Matt C. Abbott
May 17, 2009
By Matt C. Abbott
May 16, 2009

On May 17, pro-abortion President Barack Obama will deliver the commencement address — and will receive an honorary law degree — at the University of Notre Dame. Then it will be over...but the scandal will remain.

Kudos to those graduating seniors who plan to boycott the commencement ceremony, choosing instead to attend a meditation ceremony at the university's Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes during the time President Obama will be speaking.

According to publicist Amber Dawe and Notre Dame student John Daly, on the evening of May 16, Bishop John D'Arcy will lead a candlelight prayer vigil for graduating seniors and their families to pray for an end to abortion and embryonic stem-cell research.

On May 17, Commencement Day, in addition to the meditation ceremony, a rally will be held on the South Quad of the university, the campus' main quad, between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Speakers at the rally will include Elizabeth Naquin Border, Notre Dame graduate and former chairman of the board for the Women's Care Centers in South Bend; Father Joseph Raphael, Notre Dame graduate and principal of St. Augustine's High School in New Orleans; William Solomon, director of the university's Center for Ethics and Culture; and Chris Godfrey, a Notre Dame law school graduate and former offensive guard for the Super Bowl XXI champion New York Giants.

I also want to commend all the pro-lifers who will be participating in Sunday's protests; you know who you are. Special thanks to Eric and Joe Scheidler, Monica Migliorino Miller, Father Frank Pavone, Gregg Cunningham, Randall Terry, Dr. Alan Keyes and Father Norman Weslin for your collective witness in these past few weeks.

Eastern rite Catholic priest Father Robert E. Markovitch, MD, wrote — "blended in," actually — a critique of Notre Dame president Father John Jenkins' letter to the Class of 2009. Below is that (slightly edited) critique. Father Markovitch's comments are in red; Father Jenkins' letter is in black.

    May 11, 2009

    Dear Members of the Notre Dame Graduating Class of 2009:

    This Sunday, as you receive your degrees at Commencement, your joy — and that of your families — will be shared by the faculty, staff, and administration of the University. We have had the privilege of laboring with each of you to inquire and discover, to teach and to learn, and we will send you off with affectionate and fond hopes for the future.

    For those of you who are undergraduates, I feel a special kinship. You arrived in your dorm rooms as I arrived in the President's Office. You have learned much; I may have learned more. Maybe, see below. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to learn with you, come to know you, and to serve you during our time together at Notre Dame.

    During your years here we have endeavored to train you in the various disciplines and urged you to ask the larger questions — discussing not only the technical and practical but also the ethical and spiritual dimensions of pressing issues. I have been proud of you as you've grappled with intellectual, political, and spiritual questions. But I have never been more proud than I have been watching the way you've conducted yourselves over the past several weeks. Well, maybe not. Actually, I could name a lot of things a priest could be more proud of!

    The decision to invite President Obama to Notre Dame to receive an honorary degree and deliver the Commencement address has triggered debate. In many cases, the debate has grown heated, even between people who agree completely on Church teaching regarding the sanctity of human life, who agree completely that we should work for change — and differ only on how we should work for change. I wasn't aware that there were two so equally fleshed-out strategies and efforts. What's the program for change of those who favor the invitation, and how much effort have they put into it?

    Yet, there has been an extra dimension to your debate. You have discussed this issue with each other while being observed, interviewed, and evaluated by people who are interested in this story. You engaged each other with passion, intelligence and respect. And I saw no sign that your differences led to division. You inspire me. We need the wider society to be more like you; it is good that we are sending you into that world on Sunday. Actually, they need to be less like society — they need to be signs of contradiction! Recall how Pope John Paul II of blessed memory referred to the atmosphere that reigns in much of the West as a culture of death! As St. Paul says, 'Be innocent and genuine in the midst of a perverse and evil generation' (Phil. 2:15). If you want to see how the Catholic difference has long vanished, check polling results on moral views, and especially on how those differences express themselves in actions such as voting. 'But what if the salt loses its flavor? It is good for nothing but to be thrown underfoot!' (Mt. 5:13). Okay, since Notre Dame is a Catholic university, it should be different in a Catholic way, right? To test this in a very academic way, why not poll these graduates (after four years, eight semesters and how many thousands of dollars?) on Catholic doctrine and practice? Better yet, as a good university statistics and sociology department would affirm, compare these to a group of Catholic high school graduates and/or Catholic graduates of secular schools. Then we would see how good for the price it is that they are 'being sent.'

    I am saddened that many friends of Notre Dame have suggested that our invitation to President Obama indicates ambiguity in our position on matters of Catholic teaching. I am encouraged, hopeful, and very interested in learning more. Intellectual curiosity is the mark of a good academic life. The University and I are unequivocally committed to the sanctity of human life and to its protection from conception to natural death. Would you be so kind as to share with us how that is implemented, especially in the core curriculum and required activities? Notre Dame has a long custom of conferring honorary degrees on the President of the United States. Well, it may be late to say so, but that has its dangers. It has never been a political statement or an endorsement of policy. Has it ever been scandalous or shocking to many of the faithful? It is the University's expression of respect for the leader of the nation and the Office of the President. And hopefully, some positive exposure, right? In the Catholic tradition, our first allegiance is to God in Christ, yet we are called to respect, participate in, and contribute to the wider society. But not as a close second, right? As St. Peter wrote (I Pt. 2:17), we should honor the leader who upholds the secular order. But what did he say just before that? . . .'fear God,' and 'never use your freedom as an excuse for wickedness.'

    At the same time, and born of the same duty, a Catholic university has a special obligation not just to honor the leader but to engage the culture. Carrying out this role of the Catholic university has never been easy or without controversy. Yet, situations as difficult and controversial as this one are rare, perhaps unprecedented. Why? When I was an undergraduate at Notre Dame, Fr. Hesburgh spoke of the Catholic university as being both a lighthouse and a crossroads. As a lighthouse, we strive to stand apart and be different, illuminating issues with the moral and spiritual wisdom of the Catholic tradition. Does this invitation and award of honor help us to stand apart, or do they make us fit in too much? Yet, we must also be a crossroads through which pass people of many different perspectives, backgrounds, faiths, and cultures. May they all come to know Christ, down to the least of them! At this crossroads, we must be a place where people of good will are received with charity, are able to speak, be heard, and engage in responsible and reasoned dialogue. A commencement speech is a monologue, not a dialogue. A dialogue would be a debate, for example.

    The President's visit to Notre Dame can help lead to broader engagement on issues of importance to the country and of deep significance to Catholics. Yes, but 'can' and 'will' are two different things. Can the visit not also lead to indifference and surrender to the world? Ultimately, I hope that the conversations and the good will that come from this day will contribute to closer relations between Catholics and public officials who make decisions on matters of human life and human dignity. I hope that your hoped-for possibility of closer relations, should it actually come to pass, will lead to conversions among all these officials. There is much to admire and celebrate in the life and work of President Obama. His views and policies on immigration, expanding health care, alleviating poverty, and building peace through diplomacy have a deep resonance with Catholic social teaching. I recall making a negative reference to Adolf Hitler to a German-American friend while riding the school bus in high-school. He told me with conviction that Hitler had done many good things for Germany, that he had greatly improved the economy. I was sick and grieved then; I am again now. Put these issues on a scale, and pile on the other side the tens of millions of unborn children killed through abortion. How does the balance beam look to you? Perhaps this illustration could be used as a backdrop for the graduation stage. Then you'd actually have a dialogue without having to invite another speaker. This president is so strongly a personification of the culture of death that he reportedly wouldn't limit abortion's killing to the point of birth, but extended it outside the womb!

    As the first African-American holder of this office, he has accelerated our country's progress in overcoming the painful legacy of slavery and segregation. The gruesome and twisted irony in all of this is that President Obama is vociferously manifesting the same moral error that caused slavery. The ongoing abortion holocaust is premised on the logic that a whole category of people can be declared non-persons; the enslavement of African-Americans was premised on the logic that a class of people can be declared non-persons. He is a remarkable figure in American history, (a good education shows us that this is not necessarily a compliment) and I look forward to welcoming him to Notre Dame. Don't you also look forward to just getting this day behind you? However, if the polling proposal above gets implemented, the day might become an opportunity for university improvement that is only beginning. University industrial engineering departments call this 'quality control monitoring.'

    As President Obama is our principal speaker, there will no doubt be much attention on your Commencement. Much attention and much tension, too! Remember, though, that this day is your day. Remember first, though, who made the day — that will help tell you whose day it really is. May you deeply come to know the truth, 'It's not about me.' As St. John the Baptist so succinctly put it, 'He must increase, and I must decrease' (Jn. 3:30). Take this home in your heart as a graduation present, treasure it, meditate upon it, unwrap it, and bring it into dialogue with all the events of your life. It will be the key to understanding — and an inexhaustible font of your spiritual life. My fervent prayer is that May 17 will be a joyous day for you and your family. My fervent prayer is that May 17 will be a day of deeper conversion and faithfulness to Christ for you and your family, who, after all, have lived through the dangerous time called 'choice.' You are the ones we celebrate and applaud. We celebrate and applaud the fact that you made it to your twenties with a diploma despite living in a culture of death. We celebrate the fact that this makes you living signs of contradiction — embrace your vocation! Congratulations, and may God bless you. Congratulations, and may God bless you with wisdom and courage and provide you with all that was lacking during your studies at the University of Notre Dame!

    In Notre Dame,

    Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.

    In Our Lady,

    Fr. Robert E. Markovitch, MD, SUUS*

    *[His] sinful, useless and unworthy servant (as admitted in the Mass)

© Matt C. Abbott


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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He also has an Associate in Applied Science degree in business management from Triton College. Abbott has been interviewed on HLN, MSNBC, Bill Martinez Live, WOSU Radio in Ohio, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's 2019 ‘Unsolved’ podcast about the unsolved murder of Father Alfred Kunz, Alex Shuman's 'Smoke Screen: Fake Priest' podcast, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) and WISC-TV (CBS) in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been quoted in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and other media outlets. He’s mentioned in the 2020 Report on the Holy See's Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (1930 to 2017), which can be found on the Vatican's website. He can be reached at

(Note: I welcome and appreciate thoughtful feedback. Insults will be ignored. Only in very select cases will I honor a request to have a telephone conversation about a topic in my column. Email is much preferred. God bless you and please keep me in your prayers!)


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