Notre Dame taught a clear lesson today, in its decision to have President Obama as a commencement speaker and to award him an honorary degree. That lesson is this: American politicians can freely embrace abortion and face no negative consequences at all. Any pro-abortion politician who climbs to the top of Benjamin Disraeli’s “greasy pole” will get nothing but applause and praise from those who now run Notre Dame.
The Second Vatican Council defines abortion as an “unspeakable crime.” Not so Notre Dame. Father Jenkins’ effusive introduction of Obama never hinted that abortion is an “unspeakable crime.” According to Father Jenkins, nothing is “unspeakable” because what matters is that we have a “dialogue,” even though “Difference must be acknowledged, and in some cases even cherished.” Amazingly, he praised Obama’s supposed courage in coming to a place that showered him with applause, that vigorously arrested all pro-life demonstrators coming onto campus, and that provided him with a photo opportunity more effective than millions of dollars spent on campaign ads in demonstrating to Catholics that they need not worry about a candidate’s support for abortion in deciding how to vote: “Most of the debate has centered on Notre Dame’s decision to invite and honor the President. Less attention has been focused on the President’s decision to accept. President Obama has come to Notre Dame, though he knows full well that we are fully supportive of Church teaching on the sancity of human life, and we oppose his policies on abortion and embryonic stem cell research.” How Notre Dame opposed Obama’s policies was not described. In fact, it is not at all clear from Notre Dame’s own statements that it does oppose Obama’s policies on abortion and stem cell research. Notre Dame’s official press release on the commencement noted that Obama’s “stance on abortion was likely unacceptable to some” at Notre Dame. And Father Jenkins could not even bring himself to say that the policies Obama supports are wrong, much less evil. Describing things as they are would apparently interfere with the “dialogue” Father Jenkins is so excited about.
Any politician watching today’s spectacle would have to conclude that the worst risk he runs from such as Notre Dame in supporting abortion is that he will be given an honorary degree, applauded, and told that it is important to “dialogue.” This lesson is especially harmful to the dwindling band of pro-life Democrats. Given the national Democratic party’s ironclad support for abortion, pro-life Democrats take a stance that prevents them from aspiring to their party’s presidential nomination. And, if such politicians take a pro-life stance for fear of Catholic opposition, Notre Dame sent a powerful signal today that they limit their ambitions for no good reason.
Obama has not been reticent in voicing his support for the “unspeakable crime” of abortion. Obama does not even claim to be “personally opposed” to abortion. Instead, he said during the campaign that he would not want his daughters “punished” with a baby if they engaged in premarital sex. His unstinting advocacy for abortion is a matter of public record, and he did not retreat from it at all at Notre Dame. Instead, he indicated in his speech that he has already learned that he has nothing to fear from Catholic prelates eager for “dialogue.” His praise for the late Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago obscured the salient point that nothing Bernardin said or did caused Obama to modify in any way his support for abortion. Even some of the Obama lines that drew applause at Notre Dame at least hinted at his opposition to Catholic teaching. Obama drew applause when he called for “reducing unintended pregnancies”—a likely reference to the federal funding for artificial contraception that Obama supports—and when he called for “health care policies” with “respect for the quality of life”—the same terminology used by those advocating for euthanasia.
It should not have been like this at a Catholic university, particularly at a Catholic university as inextricably intertwined with the American Catholic idenity as Notre Dame. As John Paul II wrote in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, “But today, in many people’s consciences, the perception of [abortion’s] gravity has become progressively obscured. The acceptance of abortion in the popular mind, in behaviour and even in law itself, is a telling sign of an extremely dangerous crisis of the moral sense, which is becoming more and more incapable of distinguishing between good and evil, even when the fundamental right to life is at stake. Given such a grave situation, we need now more than ever to have the courage to look the truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name, without yielding to convenient compromises or to the temptation of self-deception.” By awarding Obama an honorary degree and showering him with applause and praise, Notre Dame has assisted mightily in obscuring the gravity of abortion. And, when Obama appoints the next pro-abortion justice to the Supreme Court, signs a law providing for the federal funding of abortion, or signs the Freedom of Choice Act—all things he is committed to doing—he will be able to say, with some justice, that he is doing so with the imprimatur of Fr. Jenkins and the nihil obstat of the Notre Dame Board of Trustees.