Catholics protesting Obama speech at Notre Dame

A group of conservatives are angry the president was invited to give the school's commencement address despite his pro-choice stance.

Topics: Religion, Abortion, Barack Obama, War Room, Catholicism,

At first, it seemed like the University of Notre Dame had scored a big public relations victory when the White House announced that President Obama would be the school’s commencement speaker this year. After all, the president is only speaking at three graduations, and one of the slots goes by tradition to one of the country’s military academies.

The announcement has turned into a PR nightmare, though, as conservative Catholics are up in arms over the choice and are organizing against it. One local bishop has said he’ll boycott commencement in protest, as the president’s decision on stem cells means the government is “supporting direct destruction of innocent human life.” The Cardinal Newman Society claims to have 80,000 signatures on a petition asking the university to rescind the invitation.

The National Review convened a “symposium” on the issue, asking various Catholic scholars and pundits to weigh in. Considering the forum, it wasn’t especially shocking to see that all those who participated were against the idea of Obama speaking at Notre Dame, some of them vehemently so.

“If a midwestern school seeks attention by granting Mr. Obama an honorary doctorate in law, the next logical step would be to grant Judas Iscariot posthumously an honorary doctorate in business administration,” Father George W. Rutler, a New York-area priest who’s contributed to the magazine in the past, said.

Rutler was joined by Ralph McInerny, a professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, who wrote, “Bernie Madoff has declined an honorary doctorate in economics from the University of Notre Dame, but all is not lost. Barack Hussein Obama, enabler in chief of abortion, has agreed to speak at the 2009 commencement and to receive an honorary doctorate of law… How better to defend the faith than to celebrate a man who advocates polishing off babies even after they are born?”



At the liberal blog Firedoglake, Blue Texan suggests there’s hypocrisy at play here, noting that some prominent Catholic conservatives — including National Review Online editor Kathryn Jean Lopez — had previously dismissed similar concerns over Boston College’s decision to award an honorary degree to Condoleezza Rice.

He has a point, as it’s hard not to see some partisanship involved here, but only to a certain extent. Rice is, by her own admission, “mildly pro-choice,” but her actions didn’t have the same direct bearing on abortion issues that Obama’s do. And while Catholicism also frowns on war and opposes the death penalty, which Rice supports, those aren’t as important in church doctrine. In 2004, before he was elected pope, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote a memo to American bishops about anti-abortion politicians in which he said, “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion.”

At first, it seemed like the University of Notre Dame had scored a big public relations victory when the White House announced that President Obama would be the school’s commencement speaker this year. After all, the president is only speaking at three graduations, and one of the slots goes by tradition to one of the country’s military academies.

The announcement has turned into a PR nightmare, though, as conservative Catholics are up in arms over the choice and are organizing against it. One local bishop has said he’ll boycott commencement in protest, as the president’s decision on stem cells means the government is “supporting direct destruction of innocent human life.” The Cardinal Newman Society claims to have 80,000 signatures on a petition asking the university to rescind the invitation.

The National Review convened a “symposium” on the issue, asking various Catholic scholars and pundits to weigh in. Considering the forum, it wasn’t especially shocking to see that all those who participated were against the idea of Obama speaking at Notre Dame, some of them vehemently so.

“If a midwestern school seeks attention by granting Mr. Obama an honorary doctorate in law, the next logical step would be to grant Judas Iscariot posthumously an honorary doctorate in business administration,” Father George W. Rutler, a New York-area priest who’s contributed to the magazine in the past, said.

Rutler was joined by Ralph McInerny, a professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, who wrote, “Bernie Madoff has declined an honorary doctorate in economics from the University of Notre Dame, but all is not lost. Barack Hussein Obama, enabler in chief of abortion, has agreed to speak at the 2009 commencement and to receive an honorary doctorate of law… How better to defend the faith than to celebrate a man who advocates polishing off babies even after they are born?”

At the liberal blog Firedoglake, Blue Texan suggests there’s hypocrisy at play here, noting that some prominent Catholic conservatives — including National Review Online editor Kathryn Jean Lopez — had previously dismissed similar concerns over Boston College’s decision to award an honorary degree to Condoleezza Rice.

He has a point, as it’s hard not to see some partisanship involved here, but only to a certain extent. Rice is, by her own admission, “mildly pro-choice,” but her actions didn’t have the same direct bearing on abortion issues that Obama’s do. And while Catholicism also frowns on war and opposes the death penalty, which Rice supports, those aren’t as important in church doctrine. In 2004, before he was elected pope, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote a memo to American bishops about anti-abortion politicians in which he said, “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion.”

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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