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No confrontation necessary

Charles E. Rice | Monday, March 30, 2009

Notre Dame is not a public utility. It has no commitment to honor at its capstone ceremony every politician whom the political process deposits in the Oval Office. Nor is there an unbroken custom that, if a president is invited, it must be in his first year.

Our leaders had to know that their invitation to President Obama would imply a general commendation of the man and his policies. In the conflicts over those policies, our leaders have committed, in perception but also in fact, the name and prestige of Notre Dame to the side that is hostile to the imperatives of faith and reason affirmed by the Catholic Church. Our leaders are not only dismissive but also contemptuous toward the Church. The first thing Bishop D’Arcy knew about it was when he was told that Obama had accepted the invitation.

President Obama is a relentless advocate of unrestricted abortion, including the Freedom of Choice Act, which would abrogate all state laws restricting abortion. On his fourth day in office, he overturned the Mexico City Policy that forbade organizations receiving federal funds to perform or promote abortions in other countries. He has restored to the UN Population Fund (the funding that President Bush had stopped because of the Fund’s support for forced abortions.) Obama opposes continued federal funding for pro-life pregnancy help centers. He opposes the Hyde Amendment which denies public funding for most abortions. At the other end of life, the Stimulus Package foreshadows the rationing of health care for the elderly and unproductive. “[T]he Obama Administration,” said Cardinal Francis George, “intends to remove a … rule for the Department of Health and Human Services [HHS] that [protects] doctors, nurses and others … who have objections in conscience to … abortion and other killing procedures … [S]uch … would be the first step in moving our country from democracy to despotism.” Not surprisingly, Obama’s nominee for Secretary of HHS, Governor Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic, has a strongly pro-abortion record, including persistent vetoes of restrictions on late-term abortions. The abolition of conscience protection could spell the end of Catholic hospitals and drive Catholics out of much of the medical profession. That prospect raises our leaders’ honoring of Obama to a new level of scandal and even betrayal.

The definitive “life” issue arises from Obama’s authorization of HHS ” to fund and conduct human embryonic stem cell research” (ESCR). Adult stem cells, derived from bone marrow and other sources, have been used successfully in relieving various injuries and medical conditions. Embryonic stem cells have never successfully treated a human patient for anything. But federal funding would make ESCR a profitable, if useless, industry.

No moral problems arise in the use of adult stem cells. But every embryo is a living human being. To remove the stem cells kills that embryo. It is, in moral terms, a murder.

ESCR can be performed on embryos left over from in vitro fertilization. The excuse that “they are going to die anyway” does not justify intentionally killing them any more than it would justify involuntary lethal experiments on condemned criminals.

ESCR can also be performed on embryos created by cloning. In cloning, the nucleus of a somatic cell, which is any cell of the body other than a sperm or egg cell, is inserted into an egg (ovum) cell from which the egg cell’s nucleus has been removed. The egg is then electrically stimulated to react as if it had been fertilized by a sperm cell. The result is a one-cell zygote which divides and develops. For the first eight weeks it is called an embryo. The cloned embryo is genetically identical to the donor of the somatic cell.

Cloning can be reproductive, in which the embryo is implanted in a woman’s womb and carried to term, or therapeutic, in which the embryo is killed by removal of the stem cells for use in research. Both types are condemned by Catholic teaching. See Dignitas Personae (2008), nos. 28-30.

“[W]e will ensure,” Obama said, “that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction. It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society, or any society.” He opened the door for the worse evil of therapeutic cloning. The Dickey Amendment, which has denied funds for “creation of a human embryo … for research purposes” or for “research in which a human embryo is destroyed,” is being removed. So the Obama Administration will fund the creation of new human beings by cloning for the purpose of killing them and using their stem cells for research. The experiments performed by Nazi doctors on concentration camp prisoners were unimaginative and primitive by comparison. Our leaders ought not to act like the “good Germans,” who were submissive to their Fuhrer, by conferring Notre Dame’s highest honors on the perpetrator of such an atrocity.

Apart from the “life” issues, our leaders were reckless to commit Notre Dame to Obama in the face of mounting and well-grounded opposition to other Obama policies, including his fiscal deficits and such a stunning expansion of executive power and of federal control over private entities and states that it amounts to a constitutional coup. Unmentioned in the background are the pending lawsuits – not yet decided on the merits by the Supreme Court – that raise serious questions as to Obama’s eligibility for the office.

Our leaders act in what they think is the best interest of Notre Dame. But that is no excuse. The invitation should be withdrawn. It implies no personal animosity to suggest that Fr. Jenkins and the other Fellows and Trustees responsible for this fiasco should resign or be removed.

What would be a proper response? On-site demonstrations would be counterproductive. You can petition or write to our leaders. But the appeal should be made instead to a higher authority. An alumnus has suggested that students, faculty, staff and friends of Notre Dame ought to – and we will – pray a continuous Rosary of reparation at the Grotto during the time of Commencement, from two to four on Sunday, May 17th. This would not interfere with Commencement which is on the other side of campus. It would not be a demonstration or protest. No signs, marches, or disruption. Just peaceful prayer, in silence or aloud, by individuals and families. If you can’t make it to the Grotto, pray the Rosary during that time wherever you are. Incidentally, Professor Mary Ann Glendon, the Laetare Medal recipient, would make a better use of her time at the Grotto than as a warm-up or wind-up act at Commencement.

Parking is limited, but you can park off campus and walk to the Grotto. There should be no objection by Notre Dame officials to students, faculty, staff and friends of Notre Dame peacefully going to the Grotto to pray. It makes no difference how many show up. The objective is simply a union of prayer to make reparation and to petition Notre Dame, Our Lady, for Notre Dame, our University.

Prof. Emeritus Rice is on the law school faculty. He may be reached at [email protected] and 574-633-4415.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necesarily those of The Observer.