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Obama as speaker an identity crisis

Letter to the Editor | Monday, March 23, 2009

It has been a Notre Dame tradition to invite new presidents speak at Commencement; many (but not all) presidents have spoken over the last 50 years. However, since the last time a president has spoken at Notre Dame’s Commencement ceremony, Catholic institutions have been given clearer guidelines concerning the intersection of Catholicism and politics.

In 2004, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved, nearly unanimously, guidelines for Catholic institutions regarding their religious responsibilities in the political realm. The directions state, “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” The instructions, spelled out in “Catholics in Political Life,” primarily address behavior towards candidates who endorse or enable abortion, as President Obama does. The decision of the Notre Dame administration to invite President Obama to speak at Commencement disregards these instructions completely: Not only is Notre Dame providing Obama with a platform for his ideology, the University is awarding him an honorary law degree. The decision of Catholic bishops should hold within Catholic institutions. I do not intend to say that the academic dialogue of the ethical issues of abortion has no place at a Catholic university. However, Commencement is a ceremonial occasion, not an academic one. The invitation extended to Obama to speak at Notre Dame is not an invitation to participate in any discussion on abortion. It is, if not in fact at least in appearance, a tacit endorsement of his policies.

This leads me to question why Obama was chosen to speak at commencement. It seems that the University is disregarding – or worse, willfully violating – its call as a Catholic institution to uphold the values of our faith. Are we pandering to the famous and powerful or attempting to increase our prestige through association?

Commencement is one of the moments a person will remember for the rest of their life. Setting politics aside, those who made this decision should have asked whether Obama and the values he stands for are the last things that the class of 2009 should take with them from Notre Dame. Even the controversy and division that surrounds the speaker devalues the occasion, one that should foster unity among all involved. If Notre Dame values its role as a Catholic institution, we need to make decisions that reflect this identity. The invitation of a speaker who openly opposes our values compromises our integrity as a Catholic university.

Andrew Haley


Stanford Hall

March 21