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Life forum examines Obama invitation

Irena Zajickova | Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Campus Ministry sponsored forum on life issues and Catholic teachings examined the tension Notre Dame faces in its identity as a Catholic university in regard to the invitation of President Barack Obama to speak at this year’s Commencement ceremony.

Philosophy professor John O’Callahan and history professor Scott Appleby spoke to students yesterday on the pastoral issues of the Obama controversy.

O’Callahan discussed certain Catholic teachings that are universal to all humans, such as the good of assisting the poor, the evil of stealing, the good of feeding the hungry and the evil of lying. According to O’Callahan, these things are not a matter of Catholic faith.

“These issues are a matter of being a good human being,” not just a good Catholic, O’Callahan said.

Of these teachings, the right to life is the most fundamental, O’Callahan said. The actions we do to help others, such as feeding the sick and assisting the poor, are useless if these people’s lives are not protected.

Efforts to place innocent lives into the hands of others turn their lives into a private matter instead of a public issue. Moreover, if their lives are no longer a matter of public choice, then obligations to help these people cannot be imposed, according to O’Callahan.

“Private choices cannot impose public responsibilities,” O’Callahan said. “If the life of your unborn child is a matter of private choice, it is unreasonable to insist that I should care for it because you decided to let it live.”

O’Callahan also explained that since the right to life is the most fundamental human right, pushing it aside is hard to justify.

“What wrongs does one weigh against the destruction of human life?” O’Callahan asked.

Appleby discussed the responsibilities that he personally believes Notre Dame faces as a Catholic University.

He said that although many Catholics voted for Obama, few did so without examining both his and their own beliefs.

“They chose the champion of the poor and working class,” Appleby said. “And they tried to overlook the candidate who implied that an informed moral judgment of the most crucial life issue facing the world is ‘above my pay grade.'”

Appleby cited the recent letters to the editor of The Observer arguing against the invitation to Obama as examples of those who do not understand the full implications of the issue.

“For Catholics like me who share an aversion to the president’s moral judgment on abortion and stem cell research, these reactions are understandable.” Appleby said. However, they are “wrong-headed on at least three grounds.”

First, Catholics should not denounce the rest of society but rather embrace it and attempt to continue work for redemption.

Second, Catholics should also not “allow the great to become the enemy of the good,” according to Appleby.

Finally, Catholics should honor Obama for his willingness to engage his opponents. Appleby said that both the Church and the nation need a “viable Catholic interlocutor” for Obama’s administration.

Additionally, as a Catholic institution, Notre Dame is obligated to respect the individual opinions of others while still working for positive change in the world. Thus, the University is obligated to make an effort to engage Obama more than just inviting him to commencement, according to Appleby.