StateUniversity.com – U.S. University Directory » State University List » College and University Blog

Obama to Speak at Notre Dame's Commencement Ceremony: A Discredit to Its Catholic Identity? YOU DECIDE

College and University Blog - Resources, help, and insight for your college experience

The controversy surrounding President Obama’s scheduled appearance as Notre Dame’s 2009 commencement speaker has people reeling in debate, especially among various Catholic sects. Undoubtedly, two staunch, opposing viewpoints melded together would create such a debacle, but the question I have found to be recurrently raised is where should the moral and ethical line be drawn with regard to Notre Dame’s Catholic context? Does Obama’s participation at the ceremony dictate hypocrisy on the part of Notre Dame for knowingly inviting a policy-proving pro-choicer as speaker though abortion is a binding Catholic issue or is this an extension of “positive engagement,” as expressed by the school’s president, Rev. John Jenkins?

With the reversal of the Bush Administration’s ban on abortion funding policy, his position on embryonic stem cell research and late-term abortions, President Obama has made his position on abortion very clear. For Catholics, laity and clergymen alike, abortion is an insufferable exploitation of humanity.

“Those who defend the right to life of the weakest among us must be equally visible in support of the quality of life of the powerless among us. Such a quality of life posture translates into specific political and economic positions on tax policy, employment generation, welfare policy, nutrition and feeding programs, and health care. Consistency means we cannot have it both ways. We cannot urge a compassionate society and vigorous public policy to protect the rights of the unborn and then argue that compassion and significant public programs on behalf of the needy undermine the moral fibre of the society or are beyond the proper scope of governmental responsibility.” —Cardinal Bernardin

Catholic groups have spoken out harshly against the school’s decision to extend Obama the invitation, calling it an “outrage” and “scandal” and “directly contradicting the Roman Catholic teachings.” (FOXNews.com, Miller)

The university’s leadership has their own reasoning for such a disputed gesture. In a statement Jenkins wrote regarding the matter:

“We will honor Mr. Obama as an inspiring leader who faces many challenges – the economy, two wars, and health care, immigration and education reform – and is addressing them with intelligence, courage and honesty. It is of special significance that we will hear from our first African-American president, a person who has spoken eloquently and movingly about race in this nation. Racial prejudice has been a deep wound in America, and Mr. Obama has been a healer.”

Jenkins went on to promulgate that his actions were not to condone any of Obama’s policies on abortion issues, but to “see his visit as a basis for further positive engagement.”

Notre Dame’s Catholic Identity in Question

Catholic leadership is perceiving Jenkins’ actions as a discredit to the university’s Catholic identity. Since the university’s inception in 1842 by French priest, Rev. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., Notre Dame has been driven by Catholic principles and cultivation. Their mission statement:

“The Catholic identity of the University depends upon, and is nurtured by, the continuing presence of a predominant number of Catholic intellectuals. This ideal has been consistently maintained by the University leadership throughout its history.”

Much of what vitalizes Notre Dames’ Catholic identity is the lion’s share percentage of Catholic faculty. “…the soul of Notre Dame is its Catholic identity; that identity is in jeopardy; and once lost it would never be regained. A secularized faculty would stand in the way,” expressed by the group, Project Sycamore, whose purpose is aimed at protecting the Catholic identity of the school.

The school has seen the percentage of Catholic staff decrease from 85% in 1970 to approximately 52% to date. Under the recently revised and sanctioned faculty hiring policy, Catholics hired to the instructional faculty only exceed annually 50%, according to Father Robert Sullivan, the chair of the Provost’s ad hoc committee.

It seems as though, despite the school’s uncompromising mission statement, leadership at Notre Dame may be steering the school’s intention in a different and more moderate direction, placing academics and inspiration over principle. During his 2005 inauguration speech, Jenkins said, “With respect and gratitude for all who embraced Notre Dame’s mission in earlier times, let us rise up and embrace the mission for our time.”

Obama as the 2009 commencement speaker seems to reflect this notion.

Comments on this Article

Make a Comment …

Have something to say? Feel free to add comments or additional information.

matthew herbst about 9 years ago matthew herbst

how can you people call your selfs religious people, and then turn around and bash some one like you are??? isn't it religion that tells us to accept everyone for who they are? if any one is a disgrace it is you people, for completely going against the very thing you are fighting for? Obama is only trying to make this country better as a whole...what the hell can you say you have ever tried to do for this country? if anything, you people should take time to actually know what you believe in...then make posts on here...hypocrites

Connie Healy over 9 years ago Connie Healy

I can only hope the student body from here on drastically reduces in numbers to show Notre Dame that it must pay for making poor decisions. Barack Obama has no right to first of all be a guest speaker at a Catholic University and secondly, for being given a honorary degree. This man, if the truth were known, doesn't even like Catholics and he certainly doesn't believe in our Christian ways. He would prefer to kill babies before they are born. He is a disgrace and so is Notre dame for not rejecting him. He should be uninvited! SHAME ON NOTRE DAME!!!!

Pamela Dolan over 9 years ago Pamela Dolan

I wish to register my disgust with the hierarchy of Notre Dame for planning to give Obama an honorary degree. He does not share our beliefs and is instrumental in advancing beliefs that are against what the church stands for. He does not need or deserve this honor and I believe that offering him this degree is wrong. He will appoint a new Chief Justice and you can be sure he/she will be a liberal judge. Please re-think this decision and allow him to speak, if you must, but withhold a prestigious degree. It lowers the value of such an institution in my humble opinion. Pam Dolan

College_girl over 9 years ago College_girl

The views and belief of people during older days with the comparison on our days is far different, Faith in Catholic belief and theology during those days is very far different from now. I guess it is more on awakening rather than questioning.. read more of post for Notre Dame here: http://www.universityloveconnection.com/blog/?s=Notre+Dame

Ken Harbit over 9 years ago Ken Harbit

Although I am today a Catholic, I was not born one. My road to accepting Catholicism started with an invitation to Sunday Mass. Maybe if we invite more people, maybe more people will accept Catholic theologies.