Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Obama goes back to school

When it was learned that President Obama was not going to get an honorary degree from Arizona State, the left “netroots” were outraged. How could a sitting president speaking at a graduation commencement be denied an honorary degree?

And you can see their concern. After all, it’s not like President Obama has much else to his resume to justify a mention in Who’s Who. A couple of honorary degrees on the wall to fluff up his anemic record of experience can only help.

Meanwhile, Catholic university Notre Dame is being a bit more hospitable. President Obama has been invited to speak at their graduation commencement as well, and they, too, are adding a decoration to the President’s wall.

Unfortunately, the issue is a bit more serious than at ASU.

Notre Dame is a Catholic university. As a Catholic university, the expectation of the university is that it attempts to inculcate some semblance of Catholic teaching in it’s student body, and that the scholarship should be to the promotion of Catholic beliefs.

President Obama is not Catholic. That in itself is not a problem. Notre Dame welcomes all to its campus in expectation that something of the Catholic experience will touch all who come to visit and to learn.

But President Obama is actively hostile to some of the very basic tenets of the Catholic Church, including the sanctity of human life, especially at its earliest stages. More over, President Obama is actively hostile to the very notion that the Catholic belief should be respected beyond just as a source of identity.

President Obama is supportive of the passage of the misnamed “Freedom of Choice Act.” FOCA, as it is known, would make national the legalization of abortion under any circumstance. Worse, FOCA as it is currently conceived would deny the right of Catholic medical providers (and others) not to perform abortions despite the Catholic prohibition to abortion.

No less a figure than New York’s new Archbishop Timothy Dolan has said if FOCA were to become law, Catholic hospitals across the country would be forced to close.

This is not an idle threat. When Massachusetts legalized gay marriage, and required that adoption agencies recognize gay marriages when considering the placement of children, the Catholic adoption agencies in that state closed.

It’s a matter of deepest conscience and faith, and while many on the left seek to limit the influence of religious thought in the public square, President Obama and his followers do not see that the public square should have any limits in imposing its will upon the Catholic faith.

President Obama’s support of legalized abortion surpasses those elected officials who claim to be opposed to abortion personally but believe it’s legal status should be protected. Upon taking office, President Obama reversed the “Mexico City” policy and federal funds again flowed to overseas organizations that promote abortion as a means of birth control.

This promotion of abortion is not for the usual exceptions cited: rape, incest and the life (health) of the mother. The change in policy is to promote more abortions among the poor of the Third World, as if those lives have less importance.

President Obama is also an advocate of using human embryos for scientific research, and using federal funds to promote the practice. We’re fortunate that so far his administration’s draft policy (subject to change) limits the killing of human embryos to those discarded as part of in-vitro fertilization, but having drawn such an artificial line of moral judgment the question remains how long before his administration will allow the cloning of human embryos in the lab solely for the purpose of scientific experimentation.

On these fundamental questions on which the Catholic Church has weighed in with full authority President Obama has revealed himself to be hostile to the very nature of Catholic teaching on the importance and sanctity of human life.

If there was any doubt that President Obama is hostile to the intent and mission of the Catholic universities, last week’s events surrounding the president’s appearance at Georgetown University should have erased them. Using the Catholic university as the backdrop for a public policy address, President Obama’s team made sure to eradicate any sight of religious imagery from the public’s eye as the president spoke.

Draping a cover over a statue by former Attorney General John Ashcroft was enough to draw the continual jeers by a Washington press corps ready to make sport of the religious. But President Obama’s fear of being pictured with any symbols of Christ and the Catholic religion has largely drawn silence of the mainstream media.

But Catholics should ask, if the President cannot stand to be seen by the side of Christ or the symbols of the Catholic Church, why then do we invite such a hostile figure into our academies of Catholic teaching? What is to be gained?

We understand why the president would seek such highly visible moments before the Catholic faithful. During his presidential campaign, it was reported how President Obama found himself short of Catholic support in the presidential primaries. As a politician, it’s natural to reach out to constituencies, especially those that have traditionally been part of the Democratic political coalition.

However, Catholicism is not an ethic identity, or just another social identity to be wooed like African Americans or union members. Being Catholic is not only something into which someone is born, but also a faith with strong teachings and intellectual traditions. Catholics are called to believe in a series of teachings starting with the recognition that Jesus Christ is Our Savior, that His Sacrifice is Our Redemption from mortal sin.

These teachings cannot be conveniently ignored when Caesar decides to bestow his greatness upon our presence. No more than the Jews would accept the statue of Caligula in their temple, or Christ tolerated the presence of the moneychangers in the temple, should we honor those who are hostile to the very precepts of our Church, regardless of the recognition and honor we would receive from secular sources in return?

Notre Dame’s president Father Jenkins wishes to honor the symbolic achievement of America electing an African American as president. Laudable, and President’s Obama’s rise to the position of the head of state should be congratulated, if uneasily. However, this can be done without honoring the president himself or providing a Catholic stage for his views. For in honoring President Obama, we honor the pride in the secular achievement over the sacred.

Father Jenkins assures the public that Notre Dame’s invitation to President Obama is part of a “dialogue” with him. Whom Father Jenkins has in mind to challenge President Obama’s thinking on his hostility to the basic protections of human life demanded by the Catholic Church he does not reveal.

It would certainly be unprecedented to have such a dialogue at a graduation commencement, when normally the speaker is expected to convey some important insight as advice to the graduating class. It’s normally assumed the speaker is an authority to whom the graduates should listen. What wisdom is it that Father Jenkins is hoping President Obama will convey to the graduating class?

Having lost sight of the meaning and mission of a Catholic university, perhaps Father Jenkins does not understand why the faithful among his students are protesting, why local Bishop D’Arcy has cancelled plans to attend, why Catholic bishops and organizations across the country are protesting Notre Dame’s invitation to the president and the university’s plan to give President Obama an honorary degree.

Maybe it’s because a degree from Notre Dame should represent a Catholic education, and not just a decoration on the wall.