Notre Dame reaction roundup

Obama at Notre Dame.jpgThe Vatican newspaper (hearts) Obama at Notre Dame:

The newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, said the president also confirmed that pushing for a more liberal abortion law would not be a priority of his administration. The comments came in a L’Osservatore report May 18, the day after Obama spoke at the university in Indiana.

“The search for a common ground: This seems to be the path chosen by the president of the United States, Barack Obama, in facing the delicate question of abortion,” the newspaper said.


It said Obama had set aside the “strident tone” of the 2008 political campaign on the abortion issue.

“Yesterday Obama confirmed what he expressed at his 100-day press conference at the White House, when he said that enacting a new law on abortion was not a priority of his administration,” it said.

The newspaper, which was reporting on the Notre Dame commencement for the first time, acknowledged the controversy caused by the president’s appearance at what it called “the most prestigious Catholic university in the United States.”

“Yesterday, too, as could have been predicted, there were protests. But from the podium set up in the basketball arena, the president invited Americans of every faith and ideological conviction to ‘work in common effort’ to reduce the number of abortions,” it said.


I guess the pope’s newspaper has “forgotten what it means to be Catholic.”

Meanwhile at America‘s blog, the generally Obama-supporting Michael Sean Winters is upset that Obama didn’t let him write the speech, er, rather that Obama didn’t use the pope’s words against the bishops. He gives Obama a C-minus:

One wonders why the president’s speechwriters could not find a quote from the Pope appropriate to the occasion. Needless to say, the way to the heart and mind of Pope Benedict is not with a paean to relativism. Yet, the President did precisely that. “The soldier and the lawyer may both love this country with equal passion, and yet reach very different conclusions on the specific steps needed to protect us from harm. The gay activist and the evangelical pastor may both deplore the ravages of HIV/AIDS, but find themselves unable to bridge the cultural divide that might unite their efforts. Those who speak out against stem cell research may be rooted in admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son’s or daughter’s hardships can be relieved.” Alas, I am counting the minutes until some smart operative for the GOP makes sure a copy of this passage finds its way to the Vatican.


It’s an interesting take, though I admit I don’t see the connections MSW is trying to make. (And what has happened to Catholicism when America is criticizing the Democratic president and the Vatican paper is supporting him!?) I also seriously doubt the bishops would have appreciated Obama quoting B16, and I’m not sure Obama’s speech differed that much from the one MSW wrote for him a couple weeks ago in The Tablet.

Doug Kmiec at NCR is fulsome–no surprise–and has an interesting suggestion:


In a few days, President Obama will likely nominate a woman to the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s probably too much to contemplate, but seated directly behind the President was Notre Dame’s highly respected law dean, Patricia Ann O’Hara. If empathy is truly to be incorporated into the legal process, there are few socially progressive lawyers more capable of incorporating this much needed sensitivity into legal interpretation. A securities law specialist, no derivative-wielding purveyor of subprime nonsense would escape Dean O’Hara’s justice.

Is it presumptuous to make such suggestion? Not really. Why would one keep the best talent a secret from a friend, and fellow alumnus. And, of course, she is pro-life. Now, that would be a game changer.


At the WaPo’s “OnFaith” Father Tom Reese, SJ, titled his appreciation, “He Came, He Saw, He Conquered.”

President Obama’s reception at Notre Dame showed once again that a new generation of Americans, including Catholics, is looking for a different kind of leader, not one who speaks down to his audience, demands strict loyalty and demonizes opponents, but one who addresses complexity with honesty, acknowledges disagreements and tries to bring people together for the common good.

E.J. Dionne’s “Conciliatory Fighting Words” put it squarely:


By facing their arguments head-on and by demonstrating his attentiveness to Catholic concerns, Obama strengthened moderate and liberal forces inside the church itself. He also struck a forceful blow against those who would keep the nation mired in culture-war politics without end. Obama’s opponents on the Catholic right placed a large bet on his Notre Dame visit. And they lost.

Rick Garnett at MOJ is disappointed in Judge Noonan:

I admire Judge Noonan immensely, but wish — on this particular occasion — he had been a bit more direct.  For the careful listener, intimately familiar with Noonan’s work and American history, there were some powerful thoughts.  I worry that the commencement audience, though, did not hear the challenge to President Obama’s unfortunate embrace of injustice that, in my view, Judge Noonan’s remarks contained.  


He then seems to argue that common ground can’t occur without consideration that the unborn must be granted legal personhood–which seems to be a winner-take-all approach. But then he later seems to phrase the request that a legal approach to abortion be part of the package more modestly, and Obama has said he is open to that as well, esepcially on the state level, as is Justice Scalia et al.

Notre Dame’s own Ralph McInerny sees “A House Divided” but grants supporters of Obama and Notre Dame the absolution of invincible ignorance:

Anathemas have been called for. Some long to have Notre Dame declared non-Catholic. Perhaps it will come to that, but the awakening of the laity, simple priests, a large number of the bishops, suggests that this is a possible epiphany. The sad fact is that people act contrary to the faith without realizing that that is what they are doing. A heretic chooses the opposite of the faith, but when in the present confusion as to what is in and what is out, heresy is not the appropriate word. And so, on Sunday, surrounded by priests and all the panoply of Notre Dame, the smiling Caesar, thumb turned down on life, was engulfed in allegedly Catholic applause. Elsewhere on campus, faithful Catholics gathered and sent up prayers of reparation.


At Our Sunday Visitor, Russell Shaw was not impressed, but draws three lessons–that the church is divided (though he gets the poll numbers wrong on mass-going Catholics and ND), that now Catholic universities will have to decide if they’re Catholic (whch means agreeing with OSV?), and that the bishops will have to man up (see point two). But he starts with this anecdote:

Ten days before the May 17 Notre Dame University commencement at which President Barack Obama was to speak and receive an honorary degree, I told an archbishop who’s a friend that I thought this was a watershed. One reason for that, I explained, lay in the remarkably large number of individual bishops — approaching 80 as this is written — who took the initiative to speak up in protest against Notre Dame’s bestowal of honors upon our aggressively pro-abortion chief executive. The archbishop smiled sadly and shook his head. “Six months from now it will all be forgotten, and everything will be business as usual,” he said.


Amy Welborn is skeptical of Obama’s “theater,” and boils it down to one non-negotiable:

Do you recognize the preborn baby, even in the midst of the complexities of its young life, dwelling within the body of another, living with her own complexities in a complex, pluralistic society –  as “the least among us”  worthy of civic protection or do you not?

Not sure what “civic protection” means, though the legal aspect of “abortion reduction” should be on the table. It is already there in limits on abortion and protections for the fetus in some cases, but how far down the scale do you slide that? Or can you, without compromising entirely the principle at stake for one side (the fetus is a human person) or the other (it is a woman’s choice up to whenever).


But the reax from Obama foes and pro-lifers reinforce a sense that Obama left his opponents tongue-tied and flailing somewhat, which isn’t unusual. But how much is his savvy and talent and how much of it is their lack of those things?

Mark Silk makes predictions:

1. Obama gets props from the general public, including moderate pro-lifers, for common ground talk.
2. Even more, if backed up by common ground policies.
3. Pro-life activists look more like angry zealots, including the Catholic bishops amongst them.
4. More pro-choice politicians are in evidence on Catholic campuses.


And of course there were the readings from yesterday’s Mass, which couldn’t have been more on point. E.g.:

Jesus said to his disciples: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.

Comments read comments(16)
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Frank Black

posted May 18, 2009 at 4:13 pm

Its beautiful to see how self-righteous you have been feeling as you write your victory remarks in post after post. You’re basking conceitedly in the comfortable light of Fr Reese, EJ Dionne, the Vatican newspaper. You cannot help but feel vindicated. You should read Obama’s and the valedictorian’s remarks a little more carefully, particularly those passages which talk about civility, not demonizing those you disagree with, humility, being a crossroads. You run the risk of representing everything Obama spoke against, pillaging those with whom you disagree and invoking Scripture against them, and branding your understanding of what it means to be Catholic as the only acceptable variety. Perhaps there are irreconcilable differences between what you believe and what the conservative minority has thundered over the last months, but when have you extended the olive branch to those with whom you’ll have no truck? Even in this entry you mock the words of the president of the USCCB, an upright and intelligent man who deserves the same respect you accord to the least of liberals. Perhaps you should meditate carefully tonight on the discourses given at Notre Dame. Perhaps you should make your blog more of a crossroads instead of an intolerable and overly bright intolerant lighthouse of tongue in cheek sarcasm.

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posted May 18, 2009 at 4:56 pm

The Vatican takes a hopeful look at Obama’s agenda. I would say that “more Catholic than the Pope’ is no longer a jest or retort.It has become the minority position in the US hierarchy.
What’s not to understand about pro-life people [like myself] who see as not possible/probable any criminal sanctions on abortions i.e. jail for women or doctors. Talk about ‘civic protection’ seems deliberately ambiguous.

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posted May 18, 2009 at 8:50 pm

Frank – Everyone needs to back off the name-calling.
We all need to realize that demonizing is something “WE” do, not just the other guy.
But unfortunately the “meme” is once again a culture-war meme, which is all about how correctly someone hops on board a collective idea.
Personally, I find David Gibson’s CATHOLIC blog to be far, far less demonizing than Amy’s or The Anchoress’ blogs.
And his commenters are far more civil as well.

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posted May 18, 2009 at 11:49 pm

Great synopsis of the ND reaction. Again, for all the criticism of ND, the Pope seems more open to Obama than some US bishops.

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posted May 19, 2009 at 2:03 am

The author of the article in the OR was obviously NOT the pope… who might welcome the tone but would squirm at the relativistic approach that the President endorsed…as Mr. Winters suggests. It is clear and unfortunate that the OR writer is uninformed about actions Mr. Obama has already taken when he says … “enacting a new law on abortion was not a priority of his administration” considering the fact that he has already overturned many protections on life in his young presidency.
But, of course, people who would ordinarily mock with hyperbolic rhetoric or simply ignore important papal pronouncements, will exploit this for all it is worth.

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posted May 19, 2009 at 3:05 am

“The Vatican newspaper (hearts) Obama at Notre Dame”. Not so fast David…it looks like you missed another article, also in yesterday’s Osservatore Romano…
“According to the new guidelines,” the Vatican newspaper says, “after President Barack Obama reversed the decision of the Bush administration regarding the ban on (federal funding for) embryonic stem cell research, for the first time taxpayers’ money will be used to KILL human beings in embryonic state to obtain stem cells.”
But your scriptural reference is quite apropos…”If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love”

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posted May 19, 2009 at 9:34 am

Not pushing the abortion issue by the President is a bit misleading! He has already put his stamp on providing funds worldwide for abortion, not to mention his approval of stem cell research paid for by tax payers. So much for the Ten Commandments! Words spoken after an event has already taken place are most commonly called lies, but if nothing else his words are simply appeasement.
Abortion, what a nice word for the slaughter of babies. Almost makes it sound like some thing you might do if you were bored or just to lazy to do any thing else. Harp Seals get more press when they are slaughtered than babies do, spotted owls more when a tree is cut down, frogs and minnows more when thier habitate is threatened,and the treatment of terrorist is vastly more important than the slaughter of innocents in the womb. What a country! Save a tree and kill a baby!

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John Doe

posted May 19, 2009 at 4:24 pm

Twas nice that you edited out the gratuitous slam on Amy Welborn that was included in your otherwise-identical post on Commonweal (where Welborn was used as the example of how “Obama left his opponents tongue-tied and flailing somewhat”). Not only gratuitous, but untrue, as Welborn’s post is more perceptive and insightful than your own post.

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Jim Bowman

posted May 19, 2009 at 4:26 pm

Are you sure you want to say So&So’s praise for the speech was fulsome? In view of this:
??/?f?ls?m, ?f?l-/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [fool-suhm, fuhl-] Show IPA
1. offensive to good taste, esp. as being excessive; overdone or gross: fulsome praise that embarrassed her deeply; fulsome décor.
2. disgusting; sickening; repulsive: a table heaped with fulsome mounds of greasy foods.
3. excessively or insincerely lavish: fulsome admiration.
4. encompassing all aspects; comprehensive: a fulsome survey of the political situation in Central America.
5. abundant or copious.

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Rachel Camden

posted May 19, 2009 at 5:09 pm

I agree with John Doe about the slam of Amy Welborn. You’re not the only one who caught that. Her insights have been perceptive, restrained, and forthright without being insulting. She wasn’t left tongue tied at all. I thought Obama said we should stop hatin’? On the contrary, all is see on this blog lately is boastful gloating and the demonization of one’s ideological enemies. Same old, same old, same old. And to use Amy Welborn as an example, who rarely says a contrary word about anything. My gosh, what have we come to. And just one more thought. All this Obamamania, gushing, adorable he’s so great feeling makes me recall how gushy and warmed up journalists were to Bush in the run up to the war. Have journalists and commentators learned nothing of humility, or at least professional restraint? Ugh.

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Frank Clyburn

posted May 19, 2009 at 8:05 pm

Many people who use the Catholic name, are not Catholic’s at all. Similar to many Jewish people who use the name Jewish are not Jewish anymore… These are people who use the religion in name only. They no longer really believe in the Supreme Being or in Christ. It’s very obvious to me that if God and/or Christ dwells within me that I cannot under any circumstances approve of abortion. Yes, I can be sympathetic in the case of rape, incest, etc. but God is in charge and that new life, even though is inside of a woman, is a different and separate life. When ever someone kills a child, they are killing one of God’s own…… Mr. Obama as well as many others, even many who call themselves Catholic will have to answer to God for their actions someday…….
I want my name here….

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posted May 19, 2009 at 8:08 pm

Rachel –
Who, exactly, has slammed Amy Welborn? She was included in the round up (I assumed) because she is a well-respected blogger with a reaction.
It’s kind of funny that you feel like you have to stand up for her … I mean what’s that all about?
She has a different perspective than David. He has a different perspective from her. So read both. Make up your own mind. But they don’t have to agree.
You seem to conflate a lot of Pro-Obama hype with a simple round-up of Reactions to The Notre Dame commencement. I don’t think anyone here seemed to be gushing.
But if the students at Notre Dame gushed and it was on TV do you expect people not to say so?

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David Gibson

posted May 19, 2009 at 9:24 pm

FWIW, yes, Amy contacted me with questions about whether I was referencing her with particular criticism. I explained that I was not, at all, just wrapping up some of the Obama critiques with a sentence giving my sense of the lack of focus and direction to all of them. It happened to come after the link to her post. So I edited it to put some distance there.
I would not slam someone gratuitously, especially Amy Welborn, though she is certainly tough enough to take it as she can dish it out–I’d say in doses a good deal stronger than I do! But good of her fans to get her back.
And thanks for getting mine, Cindy…It’s lonely work!
In any case, yes, I hope to give a broad sense of the discussion, and I hope that also distinguishes the blog from others, in that it isn’t dedicated to promoting one point of view. Let it all hang out there, come what may. Natch, those who disagree will not see it that way. But so be it. Write on.

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John Doe

posted May 20, 2009 at 2:31 pm

If you weren’t “at all” slamming Welborn, then why does your Commonweal post still say this:
“Amy’s commentary reinforces a sense surfing all the reactions that Obama left his opponents tongue-tied and flailing somewhat, which isn’t unusual. But how much is his savvy and talent and how much of it is their lack of those things?”
That reads pretty clearly as a claim that Amy Welborn’s commentary is an example of being “tongue-tied and flailing.” If that’s somehow not what you intended to say, what’s stopping you from editing the Commonweal post?

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David Gibson

posted May 20, 2009 at 4:24 pm

John Doe, re, the Commonweal post, haven’t gotten to it yet. Will do shortly. As I said, I edited this one (and will do the other) as a favor to Amy–who lights into Jim Martin rather sharply. So goes the blogosphere. In any case, she said she felt attacked, and I didn’t want to convey the impression I was attacking or singling her out. I do think her post was indicative of the general “flailing” (still going on) by many in the the anti-abortion camp. That’s a judgment, an opinion, a critcism, not an attack. In any case, better to amend it than focus on such small things.

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Your Name

posted May 21, 2009 at 10:01 am

How do we see God’s grace at work? We protest against abortion because we believe that all life is sacred, because we believe that the unborn are people to. We know that abortion is wrong. We also know that many moms see that they have no option except to have an abortion. We do not condone their action but neither do we condemn them. For pro-lifers to be really effective, we must be seen as having the same amount of zeal and compassion for moms to be, as we have for the baby they carry. It isn’t about compromise nor is it about condemnation. It is about finding ways to make abortion unthinkable rather than unavoidable and it is about life and liberty for all.

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