When William Bennet penned his bestseller, The Death of Outrage in 1998, it very well could have been applied to the endemic problem of milquetoast Catholic academia in the United States, a stubborn malaise that now spans decades. Pro-lifers of all stripes are expressing disbelief and shock over the decision by the University of Notre Dame to award an honorary doctorate to Barack Obama, the most pro-abortion president in the nation’s history, at the university’s commencement ceremonies on May 17. The president has also been tapped for the honor of giving the commencement address to the graduating body. So let’s get this straight: arguably the nation’s most prestigious Catholic university, named in honor of Our Lady, is set to place a laurel wreath on the brow of a man who, at virtually every juncture, has positioned himself in firm, uncompromising opposition to the Church’s teaching regarding the dignity of human life.
John Cardinal Newman, who knew a thing or two about the ingredients that went into the idea of a university, would most likely concur that it is a sad day in the life of academia when Catholic scholars fall victim to the shallow and intellectually barren cult of personality that surrounds President Obama. As fallen creatures we’re all susceptible to the occasional blunder and pratfall, but when hypocrisy becomes de rigueur among ivory tower Catholic intellectuals and their vaunted institutions, it’s a genuine tragedy. When a university claims that it is Catholic, it either is, in the fullest sense of the word as spelled out in clear terms by Pope John Paul II in Ex Corde Ecclesiae, or its Catholicity is a meaningless veneer and a dangerous lie.
It’s not enough for a Catholic university to merely represent the Catholic faith in this or that capacity on campus, every now and then when the time is right. The Church and her teachings must also be unceasingly honored, privileged and defended. Ideas can and ought to be discussed and debated, the pot stirred. But in the final analysis, the penetrating light of faith and reason, shining on Truth, must be upheld by the arm of the university.
How would the president of Notre Dame, the Rev. John Jenkins, acting in his capacity as priest of the Catholic Church, define the sin of scandal? What message is being conveyed on behalf of Notre Dame when an honorary doctorate is conferred on President Obama? Given the high profile nature of the ceremony, might the honest observer perceive at least some tacit approval from the university for the president’s well-known positions? Across the board, Obama has made clear his intention to advance the culture of death by his unwavering advocacy of abortion and Notre Dame responds with an “Atta boy!”
Outrage is the appropriate reaction to Notre Dame’s shameless disregard for patrimony and principle and its lust for prestige, money and notoriety at all costs. Catholics and non-Catholics alike will demonstrate loud and clear in the coming months that reports of the death of outrage have been greatly exaggerated.