Barack Obama was the wrong choice at Notre Dame

  • April 16, 2009
{mosimage}Barack Obama has become a rock star of global politics, among the hottest tickets on the planet right now, but his support for abortion and stem-cell research made him an inappropriate choice to headline graduation ceremonies at a renowned Catholic institution.

The University of Notre Dame was dead wrong to invite Obama to speak at its commencement and to award him an honorary degree.

It’s a weak argument for university administrators to contend that incoming U.S. presidents have for many years been extended this invitation. Notre Dame still hangs crucifixes in its lecture halls and its first loyalty should have been to the church and its bishops, who have categorically held that no Catholic institution should honour those “who act in defiance of our moral principles,” nor give them “awards, honours or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

Notre Dame missed an opportunity to make a statement. It should have given Obama a Fighting Irish snub. Instead it extended a welcome that, if not entirely open-armed, was far too friendly.

But maybe in an unintended and unexpected way the invitation was a bad decision that generated at least one positive outcome. It energized Catholics and sparked a debate that, at its roots, is about what it means to be a defender of the faith.

The debate was particularly emotional in the United States. Americans are invigorated by argument and relish opportunities to attack topics that Canadians too often shun. Watching them, it’s hard to not covet thy neighbour’s passion.

Still, judging by letters to the editor, web site comments and phone calls to The Catholic Register, the Notre Dame controversy has spilled across the border. The voices may be fewer and the opinions less shrill, but the sentiment is genuine.

Obama is on the wrong side of this question, which is a shame because otherwise his world vision would make him an ideal candidate to address a graduating class of future leaders. 

Obama speaks convincingly of a world without nuclear weapons. He is determined to end the American folly in Iraq, calm tensions with Iran and bring dignity to Palestinians. He is working to improve relations with Russia and China, and open a dialogue with Cuba.

At home, he has declared war on corporate greed and initiated a $10-trillion economic stimulus plan. He has encouraging strategies for education, health care, race relations and poverty. On the environment, he speaks convincingly of preserving the planet and all God’s creatures.

He brings a message of hope and renewal on many topics that should resonate with young people as they prepare to trade the comfort of a university campus for the bumps and bruises awaiting them in a world choked by economic and political turmoil.

But on the question of preservation of life Obama stands contrary to the church and the bishops. That doesn’t mean he should be demonized, but it does make it wrong to honour him at a Catholic institution.

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