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Time to end an unnecessary tradition

| Friday, November 4, 2016

Eminent Catholic thinker George Weigel recently argued that the Al Smith Dinner, an event that brings warring presidential candidates together to raise money for charity, has become outdated, a relic of “tribal Catholicism.” The dinner proudly proclaims, “[Catholics are] here; we’ve made it; see, we can deliver the two most important people in the country, a few weeks before the election.” Weigel sees this “moth-eaten, even somewhat sad” event as very problematic for the Church today, given that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump hold positions contrary to Catholic moral teaching.

In 1960, Notre Dame invited President Dwight Eisenhower to give the commencement address. Ever since, newly elected presidents have been invited to speak at graduation and have received an honorary degree. Having the president at commencement helped to raise the university’s profile beyond that of a football power to a preeminent academic institution.

But like the Al Smith Dinner, this tradition has run stale. The University, like Catholics in general, has arrived. Notre Dame students and alumni can be proud that our university is regularly in the top 20 of the U.S. News & World Report’s college rankings and employs many eminent scholars.

Unfortunately, as became clear with President Barack Obama’s 2009 commencement address, this tradition put the nation’s most important Catholic university in the terrible position of giving an award to a politician terribly out of step with basic Catholic beliefs about the sanctity of all life.

Clinton and Trump, as church leaders like Archbishop Charles Chaput have pointed out, are fundamentally opposed to such Catholic moral positions as the right to life and immigration policies. As Archbishop Chaput’s friend put it so well, 2016’s choice is between “a vulgar, boorish lout and disrespecter of women, with a serious impulse control problem; or a scheming, robotic liar with a lifelong appetite for power and an entourage riddled with anti-Catholic bigots.”

To avoid associating itself with either of these awful candidates, the University’s leaders should prayerfully consider ending, ideally before the general election on Nov. 8, its now worn-out tradition of inviting newly elected presidents to campus.


William Kurtz

Class of 2006

Nov. 3

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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