Friday, April 24, 2009

Loverde on Obama at Notre Dame

Well, I suppose I'm not surprised. Our bishop, Paul Loverde, has added his name to the list of 46 bishops calling for Notre Dame to rescind its invitation to President Barack Obama to speak at Commencement. And, as with the others, the rhetoric is utterly over the top: "However, given the unique national prominence of Notre Dame among Catholic universities, the decision by a few administrators to give him a platform and honor on Commencement Day will be damaging to the Church, to the pro-life cause and, ultimately, to the university itself."

Wrong, Monseñor Obispo. What IS damaging to the Church and to Notre Dame is this excessive and often verbally violent campaign against academic freedom that is making many thinking Catholics want to find another religion and is making the Church a laughingstock in the public media. Not to mention the racially divisive dimension -- pitting minority student groups against the pro-life movement which is already viewed as basically a white, middle-class phenomenon with very little interest in the problems of the poor, the immigrant community, etc...The institutional Church turns out in droves for the National Right to Life March but when it comes time to march for immigrant rights, you can count the habits and Roman collars on the fingers of one hand.

On the positive side, 23 student groups at Notre Dame have united to send a letter to president John Jenkins, supporting his decision to remain firm on the invitation to President Obama and from the list, you can understand what I mean about the racial divisiveness of this campaign by the conservative wing of the Church. The groups are:

Africa Faith and Justice Network
African Student Association
Anthropology Club
Asian International Society
Black Cultural Arts Council
Brazil Club
Campus Labor Action Project
College Democrats
Feminist Voice
Human Rights- Notre Dame
Indian Association of Notre Dame
Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano De Azatlan de Notre Dame
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, ND
Native American Student Association of Notre Dame
ND for Animals
Notre Dame Peace Fellowship
Outreach ND
Progressive Student Alliance
Shades of Ebony
Spanish Club
Students for Environmental Action
Sustained Dialogue at Notre Dame
The Wabruda

Also, the AAUP has issued a statement of support for Jenkins, saying: "The American Association of University Professors applauds Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins for standing firm on the university’s decision to invite President Obama and for exemplifying by his actions the words of his predecessor, Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, who stated unequivocally that “the Catholic university must have true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.” The opportunity to be confronted with diverse opinions is at the core of academic freedom, which is vital to a free society and a quality education. The AAUP will continue to work to ensure such academic freedom."


  1. Thank God we've got you to instruct the American episcopate about what's "damaging to the Church and Notre Dame".

  2. I'm not "instructing the American episcopate". The bishops involved in this campaign against Obama's speaking engagement at Notre Dame are only a fraction of the American episcopate.

    I would also like to point out that this is not a "life" issue. Were President Obama's commencement address to be canceled tomorrow, not a single abortion would be stopped, not a single baby's life would be saved.

    What WOULD happen is that Notre Dame's reputation as an institution of higher learning where students are, and should be, exposed to a variety of points of view would be tarnished. The graduating class and their parents would be deprived of an historical moment: hearing from the first African American president. His election was a source of joy to many who finally felt that the country had started to overcome its legacy of racism.

    This is very much about academic freedom, freedom of speech, and that censorship should have a limited role, if any, at the university level (something I learned as part of my education at another Catholic institution -- the Catholic University of America).

  3. I disagree. First of all, why are you so sure that a symbolic act like rescinding the honors would not save a single life? That's no less speculative than predicting that it will lead to a ripple effect that saves lives. For want of a nail, the shoe was lost etc. etc. But even if it doesn't succeed in doing so, that doesn't detach it from being a life issue.

    In a similar vein, let me point out that presidential commencement speech and honorary degree will not measurably enhance the variety of points of view to which ND students are exposed, and canceling will not diminish that variety. Even those ardently opposed to what ND has done here are not suggesting that Obama or his ideas be censored or blackballed from campus; in fact many have proposed better and more appropriate ways to engage them on campus. It's very difficult to make the case that this is really about academic freedom, freedom of speech, or censorship, and I have yet to see anyone make a strong showing to that effect.

  4. You are correct that it is speculative either way. I was thinking of all the energy focused on this Commencement as opposed to, for example, volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center where one might meet a real woman who was contemplating aborting her baby and talking her out of it by offering her a viable alternative. But that requires a lot more effort than signing an online petition or marching around for a couple of hours with a sign showing bloody fetuses...

  5. Well, I take your point. However, one could turn that around by noting that signing an online petition doesn't take away from time spent doing other things for the pro-life cause. Even participating in marches and such doesn't mean you can't do other things. Are you really down on the marches and petitions because you think they don't show enough commitment?

    Also, it occurs to me that crisis pregnancy center work and that sort of thing is going to save some lives and help reduce the human toll of abortion. However, that sort of thing by itself it is not going to redress the injustice of abortion laws.

    Abolitionists in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries circulated petitions, held demonstrations and so forth. They even made propaganda posters bearing images considered shocking in order to graphically convey the sufferings of slaves (the famous image of a diagram of a slave ship was probably the best-known of these). As far as I can tell, the things the anti-commencement/pro-life crowd are doing on the Internet and in South Bend have pretty honorable antecedents in the great social justice movements of the modern era.

    Anyhow, I would be genuinely interested to pursue further why you think this ND commencement flap is about academic freedom, freedom of speech or censorship. In my view, that's been the biggest red herring of the whole controversy, but you obviously think otherwise and I'd like to hear you out.