The Corner

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The Importance of Notre Dame


As I made clear in my initial contribution to this NRO symposium, I believe that the University of Notre Dame should not, at this time, honor President Obama with a ceremonial degree and the commencement-speaker role. To say this is not to deny that there are things about his election and achievements that a meaningfully Catholic university — and, to be clear, Notre Dame is such a university — could and should celebrate. Under the circumstances, though — so soon after the president’s insultingly bad statement regarding embryo-destructive research (in which he reduced moral critique to “politics”) — it seems to me that there is no way to avoid the impression that Notre Dame is un-bothered (even though we are) by his deeply unjust actions. And, unfortunately, there are reasons to worry that the controversy surrounding the president’s presentation and presence will distract attention from, and celebration of, the conferring of the (richly conserved) Laetare Medal on Prof. Mary Ann Glendon.

All that said, this is not the time for the tiresome anti-Notre Dame screeds that too often clutter the Catholic and conservative corners of the Internet. Some who are outraged, gathering signatures, demanding changes, and pointing fingers have long since given up — mistakenly — on Notre Dame. For them, Notre Dame’s purpose is simply to serve as a convenient target. For many of Notre Dame’s cyber-critics, her many achievements and successes are invisible; her mission is unappreciated or not-understood; her failures are cause for celebration, not constructive criticism.

These critics are wrong. This should not be an occasion for fundraising, grandstanding, or attention-grabbing by self-interested activists. Again, Notre Dame matters, and it is precisely because it still is meaningfully Catholic that its mistakes are disappointing. It’s easy for [insert name here] Completely Pure Catholic College (or blogger) to avoid dilemmas (and mistakes) like Notre Dame’s, because no one cares about that College (or blogger). Notre Dame’s challenge is more difficult. We should want, and be willing to help, her to succeed.