Mormon Inquiry

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Obama hoping for less fighting, more Irish at Notre Dame

I’m not sure what all the Catholic commotion is about concerning this weekend’s visit of President Obama to the campus of Notre Dame to deliver the commencement address to this year’s graduating class. See “Notre Dame president catches heat for Obama invite” or any of a thousand other stories for the details. How could a university and its sponsoring community (the Catholic Church) not be thrilled with the honor of such a visit? What graduate attending this ceremony will not tell kids and grandkids a dozen or more times the story of how President Obama spoke at her graduation ceremony?

Part of the problem is how polarized politics has come to overshadow government. Even the President is now seen more as the partisan leader of his political party rather than as the chief executive of the government or the head of state. Presidents who practice “the permanent campaign” and never transition to governing mode fuel rather than counter this tendency of media and citizenry to view the office through a political lens rather than a patriotic or at least a civic lens. But surely a commencement ceremony, if any, is a forum where politics can be set aside for a day and the focus can be on celebrating the achievements and hopes of the young graduates?


The politicization of everything has infected churches, it seems. Of course I defend the right of churches to speak out on public policy issues (but not endorse candidates). But it is unfortunate if a focus on politics displaces the core religious concerns of a denomination, including the ability to function as a civil institution rather than as an uncivil political group when the occasion calls for it. I think Catholics who object to Obama’s visit have moved in this direction — they are defining this as a political event where the proper institutional position should be to emphasize opposition to Obama’s present abortion policy (or his gut-the-CIA campaign or his de facto nationalization of the auto industry, etc.). I think this is better seen as a civic event, a celebration of sorts, where the proper institutional position should be to welcome the head of state who is visiting to honor the graduates and the university. Politics can wait until next week.


Congratulations, graduates. I hope you treasure the day and do great things in the future. Enter to learn, go forth to serve.

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Clifton Carl

posted May 15, 2009 at 7:53 pm

Mr. Banack, you said: “I think this is better seen as a civic event”
I don’t think so. Every act and event sponsored by a Catholic institution has pastoral implications. Even Fr. Jenkins bills this event as a pastoral opportunity. An opportunity for dialogue between President Obama and the Church.
The conferring of an honorary degree usually implies respect and approval for the actions of the recipient. ASU decided not to award President Obama an honorary degree because he hadn’t done enough yet. The awarding of this honor by Notre Dame says more about it and its relationship to Catholicism (something definitely not civic) than it does about President Obama. His positions have been clear, his acts (such as his recent controversial executive orders) are public record.
So while this controversy may have stirred up vocal activists in the pro-life crowd, it has also stirred up quite a few (like me) who see Notre Dame making pastoral decisions way above its “paygrade.” And that has nothing to do with civics – or politics.

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posted May 16, 2009 at 9:10 am

As if Pres. Bush didn’t get this same treatment by tons of Universities across the United States. I have respected your viewpoints before, but this is a lame argument. What is good for the goose, as the saying goes, is good for the gander. If anything your viewpoint about the presidency hasn’t existed since LBJ if not before that. It is the creation of the Liberal counter-culture revolution and conservatives have decided not to play nice and end up cornered into submission.

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posted May 16, 2009 at 5:39 pm

If you’re suggesting President Obama is conducting office as a “permanent campaign,” I think you’re way off the mark. President Obama has tried harder than any recent president to bridge the partisan gap. The naming of Utah Governor Huntsman as ambassador to China is a case in point, as is the retention of Robert Gates as defense secretary. I think you’re bold in your views, but rather blinded by your own political prejudices. The guy who wrote the book on the permanent capaign was Karl Rove. How’d that work out?

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posted May 16, 2009 at 6:31 pm

John, I actually took Dave’s comment about “the permanent campaign” to be more about how things have been generally, rather than about Obama specifically.

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posted May 17, 2009 at 1:14 am

I disagree with your tone (it seems flippant) and I disagree with ND’s endorsment of Obama by awarding him an honorary degree. This is not an occasion where one respects the office even if one disagrees with the man in the office. This is a Catholic university, period. It is pro-life. It’s doctrine is pro-life. Obama has a consistent track record of supporting pro-death legislation under the guise of ‘women’s rights’. Please.
If Obama truly was a man interested in bridging divides he would exercise presidential diplomacy and decline the invitation out of respect for the students who worked so hard to participate in their commencement ceremony. But he has no respect for the conservative American. Lest you forget the “clinging to our guns and religion’ statement. Instead he embraces the “I won” mentality and this speaking engagement gives him the chance to once again laugh in the face of conservative christian ethics of which I’m convinced he has none. Make no mistake: someone with that level of narcissism? It’s all about him. You cannot separate civics and religion in this instance where everything about this president smacks convention and conservative values in the face. And we are supposed to honor him for it? I say no and I will not.

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posted May 17, 2009 at 2:05 pm

As a former Catholic, I am fairly confident in saying that this has nothing to do with politics. Catholic doctrine states that never, under any circumstance, is abortion moral. It is murder, black and white. By inviting President Obama to speak, and furthermore, by presenting him with an honorary degree, the university (a Catholic institution) is suggesting that they approve of his actions. Being a pro-choice candidate, some of the students feel this is contradictory. It would be similar to Brigham Young University extending an honorary degree to a politician who is outwardly in favor of gay marriage. It is just ridiculous.

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