A Moral Exemplar?
Should the University of Notre Dame honor our most anti-life president?


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.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rick Garnett has further thoughts on the situation here.

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 holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

James V. SchalL, S.J.
When a university invites anyone to its campus to present a commencement address, it honors the person chosen. Likewise, the invitation itself indicates what the inviting institution thinks of itself, of what it, as an institution, considers to be worthy of honor. Some people would not be invited; others would not accept. Those invited do not accept every invitation. When they do accept, they indicate that it is worth their while to give the said address and receive the said honor. Clearly, some things are incompatible with honor, others are incompatible with truth, the purpose of a university. Aristotle says that the highest reward of the politician is honor, something more coveted than power or wealth. Honor is something the politician seeks, even covets. The academic, for his part, longs for recognition. He wants his often obscure work to be “appreciated.” The polity has its own rewards, its own honors. The accepting of the honor to the president evidently meets his purposes. The awarding it seems to meet the purposes of the university. Some say that it is a perfect fit. Others suspect that both parties, in accepting and giving such honors, manage to demean each other in what each is, in truth, expected to stand for.

–Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., is a professor of government at Georgetown University.

The word “perfidy” derives from the Latin “perfidus,” that is, “faithless” or “detrimental to faith”; it is also synonymous with “treachery,” or “violation of allegiance or trust.” The University of Notre Dame’s decision to honor President Obama as its commencement speaker in May is perfidious and treacherous in the extreme.

President Obama has zealously moved in his first weeks in office to carry out the most radical anti-life, un-Christian agenda of any American president. Among other actions antithetical to the teachings of the Catholic Church, he has increased federal funding for abortions across the world.

For Notre Dame to give President Obama its highest honor is blatantly to break faith and trust with all the Catholic faithful, the U.S. bishops who have expressly spoken against such Catholic institutional awards, and generations of Catholic parents and students who have relied on the university to stand by its hallowed purpose.

Unprecedented and humbling as such an about-face would be, Notre Dame should withdraw this invitation. And President Obama, given his unremitting anti-life crusade, should recognize the gross dissonance, and the insult to millions of Catholics, of dominating the commencement at the nation’s most beloved Catholic campus; he should graciously withdraw his agreement to speak.