Part one of this series is here.
The University of Notre Dame has invited President Barack Obama to speak at its upcoming commencement exercises. It will also, as is the custom, give an honorary degree to the president, typically the highest honor a college or university can bestow.
“This college will be one of the most powerful means for doing good in this country.”
-- Rev. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., founder of the University of Notre Dame du Lac
That was the promise the founder of Notre Dame made back in 1842. We are now 167 years on and Notre Dame has become one of the most prominent universities in the world. Its loyal sons and daughters have gone marching onward to victory on the football field and in the larger world.
Beyond all those factors, Notre Dame has been the most visible symbol of Catholicism in the United States. Bishops and cardinals come and go, but Notre Dame remains. Much of Notre Dame's prominence is tied to the efforts of one man, Fr. Theodore Hesburgh. Fr. Hesburgh was president of Notre Dame for over 35 years and was, aside from the Rev. Billy Graham, probably the most prominent clergyman in America. His tireless efforts in promoting Notre Dame brought the school great prominence in American life, in avenues well beyond the football field. Fr. Hesburgh was the Catholic go-to guy for presidents from Eisenhower to Clinton and never shied away from pronouncing his views on political and social issues. Fr. Hesburgh was generally a down-the-line liberal, so much so that he was one of the founders of People for the American Way, the left-wing advocacy group that has been most prominent in attempting to sandbag conservative judges.
In this context, Notre Dame's invitation of President Obama to speak isn't especially surprising. In many ways, the current president's views are actually quite congenial to the stance that Notre Dame has long espoused. Academe has long been one of the most important redoubts of the Left in this country and Notre Dame is comfortably within that political spectrum. With one crucial exception -- abortion.
The stance of the Catholic Church on abortion is clear and unmistakable. It was laid out in Humanae Vitae in 1968. Pope Paul VI made it pretty clear:
We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children.
And in case that wasn't clear enough, here's the clincher:
Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good," it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (18)—in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general. Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong.
There's no wiggle room here. It doesn't matter that Aquinas struggled with the idea of quickening or ensoulment in his writings. This is the Church teaching today. And this is what those who hold the Catholic faith are supposed to teach.
I don't presume to know the condition of Barack Obama's soul, nor is he bound by the dictates of the Catholic Church. But the church has a message to him, the same message it has offered to every president and other ruler since 1968:
And now We wish to speak to rulers of nations. To you most of all is committed the responsibility of safeguarding the common good. You can contribute so much to the preservation of morals. We beg of you, never allow the morals of your peoples to be undermined. The family is the primary unit in the state; do not tolerate any legislation which would introduce into the family those practices which are opposed to the natural law of God. For there are other ways by which a government can and should solve the population problem—that is to say by enacting laws which will assist families and by educating the people wisely so that the moral law and the freedom of the citizens are both safeguarded.Emphasis mine. Whatever the condition of Barack Obama's soul, his support of partial-birth abortion and his support of the Freedom of Choice Act directly contradict Church teaching. And since Notre Dame is a Catholic institution, it really shouldn't be giving him an honorary degree.
But it will. And that has meaning well beyond the event itself.
Next: opposition and its limits