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Try to understand…

Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, April 21, 2009

It’s wonderful that President Obama has agreed to speak at Notre Dame’s Commencement exercises, and that the University, as is customary, will confer an honorary degree on him. If Pope Benedict XVI can receive in audience and bestow an honorific title on the president of France, who is also pro-choice, surely Notre Dame can do the same for our own.

As an ND grad I am thrilled to see the progress made by our young and talented president, and by the leadership and vision reflected in his proposals – on the economy, health care, energy, education, taxes, Guantanamo, Iraq, Iran, Cuba – all of which align nicely with church social teaching.

I disagree, however, with his stance on abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. One answer to this dilemma might be to consider what the bishops wrote at Vatican II: “Respect and love ought to be extended also to those who think or act differently than we do in social, political and even religious matters. In fact, the more deeply we come to understand their ways of thinking through such courtesy and love, the more easily will we be able to enter into dialogue with them.”

Another might be to consider what Fr. Jenkins himself wrote in a 2006 statement he made on Academic Freedom and Catholic Character: “We are committed to a wide-open, unconstrained search for truth, and we are convinced that Catholic teaching has nothing to fear from engaging the wider culture … After all, a Catholic university is where the church does its thinking, and that thinking, to be beneficial, must come from an intellectually rigorous engagement with the world.” It is certainly not to let radical pro-life activists, spotlight-seeking fringe groups, or a small number of extremist clergy and hierarchy hijack this year’s Commencement and reduce it to a media circus.

May 17 is a day for the Class of 2009, and from an historical perspective one that should be a time for rejoicing and celebration – for the substantial progress made in civil rights and racial relations over the past 50 years, and Notre Dame’s contribution to that progress. It was Notre Dame’s president emeritus, Fr. Hesburgh, who was active for years on the Civil Rights Commission and who walked hand in hand with Dr. Martin Luther King in Alabama. For Fr. Hesburgh and all men and women of good will who worked to overcome centuries of deeply ingrained racial injustice, this year’s Commencement represents a very special moment. Let’s give it the attention it deserves and celebrate it accordingly.

Michael Kronin


class of 1960

April 20