Selwyn Duke
Notre Dame's betrayal of faith
By Selwyn Duke
April 6, 2009

When John the Baptist said to King Herod, "It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife," the price he paid was his head on a platter. He had spoken Absolute Truth to power in a time when power was absolute. It was the bravest of acts, the kind only undertaken by those very rare men for all seasons.

Lying in stark contrast to this is catholic (note the small "c") Notre Dame University's genuflection before Barack Obama, a man embodying the very antithesis of Catholic teaching. As most are aware, the university extended an invitation to Obama to deliver a commencement address and, to make matters worse, will bestow upon him an honorary doctorate.

This is despite the fact that Obama has distinguished himself as the most militantly anti-life president in American history. In fact, his support of abortion extends to the point of infanticide, and I speak of his, at best, indifference to the Born Alive Infants Protection Act. In opposing the Illinois version of this legislation — thereby signaling his willingness to allow newborn babies to die in soiled store rooms — he showed his true colors. That is to say, it's not so much that the matter of when a baby gets human rights is above his pay grade; it's that he is morally degraded.

Adding to his impressive pro-death resume, Obama has rescinded the Mexico City Policy, thereby allowing our tax money to be used to promote abortion in foreign lands. He is also using tax dollars to fund the harvesting of stem cells from nascent human life. And he endeavors to establish a policy that would force health-care workers to either be party to abortion or risk losing their jobs ("Freedom of Choice" Act).

But it isn't just on life issues that Obama is found wanting. He also supports special rights for homosexuals (euphemistically called "gay rights"). Additionally, he apparently was a member of Chicago's socialist New Party in the 1990s, an association he has never adequately disowned. This is relevant because socialism seems incongruent with Catholic teaching. As Pope Pius XI said plainly in 1931, "No one can be at the same time a sincere Catholic and a true Socialist." (In fact, the Church has long condemned socialism — here and here, for instance).

Yet the inappropriateness of honoring Obama at Notre Dame doesn't have to be inferred from pronouncements from the past. Contemporary Church leaders have made their voices heard as well, with 13 bishops publicly criticizing the invitation. Among them is Bishop Edward J. Slattery of Tulsa, who said,

"For President Obama to be honored by Notre Dame is more than a disappointment, it is a scandal."

Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark said,

"When we extend honors to people who do not share our respect and reverence for life in all stages, and give them a prominent stage in our parishes, schools and other institutions, we unfortunately create the perception that we endorse their public positions on these issues."

Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City wrote,

"Catholic institutions of higher learning must always be places where the Catholic values we hold so dearly will always be supported and promoted — not where the culture of death is allowed to be honored or valued."

And, in a letter to Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis called the invitation an "egregious decision" and said,

"It is a travesty that the University of Notre Dame, considered by many to be a Catholic University, should give its public support to such an anti-Catholic politician."

Now, here some will say that Jesus was also criticized for consorting with sinners and responded with that heavenly wisdom, "The healthy are in no need of a physician." Yet this isn't an analogous situation. More appropriate here is, "The unhealthy are in no need of a podium." I would have no problem with anyone offering Obama counsel — he could certainly use it. I myself would be happy to talk with him if he asked; maybe I could muster shades of John the Baptist. But what Notre Dame is doing is quite different: It is honoring Obama by bestowing a doctorate upon him. Additionally, it is not giving him an opportunity to receive counsel but a forum in which to dispense it — and to malleable young minds at that.

Then there are those, such as the writers of this silly Los Angeles Times editorial, who accuse those on my side of hypocrisy, saying we were silent when pro-death penalty George W. Bush spoke at Notre Dame in 2001. Well, let's examine this.

First, I think I speak for many when I say that Obama is objectionable not just because of his profound lack of respect for life. From his apparent socialism (and I believe communism) to his support of "age-appropriate" sex education for kindergarteners to his opposition to California's Proposition 8, he has served notice that he is pushing a hard-left agenda (which I documented here) that certainly violates the letter and spirit of Catholic teaching.

Second, there is no equivalency between abortion and the death penalty or, for that matter, what is supposedly President Bush's mortal sin, launching military campaigns. The Church teaches that while capital punishment is hardly ever necessary in modern societies, it nevertheless is the right of "legitimate temporal authorities" to determine when it is justifiable. The Church also promulgates something called "Just War Doctrine."

There is no Just Abortion Doctrine.

Unlike capital punishment and war, direct abortion is never morally licit under any circumstances.

Having said this, there is a deeper issue to address. We're all sinners, and we could probably pick any president and find ways in which he violated Catholic teaching. And what about academic freedom? As the L.A. Times opined, the issue at Notre Dame is "whether a distinguished university should ban a speaker with whom it disagrees or engage him . . ." and that all universities "sometimes need to be reminded of the importance of uninhibited debate."

But the university isn't "engaging" Obama; it is giving him a forum in which to speak unopposed. There will be no debate. Of course, I realize that when the editorialists speak of "uninhibited debate," they refer to a general climate of academic inquiry and give-and-take fostered over time by exposure to different ideas. But while this sounds good, it's nonsense.

While leftists can pontificate all they like about "academic freedom," they draw lines like anyone else. Would they hire a professor or schedule a speaker who would advocate the extermination of a minority? If not, why? I mean, whomever they chose will be a sinner, and do not judge lest ye be judged, right? And, would they entertain a debate about the reinstitution of slavery or whether or not germs really cause disease? How about trephination (drilling a hole in someone's head) as a solution to mental illness?

The point is that our gratuitous talk about "open-mindedness" is mere sloganeering, because we all consider certain issues to be settled. As G.K. Chesterton once said, "The point of having an open mind, like having an open mouth, is to close it on something solid." A child cannot advance in math if he won't accept simple truths such as two plus two equals four, and science would never have ascended from a childlike state of primitiveness had man not accepted and then built upon simple scientific truths. We might have debated Aristotle's geocentrism versus Copernicus' heliocentrism in 1600, but if we had still been wrangling over it in 1910, we would have been insane. Perpetual open-mindedness in all matters is not a virtue because it isn't "mindedness" at all; it is the trumping of the mind. The mind is there to find answers, not just ask questions.

And moral truths should be treated with at least the respect of scientific ones. Of course, "open-minded" secularists will be quick to point out that morality isn't science, and I'll be even quicker to say they're hypocrites. I reiterate that they draw their lines (slavery, racism, sexism, extermination of minorities, etc.), proving that their relativistic creed is mainly for use on other people's values. They have their dogma, just like everyone else.

But, leftists, here is a newsflash: This isn't about your dogma — it concerns Catholic dogma. You have your values — twisted and distorted though they may be — and you're very self-centered to believe they should prevail in a Catholic setting. Not everyone is as numb to morality as you are, and believing Catholics understand that many matters you're confused about are actually settled issues. We also understand that, as with science, man cannot progress morally unless he accepts known truths and builds upon them.

The bottom line is that Catholic institutions (if they are to be authentic) have a responsibility to apply Catholic dogma, not the secular variety. They have an obligation to draw Catholic lines, not merely replicate those of the Los Angeles Times. They have a duty to instill students with Catholic teaching, not that of Berkeley. Thus, in such an eminently sane setting abortion isn't a debated issue. It's a settled issue. And Barack Obama isn't just another president. He is way over the line.

Really, this whole affair smacks just a bit of evangelist Billy Graham's obsequious behavior with respect to the Clintons. I'm referring to how he once called them a "great couple" and "wonderful friends," implied that Hillary Clinton might make a good president and once quipped that Bill Clinton "should be an evangelist" and "leave his wife to run the country." Ah, Rev. Graham, "if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way . . . ."

We should remember that since every age has its Herods, we have to ask ourselves a couple of questions. Would we recognize one if we saw him? And, then, would we have the faith and strength to be a John the Baptist?

© Selwyn Duke


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