It’s been several weeks since I’ve been able to revisit the ongoing drama of President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to the University of Notre Dame, now only a month away. Here is where I did a column on the uproar over a pro-choice president being asked to speak at the May 17 commencement of a traditional Catholic college.
Since then, it’s been one thing after another. Some 264,000 signatories have signed an online petition floated by the Cardinal Newman Society to ask the university to un-invite the president. In what seems like a bizarre turnabout, the president of Notre Dame, the Rev. John Jenkins, has told 12 campus groups opposing the Obama visit that he’s decided to rescind an earlier decision to meet with them. Read about that here.
Thirty-three Catholic bishops have issued some kind of statement criticizing Notre Dame’s decision to host the president. Notre Dame’s own bishop, John D’Arcy, is boycotting the event. However, leaders of 28 Jesuit colleges have lined up to support Notre Dame. And a coalition of alumni have launched a Web site asking donors to withhold their contributions to the university until Father Jenkins is replaced.
Notre Dame is not the only Catholic institution in the headlines. Xavier University in New Orleans, a Jesuit institution, has announced plans to honor Democratic political commentator and pro-choice activist Donna Brazile at commencement on May 9. Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, also Jesuit institution, will host MSNBC celebrity Chris Matthews as its commencement speaker on May 16 plus award him an honorary doctorate in communications. Mr. Matthews is also to the left on abortion.
It is a mystery to some of us as to why the latter two invites have been handed out. Notre Dame’s excuse is that it always invites the sitting president. All of the recent ones — except Bill Clinton — have gone. As for Donna Brazile and Chris Matthews, they would fall under the category of those personalities that Catholic colleges should not invite, much less honor at their functions, according to a 2004 statement released by the nation’s Catholic bishops. One wonders why these universities simply spurn those instructions. Catholic commentator Patrick Buchanan wonders here if Notre Dame should even be called Catholic.
American Catholicism is definitely at war with itself — or at least with its institutions of higher learning. We’re still waiting to find out what form anti-Obama protests will take on the day of commencement, but I’m betting he might not get the same rapturous welcome there that he enjoyed this past Tuesday at Georgetown University.
— Julia Duin, religion editor