholic university and the premier Catholic university in the nation,
Notre Dame should be in the forefront of protecting all human life in word and
deed. It is not sufficient for the university’s administration to issue a
statement that they do not agree with President Obama’s positions on life issues
while at the same time giving him an opportunity to stand before the graduates
and receive a prestigious honorary degree. That is the contradiction Notre Dame
has failed to resolve and what, I believe, is at the heart of this controversy.
Notre Dame is a great university. Mr. Obama has done much to be commended,
especially in his genuine concern for the poor and needy among us. Since Mr.
Obama probably will be the graduation speaker, I hope and pray that the
leadership of the university, its president and chair of the board, will seize
this opportunity to help the President to see the inalienable right to life of
every human being and invite him to courageously defend that right along with us
as we journey On the Road to Jerusalem.