Beliefnet
The Deacon's Bench

In the Washington Post this Sunday, you could read this opinion on the Obama-Notre Dame mess:

I am an alumnus of Notre Dame. I am adamantly pro-life, independent as a voter — and greatly pleased that Obama has agreed to speak at my alma mater. He joins six other sitting presidents going back to Dwight D. Eisenhower — including George W. Bush — who have addressed the university. Politically, I had disagreements with each of them. Yet I never supposed that by granting them the commencement podium the university was signaling its approval of their policies. Neither, now, should the bishops.

On the dais at Notre Dame, Obama will find a familiar face: Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon, Bush’s ambassador to the Vatican, who will receive this year’s Laetare Medal in part for her peerless defense of human life. It’s important that the president hear her message as well as deliver his own. It is equally important that this kind of engagement take place at a university devoted to both faith and reason. Where else but in a university setting should we expect this kind of principled presentation of issues?

No question, Notre Dame will pay a price for doing what a Catholic university can and should do. The Internet is smoking with protests from conservative Catholic bloggers and pro-life Web sites. One of them claims to have collected 206,000 signatures opposing the president’s appearance. These pressure groups are aghast that “Our Lady’s University” would welcome so resolute an opponent of the church’s position on abortion. Some alumni, especially Republicans, are threatening to withhold contributions and bequests. The Vatican is receiving e-mail demanding disciplinary action.

Catholicism is not a sect that shuns the world as evil. As a body, the American hierarchy has usually been both principled and open to political engagement. The bishops have congratulated the new president on his victory and pledged to work with him on issues affecting social and economic justice. Do they now find him morally unfit to speak at a Catholic university?

Obama is not coming to Notre Dame to press a pro-choice agenda but to address issues that affect all American citizens, including Catholics. He will be speaking to students who, like other Americans, gave him a majority of their votes. He will receive an honorary degree because it is the custom, not as a blessing on any of his decisions.

American bishops should remember that it was only a few decades ago that a Catholic was considered unfit for the White House. Do they now believe that a sitting president is unfit to address a Catholic university? It’s time the bishops gave a clear and principled response.

You can read the rest at the link.

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