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April 22, 2009
Column #1,443
Notre Dame's "Scandal over Obama"
By Mike McManus

America's Catholic bishops issued a statement: "The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."

Was that a reaction to the decision by Notre Dame, (French for "Our Lady") to invite
President Obama to deliver a Commencement Address May 17, and to receive an honorary Doctor of Law?

No. The bishop's statement was issued in 2004.  This year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did not return my phone call.  When I called back, I was told the organization had no position on the issue.  I noted that 42 bishops had issued statements critical of Notre Dame and asked for samples, I was put on hold for ten minutes before being told they had no such statements.

However, the web was packed with them like this by Tulsa Bishop Edward Slattery: "For President Obama to be honored by Notre Dame is more than a disappointment, it is a scandal - especially to young adults. His being honored by Notre Dame will make it easier for a woman who contemplates abortion to actually submit herself to this cruel and deadly procedure."

Of course, some Catholics disagree.  Kenneth Woodward, a Newsweek editor of religion for 38 years, says he is "adamantly pro-life, independent as a voter," yet is "greatly pleased that Obama has agreed to speak at my alma mater.  He joins six other sitting presidents going back to Dwight Eisenhower - including George W. Bush - who have addressed the university. Politically, I had disagreements with each of them. Yet I never supposed that by granting them the commencement podium the university was signaling its approval of their policies. Neither, now, should the bishops."

On the other hand, Catholic outrage over Notre Dame's invitation has prompted 339,000 Catholics to sign a letter to University President, Fr. John Jenkins, saying the invitation "is an outrage and a scandal that `Our Lady's University' one of the premier Catholic universities in the United States, would bestow such an honor on President Obama given his clear support for policies and laws that directly contradict fundamental Catholic teachings on life and marriage."

The letter argues that Notre Dame "has chosen prestige over principles, popularity over morality." 

The depth of this anger is fueled not only by Obama's open support of abortion, but also his seeking federal funding of abortion (which has been prohibited under both Democratic and Republican Administrations for decades) - and his funding of embryonic stem cell research with billions of new federal dollars.

Such research involves the killing of embryos, though it has not resulted in one disease being helped, while 70 illnesses have been aided by adult stem cell research.

Thus, Obama can really be called the most anti-life President in history. 

Chicago Cardinal Francis George, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, pointedly commented: "Indeed, as a Catholic University, Notre Dame must ask itself if it has chosen prestige over truth."

Georgetown Professor, Father James Schall shakes his head, "I cannot think of a single act one so simple, so innocent, so effective - that serves to do exactly what he (Obama) needs to have done, namely, plunge an arrow into the heart of Catholicism's opposition to him, what there is of it…From now on, all he has to say is: `But, my dear fellow, I was invited to Notre Dame."

Much of the secularization of the culture has stemmed from judicial action, such as Supreme Court rulings that favored abortion on demand, opposed prayer in the schools, and requiring same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.

In this case, however, it is America's most prestigious Catholic university that has taken a step that is so disheartening to Catholics.  Deal Hudson, editor of, writes, "Under Father Jenkins's leadership, Notre Dame has had an `intellectually rigorous engagement with the world,' and the world won."

Russell Shaw, a Catholic columnist for Our Sunday Visitor, the biggest Catholic newspaper and a former PR director of the Catholic Bishops, writes, "Opposition to abortion and the defense of unborn life have supplied much of the glue holding American Catholicism more or less together in the last 40 years -- four decades during which the unity and the Catholic identity of American Catholicism have otherwise been severely at risk."

Indeed, Catholicism's impact has shrunk. Three-quarters of Catholics attended Mass weekly in the 1950s but today it is only one-fourth.  A third of all Catholics raised in the faith have let the church. Only Hispanic immigrants are keeping up the numbers.

Sadly, some of that decline is self-inflicted.


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