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Catholic=Republican=Federalist Society? --UPDATED

I've been at Notre Dame long enough to know that controversies here --and on the Catholic blogosphere--are like tempests in a teapot. You talk to someone from somewhere else and they are surprised to learn what's going on--especially if they're not Catholic.Still, if you grab onto the teacup handle for balance and look around, some interesting tea leaves with broader import float by. My colleague Rick Garnett, who is opposed to the Obama invitation, commends to our attention a petition protesting it. In addition to the St. Thomas More Society (the Catholic law students group), it was also signed by the Notre Dame College Republicans and the Notre Dame Law School Federalist Society.Now I understand (although I don't agree with ) with the position of the St. Thomas More Society. I think they are completely within their rights to express their views, given the nature of the organization. But I don't understand the College Republicans and the Federalists. Do the College Republicans oppose the Democratic President speaking at any and all graduations? Does the Federalist Society take a stand against any and all speakers with a different agenda for the court system receiving any honor at any institution of higher learning? I wasn't aware that they did.Or are the College Republicans and the Federalists taking a stand on whether a Catholic institution ought to invite the President? The petition itself certainly suggests that they are. But what special interest or competence, precisely as Republicans or Federalists, do they have in issues of Catholic moral theology and Catholic institutional identity?At Notre Dame Law School, I suspect that there is a heavy overlap among the three groups, among students and some faculty, such as Professor Garnett.Nonetheless, I would think this would be a good "teaching" moment to suggest, especially, that the equation in the title of the post does not inevitably and always hold true. Qua Republican, qua Federalist, it does not seem to me that one has a particular interest or competence in what a Catholic institution does.For the good of the Church, and the political community, it seems to me we ought to keep these distinctions in mind. It's very easy, for example, for Catholics who are not Republican to dismiss some of our most outspoken prelates as Republican party operatives when they speak on the life issues. Incidents like this make it even easier.UPDATE: THE NOTRE DAME LAW SCHOOL FEDERALIST SOCIETY HAS NOW DECIDED TO REMOVE ITS NAME FROM THE PETITION, BECAUSE SIGNING SUCH A PETITION IS INCONSISTENT WITH ITS STATED NEUTRALITY ON POLICY POSITIONS.

About the Author

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.



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Prof. Kaveny,As a 3L law student at Notre Dame, a registered Republican, and a member of the Federalist Society, I agree with your post. It doesn't happen a lot, but I'm glad when it does.While I disagree with the Administration's decision to invite President Obama to give the Commencement Address, I am also troubled by the rhetoric used by the so-called "Catholic right" (of which I'm presumably a member). When reading some of the commentary opposing Pres. Obama's invitation, one easily forgets that the writer is trying to make a Catholic argument rather than a Republican or partisan argument. For instance, I find it difficult to believe that if the University had invited Rudy Giuliani or Condoleezza Rice--both pro-choice Republicans--to give the Commencement Address that it would have provoked the same type of reaction from right-leaning Catholics. Certainly the College Republicans and the Federalist Society would have a difficult time justifying any opposition to Giuliani or Rice.Originally, politically conservative Catholics lamented the fact that the American Catholic Church was so intertwined with and beholden to the Democratic Party and would assert that Catholics (at least institutionally) needed to maintain a healthy distance from political parties. May be this just was an oblique way of trying to move Catholics into the Republican Party. I use to disagree with that reading. Now I'm not so sure. Anyways, if anyone wants to propose that ol' seamless garment "platform" again, just show me where to sign.

It appears that the desire to lift all restrictions on abortion was the "tipping point".

If ETH is representative of the type of critical thinking being taught at ND Law School, then I'm impressed.

"it seems to me we ought to keep these distinctions in mind. Its very easy, for example, for Catholics who are not Republican to dismiss some of our most outspoken prelates as Republican party operatives when they speak on the life issues. Incidents like this make it even easier."I totally agree. When issues like this become more important than dying people on our own streets, or the horrors of Africa then we have truly become dolts. Even though Catholic.

Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows. Tell me how is this different than Eusebius of Nicomedia and Athanasius duking it out between Constans and Constantius? They were rioting in the streets, killing each other, over the nature of Jesus. The impeachment of Bill Clinton was strictly partisan. It was not outrage over sex in the oval office. It was deep loss of losing the White House and nurtured by hope to get back in. Polemicists are driving this. As usual. The usual suspects are right there in National Review. Making people feel that real morals are involved. Many Protestants have suggested that the way to Christian Unity is to agree on Baptism and Nicea and work from there. Rome says never because it will lose too much turf. I side with Rome in the sense that doctrine is not the issue because Christendom leadership has such an awful history. Steve Taylor is spot on above. The criteria for Christian unity should be Matt. 25. In fact for all peace efforts. How about every Catholic University inviting a minister from each Protestant denomination to give the commencement address? Not just one place but in every place in the same year. Now that would be different and probably redemptive.

Thanks for the comment, ETH. I am very proud of NDLS students--they are a great bunch of people who will be a real blessing to the legal profession.

It appears that the desire to lift all restrictions on abortion was the tipping point.Obama has no desire to lift all restrictions on abortion and in fact appears to be open to tighter restrictions on late-term abortions. How exactly that could happen in real life would be a good question, but he is on record as saying that for abortions permitted for the health of the mother, "health" should not be broadly defined (as it is now).

What bothers me is the idea being promoted by Fr. Jenkins that somehow this invitation will open some kind of "dialogue" with Obama about his views on abortion and embryonic stem cell research. I am unfamiliar with the transformative powers of the honorary degree. I am not optimistic about the chances of a conversion on these points by Obama. His statement at the ESCR signing did not reflect the thinking of a morally serious person. Ditto his statement re abortion at Saddleback.

His statement at the ESCR signing did not reflect the thinking of a morally serious person. Ditto his statement re abortion at Saddleback.Adeodatus,Are you saying Obama is not a morally serious person, or are you saying he failed to articulate his position clearly on these two occasions?

I don't know the man personally, so this is obviously just speculation. I was troubled initially by his statement at Saddleback. You could argue that maybe he was blindsided by the question. But it seems like the type of question you'd know was coming at such an event. But his prepared statement at the ESCR event just baffled me because it seemed to reflect the same kind of shallow thinking. By "shallow thinking" I don't mean support for escr, but his statement regarding the ethical issues involved. I've spoken to teenagers who appreciate the ethical issues involved in escr.Maybe my assessment is harsh. And maybe I was also unduly influenced in my conclusion by former Pres. Clinton's interview with Sanje Gupta, which occurred around the same time. But I came away with the impression that maybe in regard to these specific issues, he is not someone who views these issues with respect to morality.

Nikols - Adeodatus: Is Obama a morally serious person? None of us know him so we can't know. However, both at Saddleback (where in the paragraph following "above my pay grade," he made a statement recognizing the serious moral nature of the question, "when does life begin?") and in his ESCR statement (which I also found loose-minded), I was led to recognize that he is a Protestant. I don't think many/most???? Protestants put a lot of stock in natural law thinking or in systematic ethical analysis (of course they may if they are philosophers or pastors), but in general I don't think they see things or think about these issues in the same way Catholics do. Of course, Catholics think they all get a philosophy degree when they're baptized. Who could compete with that?This doesn't resolve your discussion but I think it points to part of the problem and the disconnect.

Cathy,Great post. A couple reactions...First, as a former member of NDLS's St. Thomas More Society, I can say that, although it's a great bunch of people, I don't think they are any better situated vis-a-vis technical Catholic ethical expertise than members of the Federalist Society. So, apart from the name of the organization, I'm not sure even the St. Thomas More Society meets what may be your criteria for being able to speak publicly about the ND-Obama matter.Second, assuming for a moment that the press release from the Right to Life group is a statement of truth (and I realize that's a point of disagreement) doesn't any individual or any institution have a right, and maybe an obligation, to sign off on it, to endorse it? Do we have to have technical expertise before we, even if unwittingly, endorse truth? The Federalist Society may be wrong, but what if they're not?There are all sorts of people that would seem to be excluded from giving an opinion on this matter. For instance, a woman at my parish -- no theological expert -- was very disappointed in ND and said something to the effect of, "How could they?" Since she lacks theological expertise and training in Catholic moral theology, is her opinion to be given no weight? Would she be excluded from signing any public statement?Third, how far does this principle extend? If someone signs a petition that encourages Supreme Court justices to overturn Roe, or to ban all partial-birth abortion techniques, and this person is neither a lawyer nor a moral theologian, should that person be told not to sign that petition?The other day, here in Phoenix, there were massive protests against Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Now, most people don't know anything about the technical aspects of incarceration, about how to house prisoners, or about immigration law and the differences between national origin discrimination and illegal alien discrimination or about the application of the equal protection clause to prisoners. But they did see a number of Mexican nationals seemingly treated horribly, and they voiced their opinion. Is that kind of witness also foreclosed because they lack expertise in immigration law, constitution law, and the technical expertise of housing inmates? (Incidentally, whether or not they knew it, their instincts were right, given the Supreme Court decision in Johnson v. California applying strict scrutiny to all discrimination in prison, for whatever reason, based upon race or national origin.) To be clear: I am not at all suggesting this is where your argument has to go, but I am a bit uncertain about what you're trying to say. And, as you know, I agree that some level of expertise is, on some issues, absolutely required. For instance, in the cooperation with evil doctrine and its application to Catholic hospitals merging with non-Catholic ones. As we've discussed, it seems that one really cannot speak intelligently about that issue without understanding the aspects of formal and material cooperation, as well as the different types of corporate arrangements. So, another question to add is this: Does being able to speak publicly about ND's decision to invite Obama require the kind of specialized theological knowledge that is required in intelligently speaking about whether Catholic hospitals should merge with non-Catholic ones?

The Notre Dame Law School states that its mission is, "to facilitate greater understanding of and commitment to the relationship between law and social justice."The relationship between Law and Social Justice is that Social Justice begins with protecting the Right to Life of EVERY Human Individual from the beginning.

Mrs. S, I think you raise a valid point. But this leads me to question who wrote former Pres. Bush's ESCR speech from 8/9/01. While the former Pres. was not known for being an articulate speaker, he did manage to present the ethical dilemmas posed by ESCR fairly well. Here's the text:, I think your point still stands about a Protestant-Catholic divide on the way politicians handle the ethical dimension.

Prof. Kaveny,I believe that the officers of the Notre Dame Federalist Society made a hasty and ill-considered decision that was antithetical to its own institutional statement: "The Society is about ideas. We do not lobby for legislation, take policy positions, or sponsor or endorse nominees and candidates for public service. While overall the Society believes in limited government, its members are diverse and often hold conflicting views on a broad range of issues such as tort reform, privacy rights, and criminal justice."As you can see by re-examining the ND Response page, over the last 24 hours, cooler heads have prevailed, and the Notre Dame Federalist Society is no longer listed as a signatory, for which I, as a Federalist Society member, am quite relieved to see.

Catholics getting a philosophy degree at baptism:This (finally) explains why I spontaneously uttered "Cogito ergo sum" after I recovered from the shock of the cold water.(I was a pre-VII baby; baptismal philosophical utterances had to be in Latin.)

DTM, does this mean that we can assume that the Notre Dame Federalists Society agrees with the IDEA of the Right to Life of every Human Individual from the beginning?

Nancy, the Federalist Society takes no position on legal or public policy issues. This extends to the Notre Dame Federalist Society as well. While a certain number of its members (be they a minority, a plurality, or a majority) may adhere to a particular legal view (e.g., "the idea of the right to life of every human individual from the beginning"), those individual views are not a collective view held by the organization, either the local chapter or the national society.

Adeo: Who wrote President Bush's ESCR speech. Don't know, but let's guess: Leon Kass? Daniel Callahan? several other members of the bioethics committee that opposed ESCR? But here are some more UND graduates and Republicans jumping into the whirl pool."Several Republican lawmakers who are Notre Dame alumni are strongly criticizing the school for inviting President Obama to give a commencement speech and for giving the him an honorary degree." Actually the story only quotes three members of the House.

I didn't mean to suggest above that Protestants don't have moral sensibilities or ethical concerns. As William Collier points out above, they don't have the language.

Mrs. Steinfels: I think you make a great point about lacking a common language with Catholics, but I do not think it is a function of Protestantism as much as of education. The recipient of this degree honoris causa received a thoroughly post-modern education - the first person with such an education to hold the office of the President in our history in fact. I would proffer it is the lack of study of, or even familiarity with, the canon as that term has been traditionally understood along with receiving instruction under a non-scholastic teaching method that accounts for the language barrier.

Hi Matt, I don't want to say that people need a degree in theology to sign a petition. But an organization whose self-imposed mandate or purpose is the study of Catholicism and law is different from an organization whose purposes are quite different--Republicans or Federalists. Taking a stand on the invitation, it seems to me, is within the mandate of STMS--but not the Federalist Society or the Republicans. So I think if the Republicans or Federalists take a position on what ND should do precisely because it's a Catholic institution, it would a) be beyond its purposes (ULTRA VIRES) (as some have said above) or b) treating the Catholic identity of the institution as a means to some other end of its own (my worry in the post). That's not going to help the Church. In contrast, I'm not worried that STMS as a Society will treat the Catholic identity of the University as a means to other institutional ends.Cathy

The Greek Orthodox Archbishop at a White House visit, has just compared Obama to Alexander the Great... Now we can expect more bluster from the 'Republican' Archbishops i.e. Burke, Chaput. Almstead & bp D' al.. talk about losing a political fight!!!

I am happy to agree with my colleague Cathy -- and with, I suspect, everyone else I know -- that the "equation in the title of the post does not inevitably and always hold true." Of course, I have never thought, written, or suggested that it does -- I am quite sure it does not -- and do not know anyone who thinks that it does. Also, for what it's worth, the student petition to which I linked was (so far as I know) entirely the work of students.

President Obama = Alexander the Great ?I haven't seen the context in which the comparison was made, but it seems a strange equivalence to me. Alexander is rememberd primarily as a military conqueror who often used brutal methods to subjugate the populations he conquered. True he spread elements of Hellenic culture to most of the world known to the Greeks at the time, and true he often assimilated aspects of foreign culture he thought would be beneficial to him, but for the prime of his very short life (he died at age 32) he was engaged full time in warfare. I don't know that President Obama would necessarily welcome the comparison.

Off to class. There are quite a few people who suggest, indirectly, or directly, that good Catholics can't be Democrats (a book by that name by David Carlin) or must be Republican (Deal Hudson).

"The Notre Dame Law School Federalist Society has now decided to remove its name from the petition because signing such a position is inconsistent with its stated neutrality on policy positions.""God alone is the Lord of Life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent Human Being."-CCC,no.2258This is a universal Truth that comes from God, which means it is also true for our Country and Notre Dame. To be neutral on the unalienable Right to Life is not consistent with the ordered relationship of God, Country, and Notre Dame.

Of interest: the strong movement of support for Jenkins among Notre Dame alum on Facebook.

Prof. Kaveny,The Federalist Society does not, as an organization, take a stance on this issue. In the respect that we always encourage discussion and debate, we do support the students of Notre Dame in taking important issues to their administration. As the president of the NDLS Federalist Society I take responsibility for any initial misunderstanding about our role. ~Anna Franzonello

I imagine that, going back to at least FDR, any US President invited to speak at the commencment of any Catholic University would have SOMETHING in his quiver about which SOME Catholics could and would find objection. It guess that means that the Holy Sanctified Guardianship of All Things Bright and Beautiful would therefore ensure that no POTUS would ever speak at any Catholic institution of education, no matter the level.That would take us right back to the insularity of the early 1900's. Right were we need to be, you betcha.

I haven't really weighed in on this controversy - it's not my school - but istm that there is something to be said for exposing President Obama to the subversive message that is Christianity. It would be very good for him to see that not all of us Christians are Appalachians clinging to our guns and religion (in that order, anyway). Maybe something about the grotto or Touchdown Jesus will sink in somehow. Or a student will say something to him that will make him think about things in a way he hasn't before.

Jim -- Don't forget, President Obama is himself a Christian. Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding.

here is something to be said for exposing President Obama to the subversive message that is Christianity. It would be very good for him to see that not all of us Christians are Appalachians clinging to our guns and religion (in that order, anyway)Jim,In spite of all the flap over the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Trinity United Church of Christ was and is a real Christian church, in Chicago (not Appalachia). David Brooks said:

Obama has the great intellect. I was interviewing Obama a couple years ago, and I'm getting nowhere with the interview, it's late in the night, he's on the phone, walking off the Senate floor, he's cranky. Out of the blue I say, 'Ever read a guy named Reinhold Niebuhr?' And he says, 'Yeah.' So i say, 'What did Niebuhr mean to you?' For the next 20 minutes, he gave me a perfect description of Reinhold Niebuhr's thought, which is a very subtle thought process based on the idea that you have to use power while it corrupts you. And I was dazzled, I felt the tingle up my knee as Chris Matthews would say.

I have a feeling George Bush and John McCain cannot discuss the thought of Reinhold Niebuhr for 20 minutes. I don't think they know anything more about Christianity, or are any better Christians than Obama.

I agree. I was pained to see the College Republicans, the Federalist Society, and the Rover all signing the petition. The question posed by this invitation isn't a political or ideological one. It also isn't about the past election. When I saw those groups signing on, I thought, here we go again. Professor Kaveny is correct. There are many Catholics who seem to think you cannot be a Catholic and a Democrat. (On the flip side, there are many Catholics who think they received two baptisms back when they were infants -- one into the Church, the other into the Democratic Party. When the latter allegiance is in tension with the former, it seems too often that the latter wins out.) We need to put that idea to rest. But back to the Obama invitation. The question there is one of the faith, the Church's integrity, and her witness. Notre Dame likes to talk about being the place where the Church does her thinking. Implicit in that however is the idea that one is with the Church and in union with her bishops. There is no way to say that this invitation and honorary degree conform with Catholics in Political Life. And there are good reasons why the bishops said what they said there (lest one think that this is mindless flexing of episcopal power). This isn't some mindless following of the Church. It is an openness to reason and all of reality. It is a yes to the following of Christ and the way he gave us to follow him in the Church.I write all of that as someone who believes a Catholic could have in good faith and good conscience voted for Obama. Not of course for the risible reasons put forward by Doug Kmiec (i.e., Obama is really better on abortion in the end), but for the sorts of reasons that Andrew Bacevich put forward (i.e., the war, which I believe was unjust) and for a legitimate distrust and disbelief of the Republican claim to be the pro-life and anti-Roe Supreme Court Justice party (i.e. one didn't really believe they would appoint the right justices to overturn Roe and do anything really actively to reduce abortions). Now I wasn't compelled by those reasons because of the active steps Obama had promised to take (and has taken) to undermine the small things done to protect the unborn in law. But I could still see how a person in good faith could come to a different conclusion.But we aren't talking about that now. We are talking about Notre Dame being like the pathetic girl pining after the popular guy. She's going to give away her dignity in that chase and get nothing for it. But let's be clear the popular guy gets to use her all the same.

Prof. Kaveny,Again, I agree with you that it is inappropriate for the NDLS Federalist Society to sign a petition to keep Obama from speaking on campus. For what it is worth, I asked for the club's name to be removed from NDResponse even before I saw your article. As I said, I take personal responsibility for any misunderstanding about the Federalist Society's role, and am glad to see that the petition has been corrected.If I may say so, a name that should be on that list, or a similar petition, is yours. From what I gather from your various articles, you should be troubled by Obama's promise to sign FOCA, his characterization of a baby as a punishment, and his recent mandates that our tax dollars again be used to fund and promote the killing of foreign babies and now to create life with the intention of destroying it. What better way to tell the man you campaigned for that though he still enjoys your support, you cannot back these objectionable stances? What better way to engage in a dialogue about life issues with the President than to say, "While I believe that weighing various factors in the Guide to Faithful Citizenship allowed me to vote for you despite your anti-life policies, those policies are unfortunately why Notre Dame, a Catholic university, should not invite you to speak at commencement, and cannot give you an honorary degree." What an impact you could have!Conversely, by not joining such a petition, the message you send the President and the Democratic Party is that Catholics will never really take them to task on life issues. The message you send is that they can assault the unborn, and we will unquestioningly pay for it. The message you send is that they can continue to use Catholics without listening to our concerns.Your name would carry a lot of weight should you choose to use it to make a statement about what Catholics can not, and will not stand for. Such a statement would show that we will no longer be ignored, we will no longer be used, and we are serious when we say we value the dignity of all human life from conception until natural death.~Anna Franzonello(not in my capacity as Fed Soc president)

Wow - Anna, I love it!FWIW - Whether or not Professor Kaveny signs the petition, I think it would be wonderful to figure out a way to convey your message to the President. Whether it comes from you, or Professor Kaveny, or Fr. Jenkins - the President's visit is an opportunity to deliver the message. The visit should not end without him being chided very much along the lines you delineate.

So, Anna, just to be clear - you are suggesting that anyone who does not protest the University's decision to invite the President of the United States to be the commencement speaker send the message that "Catholics will never really take them to task on life issues" and that "they can assault the unborn, and we will unquestioningly pay for it"?That seems like a remarkably strong statement, one that suggests that one cannot seriously convey one's pro-life views unless she opposes inviting all politicians whose views contradict church teaching to serve as commencement speakers. Though I think that view is wrong, for basically the same reasons Fr. Jenkins has articulated, one can't help but wonder whether you are prepared to be consistent in that stance. As one previous commenter suggested, one has a hard time imagining there would be this level of response to an invitation to Condoleeza Rice, Rudy Giuliani, or even George Bush. Yet on your theory, I would hope you would suggest that failure to sign a petition objecting to an invitation to George Bush would demonstrate that Catholics will never take him to task for torturing prisoners and that we unquestioningly accept torture.

Anna, well done.Mark, the Holy Bible begins with God's Revelation of the creative outpouring of the Love of the Blessed Trinity, "Let Us Make Man In Our Image." According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Christian life is rooted in the creative and providential outpouring of the Holy Trinity."To deny the Sacredness and Dignity of Human Life from the beginning, is to deny the creative outpouring of the Love of the Blessed Trinity from the beginning. To deny God's intention for Marriage and the Family from the beginning, is to deny the creative outpouring of the Love of The Blessed Trinity from the beginning.Anna's statement is a remarkably strong statement because it is the Truth. The fact is, while it may be true that this outcry may be louder than usual, we are no longer sleeping in Gethsemane.

I find this disconnect between students & alumni utterly fascinating. the 612 Letters to the Editor The Observer has received as of 2 p.m. Thursday, 313 have been authored by alumni. Of those letters, 30 percent are supportive of the University's decision to invite the president and 70 percent are against.And while more alumni have written to The Observer than students, their voice must not be lost. In fact, of the 282 letters authored by students, the breakdown is a bit different: 73 percent of students who have written Letters to the Editor are supportive of the Obama selection, while 27 percent are against it.Looking at the senior class' response, the sentiment is even more extreme: 97 percent of seniors are supportive, 3 percent are not.There is a clear disconnect between alumni and the student body as a whole on this issue.

Cheeky Lawyer, Anna, and Jim-- thanks for your comments. I won't be signing the petition, because I don't think inviting the President to speak counts as endorsing his views on abortion--and I don't think conferring upon him an honorary degree means validating each of his stands on controversial issues on which ND has a clear position. I think he's done much that's worthy of our honor and celebration (including a big step to overcoming the wounds of racism) and I think the office is worthy of honor. (I didn't agree with Bush on the war, torture, etc., but I didn't protest his speaking at ND.) Notre Dame has a long tradition of inviting the president to speak. I think it's a good tradition--not least because it produces conversations like these.I am sure that the President knows very well that many people --many Catholics --disagree with him on abortion. My guess is that he knows the main lines of the argument--in my experience, everyone thinks they know the main lines of the argument. So the broader question is, how do you change minds and hearts? My question for you all is--have you ever changed your mind on an important moral issue? What did it? In my case, no protest, no picture, no petition has ever changed my mind. Calm arguments that address the complexities made by people I respect, and who respect me, have changed my mind.

As posted on Whispers in the LOggia at 12:11University President Emeritus Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, without a doubt one of the most influential American Catholics, a man who has fought tirelessly for civil rights in this country and to transform the University into a respected institution of higher learning, said this Friday speaking to a group of alumni, parents and friends of Notre Dame:"No speaker who has ever come to Notre Dame has changed the University. We are who we are. But, quite often, the very fact of being here has changed the speaker."We must continue that tradition, and show the president, and the world, what Notre Dame is; we will welcome challenges, but retain our character and retain our class in engaging with those who might disagree with us in debate. And we will give the class of 2009 the best possible send off to bring Notre Dame with them when they leave campus in May.Good for Fr. Theodore Hesburgh and Cathy. It truly is a teaching moment. -30-.

Professor Kaveny,I didn't agree with Bush on torture or the war either. Of course he spoke in 2001 before 9/11 so it would have been hard to protest his speaking based on those issues anyway!And while it seems like a minimalist reading of "Catholics in Political Life," is in fashion, it was written for precisely this sort of situation. The conferring of an honorary degree on and granting of a platform to speak to someone with such views on abortion suggests agreement or at the very least that this position isn't all that important. Perhaps that's the nub. Is abortion as important as the Church says it is? I am not entirely comfortable shifting this to the question of segregation or race -- it isn't an exact parallel -- but clearly the courageous stand that Fr. Hesburgh, the Archbishop of New Orleans, and others took for racial equality and against segregation was the right one and it was a very, very, very important moral issue. If you invited a politician who was a segregationist, yet progressive in terms of so many other things -- say social spending etc. -- to speak, would it suggest ND agreed with his views on segregation and race? Perhaps no, but it would clearly suggest that she didn't believe those views all that important. It would effectively reduce her witness on that issue. Would any of us defend a decision by ND to honor a politician such as that? Of course not. (I think that should tell us volumes about how many Catholics reduce abortion to an abstraction and a sort of uncomfortable teaching that they would rather have exit stage left.)I am confused at how one honors with one hand while withholding honor with the other. We are honoring him for his historic election and for helping to heal racism (more on that in a moment), but not for abortion. How do we slice and dice human beings that way? It suggests a very strange way of viewing the person and his positions. Of course no one thinks that by having Obama to ND, ND necessarily agrees with his position on TARP or TARP II, but on more fundamental issues, it leads to confusion. But again, how do you recognize someone for his purported achievements in one area, but then reject his positions in another. You write that ND has a long tradition of inviting the President to speak. Did ND invite Clinton? He didn't speak at ND and a friend in the Congregation said that they did not invite Clinton precisely because of his position on abortion. Furthermore, we can agree that Obama's election is historic and worthy of celebration for some things. But why in this way? Why in a way that is divisive and splits some of the most faithful and ardent of ND's alumni and graduating seniors from a day that should be a happy occasion? Just as a factual matter, beyond the historic nature of Obama's election that has little to do with his achievements or accomplishments than with the fact that we have elected a black man as president (which is historic and something we should celebrate), what has he done? Even President Bush -- who ended up a failure as a president in many ways in my mind -- had done more as an elected official when he was invited. (I still am not sure he should have been even if it was before Iraq and torture.) I say this as someone who considers himself a political orphan (my political hero is Bob Casey Sr.; I consider myself a Reagan Democrat and a Casey Republican if there is such a thing!). What has he accomplished personally that we should be praising and honoring? I don't mean to be daft. I really desire to know. He of course is a very gifted and in many ways decent man. He has much potential. But potential does not equal accomplishments. On those we wait, no?Finally, you ask whether we have ever changed our position on an important moral issue: Yes. I changed my mind on contraception to accept the Church's teaching. I didn't understand how it really fit in with the rest of things. It was the personal witness of a convert and his simple response that yes he was going to follow the Church Christ gave him on this question that moved me. It was moral witness.It wasn't a petition. But I don't think the petition is to change Obama's mind. One hopes and trusts that his Catholic advisors like Doug Kmiec and Nicholas Cafardi are trying to change his mind on abortion. They have given there names and one hopes that they will use what ever that has gotten them to talk to the President and try to change his mind. (It is the same sort of thing one would have hoped that Catholic conservatives would have done with regard to torture.) But the petition is about something else. It is about Notre Dame's moral witness. What would it have said had Notre Dame broken from tradition and said with sadness, "We would have loved to invite the president especially given his historic victory and what presages for our nation, but we can't because we have a fundamental moral difference. We would certainly welcome him for a true dialogue, a chance to meet our wonderful students many of whom are pro-life Democrats who want their party to return to her best lights. We would welcome the conversation, a chance to tell him about us and a chance for him to talk to us. But we can't give him an honorary degree and let him have the stage alone to talk to us. That would say something that we don't want to say." Instead Notre Dame decided to take the path of most prestige and least resistance. It chose to allow itself to be used. There will be no conversation, no dialogue. Just many of us sad that Notre Dame continues to try to be something she can never be (something like the Stanford of the Midwest), instead of trying to be what we know she can be, the best Catholic university in the nation.

Maybe this is the root question:Do you think people of good will (leave aside Catholics) can disagree about whether or not abortion should be legal, at least for some period of the pregnancy? Do you have moral respect for anyone who is pro-choice --either for other aspects of their lives in other aspects, or for the way they have reached that position? Is it possible for you to say that at least some of them are they're good people who are wrong about a particular important issue, and wrong for reasons that are rooted in compassion and sympathy for women who must bear the children in difficult circumstances? I don't analogize abortion to slavery and segregation --both involved, at root a will to exploit. I don't think the millions of women who have abortions are in the same situation. Pope John Paul II acknowledges this fact in Evangelium Vitae. So does Mary Ann Glendon. It seems to me an important acknowledgment.I'm really excited about Mary Ann Glendon being on the same stage as President Obama. Dotcommonweal regulars know that she owes me an agent's fee for hawking her book, Abortion and Divorce in Western Law. I think that the rhetorical structure of this book breaks through the stalemate. She addresses the question as a hard question, taking seriously the moral concerns on both sides of the issue. She talks to her "pro-life" friend and her "pro-choice" friend and illuminates the hard moral concerns on each side. I've seen that book, in class and out, move people to see the extreme nature of American abortion law--precisely because she respects her audience. I think President Obama is a good man, with moral and intellectual integrity. I hope he will be curious about his partner on stage. My hope is that President Obama is moved to pick up that book because he meets her and talks with her --that's my ideal outcome for the event. I will do my level best to make sure that someone gives him a copy of her book. Since he doesn't have to change planes in Detroit like the rest of us, he could read it on the way back to DC!Why do I ask about whether and how you changed your mind? Well, the abortion debate has been, in larger terms, stalemated for about 30 years now. Everyone thinks they know where they stand, everyone thinks they know where everyone else stands. Apart from the activists, most people are tired of the wars--they want to avoid the issue. I think ethicists, and moral activists, need to spend more time thinking about how to change minds, rather than how to express their own convictions. Moral witness--one on one-- is very effective. Political protests --well, my guess, not so much. Finally, as someone who teaches at ND, I have to say that your analogies make me very uncomfortable. Notre Dame is not a "girl" --chasing after a "popular" boy. I don't like the suggestion that asking President Obama to campus is akin to sexual defilement.

"...and I don't think conferring upon him an honorary degree means validating each of his stands on controversial issues on which ND has a clear position."That is the root of the problem, ND's position is not clear. Notre Dame professes to be a Catholic University. Christian life is rooted in the universal Truth of the "creative and providential outpouring of the Holy Trinity", from the beginning. It is this creative outpouring of the Love of the Holy Trinity that gives us Life, and it is this same Love that will bring us Home. Let us not forget, in this season of Lent, that it is Christ, "lifted up on the Cross, who draws us and carries us to Himself, and thus to His Father's House."The fullness of Truth, is desiring Salvation for someone. That is why we must never be afraid to speak the Truth about the Sacredness and Dignity of every Human Individual from the beginning.

In my view, the root question is not the one you propose: Do you think people of good will (leave aside Catholics) can disagree about whether or not abortion should be legal, at least for some period of the pregnancy? The root question is this: can a Catholic institution honor a politician who has made the advancement of pro choice policies a significant part of his political agenda?The answer to this question has already been given by the Bishops: "The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles." It is absolutely clear that Obama has acted in defiance of our fundamental moral principles by authorizing funding of abortions overseas and funding for embryonic stem cell research, and the bishops, including ND's bishop Darcy, have made it clear that ND cannot honor him under these circumstances (regardless of how much we might respect him). I don't think we can dodge this fact by turning this into a discussion about the complexities of abortion regulation.

Good will requires that we begin with Respect for the Life of every Human Individual. We can not value one Human's Life over another.It appears the President will be coming to Notre Dame. The invitation has already been offered and accepted. This will be a defining moment for Notre Dame as a Catholic University. Will she sit on the sidelines or join in the Dance? Let's Hope she decides to "run for the roses."May Our Lady guide us in the days to come.

Well, I just had a long post that got eaten.Let me say two or three things. First, thank you Professor Kaveny for your comment about my analogy. I shouldn't have used it and I apologize to you and everyone else. I didn't intend it in such a stark way with all those implications, but I should have thought it through more and seen that it could be read that starkly. It was a mistake. I apologize.An analogy without the baggage would be that ND is the nerdy boy with the new WII or PS3 or XBox who invites the popular kid over to play. The popular kid is using him to get at the WII not to be a friend. The nerd won't be invited to the popular kids' table and they think he is pathetic. All I mean to convey by this is that I believe ND is being used by a politician -- a gifted one at that.I also think Brendan is right in what he says about your root questions. I think they really are beside the point. But let's engage them very briefly -- I did this in more depth in my previous post that was eaten.You write: "Do you think people of good will (leave aside Catholics) can disagree about whether or not abortion should be legal, at least for some period of the pregnancy? Do you have moral respect for anyone who is pro-choice either for other aspects of their lives in other aspects, or for the way they have reached that position? Is it possible for you to say that at least some of them are theyre good people who are wrong about a particular important issue, and wrong for reasons that are rooted in compassion and sympathy for women who must bear the children in difficult circumstances?"I would hope my previous post showed that I believe President Obama is morally decent. He is. I and I think most prolifers worth their salt would say, yes people of good will can disagree on the question of abortion, that we have moral respect for pro-choicers, and that they can be good people. I count these folks among close friends and family. Are you suggesting that opposing this platform and honor suggest anything different? I don't see how that would follow. I don't think Bishop D'Arcy's refusal to attend suggests this. You write: "I dont analogize abortion to slavery and segregation both involved, at root a will to exploit. I dont think the millions of women who have abortions are in the same situation. Pope John Paul II acknowledges this fact in Evangelium Vitae. So does Mary Ann Glendon. It seems to me an important acknowledgment."I see that distinction but they also have at their root a dehumanization or an inability to see the humanity in the other. And abortion has that at its root as well. So there is a similarity. If anything, the difference which you suggest, which I will grant, shows all the more why we need unity and clarity from the Church on abortion. it is hard to see the humanity in the unborn. Pregnancy is difficult, children, gifts, for sure, also bring special burdens and responsibilities. Thus, it is easier to understand how someone could see abortion as an answer to the "problem" of a child. All the more reason that we must with compassion but also clarity proclaim the dignity of the unborn. My problem with this platform and honor is that it suggests that we don't think abortion is all that important.I don't know that anyone is saying that the protests are to change Obama's mind. They are to protest what we believe is a comprising of our mission and witness. Now I don't think a protest on the day of graduation is a good idea. But are you suggesting that criticisms and protests now are a bad idea? Where is the line between moral quietism and moral clarity? Political protests had a value in the civil rights movement, correct? Now we both grant that there is a difference between that question and this one and maybe that is why they have little or no value now. But were those protests a waste of energy that prevented the personal witness needed to change hearts? (Also, the prolife movement is multi-faceted with folks providing that personal witness AND doing protests. It isn't an either/or proposition.)

I see a commencement speech as forward looking. When a president gives commencement speech to graduates of the caliber of Notre Dame's, I think he is outlining the future course of the country --describing the shape of the common good, and inviting us to participate in it and to critique it. I think that participation in the event will shape the President as well as the class--encountering the highly intelligent, highly committed, ND class of 2009--will bring home to him how many people in this country are motivated by their faith to put their their talents at the service of their fellow men and women, including the least among us. He will learn, too, that that very same faith prompts them to worry about unborn children as the least among us.We live in a pluralistic country. I don't think, as a matter of social fact, anyone interprets an honorary degree as stating that everyone is one hundred percent in agreement on every controversial moral and social issue. So I think Father Jenkins is right that honoring a public servant doesn't equal endorsing every position.I think giving an honorary degree could, in some instances, suggest that unborn life isn't all that important. But I don't think it has in this case. I think people are very clear where Notre Dame stands. On this campus, there is no doubt that abortion is an important issue.Protests. .. well, funny you should ask. (The blog groans). I've been spending a lot of time thinking about when and how prophetic witness works, and when and how it is counterproductive. It strikes me that it is often overused--particularly in the abortion case. I think the situation is polarized in the country that prophets on both sides have brought us to a standoff.Incidentally, I thought this essay on rhetoric from Inside Catholic had a lot to say.'m afraid I'll have to sign off now. Too much to do.But thanks, again, for your comments.

It looks you are signing off of this thread, but I've agreed that honoring a public servant doesn't equal endorsing every position. Honoring him right after the President of your Bishops' Conference goes to youtube to decry some of the things the Administration is doing vis-a-vis conscience regulations and life seems to send a weird message. Furthermore, one point I would love to hear you address is "Catholics in Political Life." Surely, this violates it. Now that may not matter, but why not? The lines about public honors and platforms were written for this specific sort of situation. Despite what Father Jenkins says, this is right there in the heartland of the cases anticipated by that document. We can say, "Well it is just a suggestion," "It isn't binding," etc., but that's not what is being said. And still even if it is a suggestion and it isn't binding, why should that be the end point of taking what the bishops seriously. How can a university do the Church's thinking if it isn't with her shepherds? Here I don't mean some 1950s vision of the Church, I am thinking of the presented rooted in the past looking towards our future in Christ. The bishops aren't just ONE voice that can be disregarded blithely, right? If so, then how can one credibly claim to be Catholic?

"How can a university do the Church's thinking if it isn't with her shepherds?The fact is, a Catholic University can not be autonomous. To be autonomous and Catholic is an oxymoron. To be Catholic, one must be in communion with the Catholic Church.

There is considerable space between "endorsing every position" and finding that positions and actions on some issues are so important that they do disqualify one who does those from receiving an honor.I think we all agree that there is such a line, correct? That there are some actions someone would take that, absent repentance, would disqualify one from receiving an honorary degree from the most prominent Catholic university in the country, correct? I suspect many of the commentators would say that many members of the past Administration passed that threshold. Whether President Obama's actions and record on abortion and embryonic research have crossed that threshold is a prudential decision. Fr. Jenkins has come to one conclusion; Bishop D'Arcy to another. What concerns me is not that some have reached a different conclusion -- I don't know how I would decide, either, but the notion those who object to Fr. Jenkins's decision are doing so for less than noble reasons. It's easy to point to loudmouths like Bill O'Reilly, etc., and conclude that we're so much better than them. But there are thoughtful criticims of this decision, that are not answered by pointing out that the Federal Society was a co-signer of the petition, or that George W. Bush had previously received an invitation.In short, if the line is somewhwere past President Obama's record on abortion and embryonic research, then where is it?

We can say, Well it is just a suggestion, It isnt binding, etc., but thats not what is being said. And still even if it is a suggestion and it isnt binding, why should that be the end point of taking what the bishops seriouslyExactly.I'm getting a case of deja vu about Catholic commentators advising that we ignore the bishops' advice against the invasion of Iraq.That turned out well.

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