Tom McFeely is the National Catholic Register’s News Editor. He lives in British Columbia.
Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said last weekend that Notre Dame’s decision to honor President Barack Obama “brought extreme embarrassment to many, many people who are Catholic.”
But Cardinal George also stressed it’s not an option for Notre Dame’s president, Holy Cross Father John Jenkins, to disinvite Obama because of the disrespect this would communicate towards the office of the President.
So what’s a reasonable way forward for Notre Dame, to address the scandal caused by its actions and restore its reputation as an authentically Catholic institution of higher education?
Dr. Donald Condit, a Catholic doctor and Notre Dame alumnus who lives in Michigan, offers this suggestion about how this could be done: Allow Obama to serve as commencement speaker, but refrain from bestowing upon him an honorary degree in order to communicate Notre Dame’s complete opposition to the president’s extreme anti-life political agenda.
Dr. Condit outlined his proposal in an email sent today to the Register:
“Obviously, Father Jenkins is in a very difficult position. A compromise would be for him to point out the commencement speaker invitations went out last fall to both candidates, consistent with historical precedent. Recently elected President Obama just accepted.
“However, since he has become president his policies have been contrary to the dignity deserved by vulnerable human beings.
“Since Father Jenkins in a humble servant of the Church, and in gratitude to bishops and cardinals as well as the Catholic community at large who have reminded him of his duty of fidelity to the Holy Father and Magisterium, Notre Dame cannot confer an honoris causa degree upon Barack Obama.
“Let the President of the United States come to campus.
“Honor the graduating students with a dignified commencement celebration — they deserve it!
“Mary Ann Glendon, faithful faculty, students, and the alumni will remind him and the world we are all created in the image and likeness of God and deserve respect from the moment of conception until natural death.”
Dr. Condit’s idea is definitely worth considering. And he has much more of a stake in the commencement controversy than most Catholics: He is a second-generation Notre Dame alumnus and his daughter is a member of the 2009 graduating class whose accomplishments will be celebrated at Notre Dame’s May 17 commencement.
As Dr. Condit said in a March 26 letter to Father Jenkins, “As a parent, as a Catholic, and as alumni, I am dismayed by your invitation to honor Barack Obama with a Notre Dame degree.
“As a proud parent of a third generation Notre Dame student, I am angry this controversy will detract from the primary focus of graduation day. These students and their families have a sacrificed so much and deserve a celebration, not prestige seeking, protest soliciting, pandemonium.
“As a Catholic who is trying to fight the culture of death in the public square, I am so disillusioned with Notre Dame being criticized by Bishops for “public disobedience.” I am on the front lines doing all I can in Christ’s name, including serving as President of the Dooley Society, and now my alma mater is honoring the most pro-abortion president this country has ever seen. I am considering returning my diploma and if my father, Richard ‘55, had not worn my class ring at his funeral Mass I would send it as well.
“As alumni in a formerly proud ND family, I feel sick that I will not ever want another family member to apply to this institution of hypocrisy. Awarding a Notre Dame degree to someone who threatens human rights is inconsistent with claiming to be a Catholic university.
“Father Jenkins, in your inaugural address you promised ‘to build a Notre Dame that is bigger and better than ever — a great Catholic university for the 21st century.’ You quoted Pope John Paul II. Why should I have to remind you he wrote ‘The common outcry which is justly made on behalf of human rights — for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture — is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination’ in Christifideles Laici? (1988, no. 38)
“May Our Lady guide you in reconsidering honors for a politician who has subsequently made decisions and promoted policy inconsistent with the mission of the University of Notre Dame, and contrary to our Catholic Church.”
“Sincerely and prayerfully, in Christ,
Donald P. Condit, MD, MBA, ’80”