Obama and Notre Dame: courage to say the obvious

An editorial in America makes a notable contribution to the debate over the University of Notre Dame's decision to invite President Obama to speak on campus and to honor him. It contains this reality check:

The divisive effects of the new American sectarians have not escaped the notice of the Vatican. Their highly partisan political edge has become a matter of concern. That they never demonstrate the same high dudgeon at the compromises, unfulfilled promises and policy disagreements with Republican politicians as with Democratic ones is plain for all to see. It is time to call this one-sided denunciation by its proper name: political partisanship.

Pope Benedict XVI has also modeled a different stance toward independent-minded politicians. He has twice reached out to President Obama and offered to build on the common ground of shared values. Even after the partially bungled visit of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with Pope Benedict, Vatican officials worked quickly to repair communication with her. Furthermore, in participating in the international honors accorded New Mexicos Governor Bill Richardson in Rome last month for outlawing the death penalty ... Pope Benedict did not flinch at appearing with a politician who does not agree fully with the churchs policy positions ... Finally, last March the pro-choice French president Nicolas Sarkozy was made an honorary canon of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the popes own cathedral.

In my home state, New York, it's been common for Catholics with strong pro-life credentials to share a stage or grant a forum to a politician who is pro-choice. No one thought the less of Cardinal John O'Connor, chairman of the U.S. bishops' committee on pro-life activities, for writing a book together with Mayor Ed Koch. Everyone knew they disagreed on abortion, of course, but that did not prevent the cardinal from speaking warmly about his friend the mayor. I don't recall anyone questioning Bill Donohue's pro-life credentials when he held news conferences together with Mayor Rudy Giuliani. And to do so would be unfair to Donohue. More recently, bishops in New York have held a news conference with and praised a Brooklyn state legislator, Vito Lopez, who has played a leading role in the effort to stop a bill aimed at allowing retroactive lawsuits over clergy sexual abuse. The bishops have also assailed the sponsor of the bill, Marge Markey, with one questioning in a column how Catholics could vote for someone like her. Lopez is rated "pro-choice" by NARAL, while Markey is rated "anti-choice." None of this is remarkable; everyone knows the bishops oppose legalized abortion.The University of Notre Dame has a few Catholic credentials, too, and should not be subject to a smear campaign propelled by political partisanship and intra-church rivalries.America is stating the obvious, but in doing so, the editors of the Jesuit weekly have shown much courage.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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