Prestige over Truth


Last Sunday President Barack Obama was awarded an honorary doctorate of laws at the University of Notre Dame, America’s most famous Catholic university.

Given President Obama's radical pro-abortion agenda, the decision by Notre Dame to honour him has provoked an unprecedented level of criticism.

The local bishop, John D'Arcy, is boycotting the event. Over 70 American bishops have publicly criticized Notre Dame. Former American ambassador to the Holy See, Mary Ann Glendon, offered an award at the same ceremony, has declined to attend. An online petition against the decision garnered over 300,000 signatures. Protests will be held on campus.

Given that there are plenty of Catholic institutions that are Catholic in name only, why the fuss over this commencement? And given that the whole country is in full-throated adulation of the new President, why protest Obama's appearance?

The background to the controversy has been a growing effort to bring more coherence to the Catholic prolife witness. If the Church teaches that the right to life is the most basic civil right, how then do her institutions reflect that conviction? Put another way, how would Catholic institutions treat a public figure who said it was not necessary to care about the poor, or that racial segregation was legitimate or that environmental stewardship was unnecessary? Would they honour him with doctorates and prestigious platforms? Should Catholic institutions extend those honours to a public figure who does not believe that the right to life is a universal human right?

In 2004, the American bishops said that Catholic universities should not so honour such politicians. There is no question that President Obama is at odds with the Church on this issue of fundamental justice. He calls the right to abortion a human right, analogous to other fundamental freedoms. He favours lifting all restrictions on abortion. He favours keeping partial birth abortions -- in which a full-term child can be dismembered in the birth canal -- legal. He worked against "born-alive" laws, which mandate medical care for babies who accidentally survive abortions. He favours taxpayer funding for abortions. He has already extended American tax dollars to funding abortions abroad.

If there is any abortion -- anywhere, at any time, for any reason -- that President Obama does not think should be legal and funded by the government if need be, he has not indicated it thus far. A coherent Catholic pro-life witness does not extend to such a man an honorary doctorate of laws.

It is precisely because Notre Dame is so famously Catholic that so many American Catholics believe this is too much to tolerate. Led by their bishops, they have roundly criticized Notre Dame for, in the words of Bishop D'Arcy, "choosing prestige over truth."

There is no shortage of places which would extend to President Obama a full measure of messianic adoration. Notre Dame should know better, for she has another Messiah.

In response, Father John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame, has said that they are honouring President Obama for being the first black president and for his general inspirational qualities. Is racial progress more important to him than the right to life?

This being Notre Dame, a football analogy might help. In 1988, the National Football League scheduled the 1993 Super Bowl for Arizona. In 1990, Arizonans voted against the Martin Luther King holiday. In response, the NFL withdrew the Super Bowl from Arizona, and did not return it there until the voters of Arizona later approved the holiday.

The question for American Catholics is whether, for example, the Martin Luther King holiday is more important to the NFL than the prolife cause is to Notre Dame and other Catholic universities. Everyone knows that a politician who publicly opposed Martin Luther King Day would not be awarded a doctorate of laws at Notre Dame. Does not a coherent pro-life witness at least mean not heaping honours upon those who are deeply committed to the most permissive abortion license possible?

I have great affection for Notre Dame. On my visits to the campus I have found it distinctively Catholic. I cheer for the Fighting Irish on Saturday afternoons no matter who they are playing. But in choosing this Sunday not to fight the good fight for the prolife cause, Notre Dame is a little less lovable. There is no shortage of places which would extend to President Obama a full measure of messianic adoration. Notre Dame should know better, for she has another Messiah.




Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Prestige over Truth." National Post, (Canada) May 16, 2009.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.


Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2009 National Post

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