God and Man at Notre Dame

This May, Notre Dame University will host President Barack Obama to inspire its graduates as they are sent into the world. Obama will be awarded an honorary degree. For the record, this will be a direct violation of the American bishops’ 2004 declaration that Catholic colleges should not give “awards, honors or platforms” to pro-choice politicians.

Of course, the abortion issue is the crux of the controversy. Many Catholics, including those as high up as bishops, are protesting the invitation, and some are boycotting the ceremony. Many pro-life Protestants are likewise unhappy. This has become a national issue.

Not surprisingly, it is the protesting Catholics — those faithful to Church policy and moral teachings on abortion — that are being criticized, particularly by the secular media. Among the criticisms is that Notre Dame had previously invited President George W. Bush to speak at commencement, even though “the Pope” disagreed with Bush on the Iraq war. I heard this charge leveled even by a sympathetic voice at FoxNews.

Aren’t you pro-life Catholics being hypocritical? Why didn’t you complain about the invitation to President Bush?

The critics think they’ve got a clever trump card here. They don’t.

For starters, their dates are wrong. President Bush attended Notre Dame’s commencement in May 2001, long before he deployed a single troop anywhere, and certainly before American soldiers landed in Iraq in 2003.

Even then, let’s assume for the sake of argument that Bush had sent troops into Iraq beforehand — to the objections of the Vatican. Doing so offers a worthwhile teachable moment on a very common, misplaced moral equivalency, often made by believers and non-believers of all stripes.

On the issue of war: all American presidents swear an oath to protect the nation. They have consistently, constantly engaged in armed conflict. Nearly every president, certainly in the last 100 years, deployed troops. Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, Protestant or Catholic, a Woodrow Wilson or FDR or Harry Truman or JFK or LBJ or Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton or George W. Bush: they’ve all used the military. It is a core function of government to commit troops to battle.

In fact, President Obama has already ordered a troop deployment — to Afghanistan.

In some of these cases, the man in the Vatican disagreed with the man in the Oval Office. Of course, popes understand that presidents use the military. They know that presidents typically use force because they desire peace or a larger good.

Thus, while Pope John Paul II, or Pope Benedict XVI, may have had misgivings, large or small, with President Bush’s use of force in Iraq, they understood that Bush believed he was advancing American security and a greater good, irrespective of whether he was right.

You can pick at what I’ve said, but the basic point is not debatable: Presidents use military force; it is a core function of what they do as Constitutional commanders-in-chief.

Now, on abortion: It is not a core function of government to fund abortions, as Barack Obama has already begun doing — abroad — via his rescinding of the Mexico City policy, and with much more to follow. This was one of Obama’s first presidential acts, an executive order he signed on January 23, the day after the March for Life in Washington, DC.

Likewise, it is not a core function of government to use taxpayer money to dissect and destroy human life at its earliest stage of development as embryos, as Obama authorized on March 9.

It is not a core function of government to support taxpayer funding of abortion at all stages of pregnancy, with no state or local restrictions, including the vast array of limits enacted by bipartisan legislatures all over America since Roe v. Wade. That’s what Obama seeks via the Freedom of Choice Act, which he co-sponsored as a senator in April 2007, and which he promised Planned Parenthood would be the “first thing” he would sign as president. Moreover, no president in history has called Planned Parenthood a “safety-net provider,” as does Barack Obama.

Should I go on?

There has never been anyone in the Oval Office as extreme on abortion as Barack Obama. He doesn’t merely want abortion to be “safe, legal, and rare,” he wants to use the force of government to mandate that you to pay for it, from conception to delivery, at home and abroad.

Thus, Notre Dame’s invitation to Obama in 2009 is different from its invitation to George W. Bush in 2001. Obama vehemently rejects the Catholic Church’s moral teaching on a procedure that the Catechism calls “gravely contrary to the moral law.” Bush did not.

A final point of contrast: In his commencement speech at Notre Dame, Bush spoke of the “God who endows us with individual rights.” For Bush, that included unborn life. When President Obama spoke of those inalienable rights in his inaugural, he conspicuously left out the word “life.” Obama candidly disagrees with Bush, as well as with Pope Benedict XVI, with the late Pope John Paul II, with the cardinals, with the bishops — with the Catholic Church.

In protesting their college’s awarding of an honorary degree to President Obama, Notre Dame’s pro-lifers are not being hypocritical. They are being faithful to a fundamental moral teaching and policy of their Church.

Dr. Paul Kengor


Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values. His books include “The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism” and “Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.”

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  • For the record, “deploying troops” as a “core function of government” a la the first Iraq war, the invasion of Panama, Reagan’s bombing of Libya, or the attempted rescue of the American hostages in Iran–is emphatically not the same as an unprovoked invasion of a sovereign nation. Honest people can support the government’s use of the military while opposing the invasion of Iraq. And wasn’t it our beloved Pope John Paul II who told President Bush, “You will be judged by God and by history”?

    During the run-up to Iraq, I have to confess that I supported the invasion in spite of grave misgivings, and in spite of what the Pope said, because Mr. Bush was my President. And now that Iraq is making steps toward becoming a peaceful, sovereign nation, I am the first to cheer. And I’ve always supported our troops. But let’s be real. Invading Iraq was an act of a different order than any other use of U.S. military force in history.

  • goral

    The “trump card” of the critics is a lame attempt at equivocation of the two invitations. This of course is trumpeted by shallow catholics carried by the shallow media and implemented by the academia elites who are only honoring the guy for whom they voted.
    It’s an act of affirmation of their own political bent. Thus they do what the proud intelligentsia always does, bestows honors upon itself.

    Going into Iraq was not an invasion but the implementation of UN mandates which only the US could effectively do by military action. The US troops entered Iraq to the cheers of many of it’s citizens just as Barak Hussain Obama is being cheered by so many at Notre Dame.
    There’s the invasion and the strange equivocation.

  • OK…for the record….

    “Unprovoked” is not an appropriate adjective. “Unwise” perhaps, especially given the cost, both in blood and treasure. But not unprovoked.

    In a real way, the US had been at war in Iraq since 1998 after Operation Desert Fox. The discussion should never have been “war/no-war”, it should have been “resume the offensive” or “continue to contain.”

    Allow me to educate you…

    – The agreement Saddam signed in 1991 at the conclusion of the first Gulf War was a cease-fire…and a conditional one at that.

    – Saddam violated every tenant of the 1991 cease fire…every one.

    – Saddam defied the international community by flaunting UN Security Council resolutions for 11 years…ELEVEN YEARS.

    – Saddam ejected UN Weapons Inspectors from Iraq in 1998. When they returned in 2002-2003, they found and destroyed MORE weapons…missiles mostly.

    – President Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998…making it the policy of the United States to seek to remove the Saddam Hussein regime from power in Iraq and to replace it with a democratic government.

    – Saddam’s forces fired on almost every single air patrol in the UN-mandated Southern and Northern No-Fly Zones…in response, Allied forces were dropping bombs on Iraqi targets several times a month.

    – Saddam created a deception campaign that was designed to convince his neighbors that he had chemical weapons. He succeeded in convincing many people and intel agencies he had them.

    – Saddam’s Iraq possessed missiles with ranges in excess of what he was allowed under the UN Security Council resolutions and the 1991 Cease Fire Agreement. (On this I have personal experience, they were fired toward my base in 2003)

    – Saddam harbored known terrorists (no, not Al-Qaeda, but they’re not the only ones out there). Among the first targets on 19 March 2003 were terrorist training grounds / barracks (Fedayeen Saddam and others).

    – Saddam was funding the suicide campaign in Israel to the tune of US$40,000 to the family of each suicide bomber. You know these guys…the ones who walk into Sbarro’s in Tel Aviv and kill women and children at birthday parties (yes, that actually happened).

    – Post invasion, US forces have come under attack by chemical weapons left over from Iraqi stockpiles (insurgents thought they had regular artillery shells). 500 chemical arty shells were recovered (in Al Anbar, I think).

    Fresh from a devastating attack on 9/11, and believing that Afghanistan was well in-hand, Mr Bush looked to the next likely source for an attack on the US and concluded it was Iraq. You can fault the strategic calculus or the wisdom of the “go” decision…but understand the context and the reasoning.

    That Mr Bush was unable to explain himself in words the world or the country could understand is an understatement. That the US was “unprovoked” is patently false.

  • wgsullivan

    Mr. Addison, thank you. You’ve given me lotsa ammo. (pun intended)
    Back to the subject.
    When the kids (Fr. Jenkins and company) are misbehavin’, you gotta make sure they know there will be consequences for their actions. Now is the time for the consequences. As Fr. Cleary was quoted in his letter to Obama, use this moment as a, “teachable moment”. Otherwise the kids know you don’t mean business.

  • momof11

    Prairie Hawk:

    G.W. Bush’s actions did not support and promote intrinsic evil. Pope JPII did not condemn him. Saying that God and history will judge his actions (judgement does not always mean condemnation, for which we should all be grateful!) to me would indicate that no one at that time has the information needed to be able to judge the rightness of the action….it was not intrinsically evil. The pope is not privvy to all of the intelligence reports which led to the president’s decision and I believe JPII realized this. His response was that of a parent to a child “With what I can see and what I know this course of action doesn’t seem to be the right one.”

  • “When war, as in these days in Iraq, threatens the fate of humanity, it is ever more urgent to proclaim, with a strong and decisive voice, that only peace is the road to follow to construct a more just and united society. Violence and arms can never resolve the problems of man.” –John Paul II at the beginning of the Iraq war

    To me, that sounds like a condemnation of war, and the Iraq war in particular.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’ve always been torn in two over Iraq, between wanting to support my country and my President and wanting to witness to my Faith. I’m still ambivalent even though things appears to be turning out well. God may have brought peace to that troubled land, and for that I am very grateful. But that doesn’t mean that the war was in retrospect a good thing. We have to take into account the thousands and thousands of lives that have been lost, of soldiers on both sides and many innocent men, women, and children. Each of these people has a place before God. Every life matters. And God tells us in Scripture that when the widow and the orphan cry out, the Almighty hears them.

    Will this nation be judged by God to have acted rightly? I guess that’s the question on everybody’s mind.

  • papist

    The responses form bishops across the US to Notre Dame honoring President Obama has been very heartening. The response from the Bishop of Rockford caught my eye – he included a little bit of sarcasm and sassiness in his letter to the degree that no one would have to ask him “Please bishop, tell us what you really think.”
    In part of his letter he said:
    “I would ask that you rescind this unfortunate decision and so avoid dishonoring the practicing Catholics of the United States, including those of this Diocese. Failing that, please have the decency to change the name of the University to something like, “The Fighting Irish College” or “Northwestern Indiana Humanist University.” Though promotion of the obscene is not foreign to you, I would point out that it is truly obscene for you to take such decisions as you have done in a university named for our Blessed Lady, whom the Second Vatican Council called the Mother of the Church.”

  • celothriel

    Great article – and, thank you, Mickey Addison, for that information!

    To me, one of the most important points here is that abortion is ALWAYS intrinsically evil, while war is permitted under certain specific circumstances to protect the innocent from aggressors.

    To quote the CCC on abortion:
    “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of EVERY procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable.” (CCC 2271) – emphasis mine

    On the other hand, the Catechism says:
    “Legitimate defense is a grave DUTY for whoever is responsible for the lives of others or the common good.” (CCC 2321) – emphasis mine

    and, in discussing “just war” doctrine:
    “The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have the responsibility for the common good.” (CCC 2309)

    There is a vast difference between a Catholic college honoring a president who promotes abortion, an intrinsic evil, and honoring a president who exercised his prudential judgment to the best of his ability about the proper defense of our country, which is his grave duty.

  • Jim McFillin

    The comments concerning Iraq, although important from a historical perspective, are a distraction from the intrinsic evil being committed today against unborn babies. George Bush defended the unborn, and believed that they have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” That is a fact.

    Barack Obama stated that he doesn’t want to “punish” his daughter with an unwanted baby, and is now, today, actively promoting policies that will kill the unborn.

    Every day, 3500-4000 babies will die because of these policies. It is an order of magnitude greater than the losses in Iraq (4000 total).

    If you question that reality, then you question the “personhood” of the unborn, and you really don’t believe that unborn babies have a soul and a right to live their life.

    One final thought–if we were in an auditorium of 4000 people, and I started killing a person every 25 seconds, would you stop me?

    I think you would.