Ethics & Public Policy Center

A Moral Exemplar?

Published in National Review Online on March 23, 2009


**The University of Notre Dame has announced that Pres. Barack Obama will be the principal speaker and will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree at the university’s commencement on Sunday, May 17. The invitation comes after the president has taken several official actions that directly oppose the Catholic Church’s most sacred teachings. National Review Online asked some of our experts on education and Catholicism for their comments. Below is EPPC Distinguished Senior Fellow George Weigel’s contribution, followed by EPPC Fellow Colleen Carroll Campbell.**

GEORGE WEIGEL
Notre Dame’s decision to make President Obama its 2009 commencement speaker is a very bad thing. It’s bad for Notre Dame, bad for Catholic moral witness in America, and bad for the bishops who are trying to mount a defense against the Obama administration’s assault on the conscience rights of Catholic health-care professionals.

The invitation to deliver a commencement address, especially when coupled with the award of an honorary degree, is not a neutral act. It’s an act by which a Catholic institution of higher learning says, “This is a life worth emulating according to our understanding of the true, the good, and the beautiful.” It is frankly beyond my imagining how Notre Dame can say that of a president who has put the United States back into the business of funding abortion abroad; a president who made a mockery of the very idea of moral argument in his speech announcing federal funding for embryo-destructive stem cell research; a president whose administration and its congressional allies are snatching tuition vouchers out of the hands of desperately poor Washington, D.C., children who just as desperately want to attend Catholic schools.

As to Lenin’s question, “What, then, is to be done?,” one does not risk a charge of cynicism by suggesting that the most effective advocates for Notre Dame’s recovering its senses will be alumni and other donors capable of withdrawing or withholding contributions in the range of seven, eight, or nine figures. That is the sad state to which things have descended under the Golden Dome: moral argument seems to be unavailing with the leaders of an institution dedicated to developing the arts of moral reason.

— George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.

COLLEEN CARROLL CAMPBELL
The University of Notre Dame administrators who invited Pres. Barack Obama to deliver this spring’s commencement address surely consider his acceptance a historic coup for their school and yet more proof of Notre Dame’s self-declared role as the place “where the Church does its thinking.” In reality, their decision only cements the school’s reputation as the place where anti-life politicians do their rationalizing.

That reputation first took hold 25 years ago, when former New York governor Mario Cuomo, a Catholic, took the podium at Notre Dame to make the case for Catholic politicians who support legalized — and, in Cuomo’s case, taxpayer-funded — abortion. Cuomo’s speech was riddled with logical fallacies; but for Catholic politicians who wanted to please the powerful pro-abortion lobby without forfeiting the Catholic vote, it was a home run. Cuomo’s abortion alibi soon was parroted by pro-choice politicians across America, its appeal bolstered by the fact that his words bore the apparent imprimatur of the nation’s leading Catholic university.

Now President Obama, struggling with sagging approval ratings and the growing dissatisfaction of Catholic voters who finally have awakened to his deep-seated disregard for unborn human life, needs to butter up his flagging Catholic base. Substantive policy changes are out of the question for such a strident supporter of abortion rights and embryo-destructive research. That leaves only one solution: a visit to that reliable ally of pro-choice Democrats, the University of Notre Dame. There Obama can bask in the reflected glow of Notre Dame’s storied Catholic heritage while continuing to advance policies that contradict the Catholic faith and natural law.

How sad that Notre Dame’s administrators imagine themselves as free-thinkers when they are, in fact, mere political pawns on the wrong side of today’s leading civil-rights struggle. Alumni embarrassed to see their alma mater used in this way should express their outrage in the language that Notre Dame’s image-conscious, endowment-hungry administrators understand: money. By withholding their donations, alumni can send the message that a Catholic school that sells its soul for secular prestige cannot depend on the faithful to foot its bills.

Colleen Carroll Campbell, an NRO contributor, is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a former speechwriter to Pres. George W. Bush, a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and the author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy. Her television and radio show, Faith & Culture, airs weekly on EWTN, Sirius Satellite Radio, and Relevant Radio.

 

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