I’ve been playing mental tennis with myself over the past three weeks, as to whether to write about the tempest in a teapot raised by some over President Barack Obama being the commencement speaker at my alma mater, the University of Notre Dame.
Understand one thing. Like most “Domers,” I carry a life-long love for that special place. Because of that, I finally decided to step up to the plate.
First, I consider it an honor for the University to have any American president deliver its commencement speech.
If you knew me at all, you would know that I have been as fierce a critic of former President George W. Bush as there is, particularly after he decided to attack a nation that had nothing to do with 9-11. The irresponsibility of that decision and the havoc it has wreaked upon our soldiers and marines, as well as hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people is in my mind, inexcusable.
That said, he was the president of the country, and had I attended the graduation ceremony where he spoke at Notre Dame, I would have remained respectfully silent, no matter how much I may have seethed inside.
Now, with Barack Obama scheduled to deliver this year’s commencement address, a number of conservative Catholics have banded together to attempt to stop this from happening. The good news is, they have not and will not succeed. For this, I heartily congratulate President John Jenkins, C.S.C., for having the strength of character to resist these pressures.
One of my dearest friends and former classmate’s opinion differs greatly from mine, which is okay. He feels this was the act of a university president who lives in fear of the faculty. My thoughts, were that true, is that I would far rather have him in fear of the faculty than the alumni! I believe neither assumption carries much water.
Upon peeling back the layers of the onion, one sees several agendas other than the fact that President Obama’s beliefs on stem cell research and a woman’s right to make her own reproductive choices are at odds with church theology. I’m not sure too many personal beliefs of past presidents would dovetail perfectly with those of conservative Catholics, and I’d be wary if they did.
With all the folderol around Ronald Reagan’s having played the movie role of Notre Dame football legend George Gipp, Reagan rarely attended church.
Another classmate/friend has persistently e-mailed to me copies of pronunciations and letters to the president from an ND grad who is apoplectic over the prospect of Mr. Obama’s appearance at the commencement.
I will pray for poor Father Jenkins, if he is forced to read much more of this claptrap! Somewhere in the middle of this missive, the author peels off into a foaming rant about Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the massive injustices he visited on the country (probably by helping to form an American middle class). Once I saw this, that old alarm bell went off in the back of my head. What a perfect place to attempt to settle “old scores;” well at least as old as last November’s election.
Like it or not, the University of Notre Dame bears perhaps the largest footprint of any Catholic University on the United States. What better way to fire up the right-wing, than to tie this to the school of the Fightin’ Irish?
A number of American Bishops, including the Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, stepped up and denounced Father Jenkins for his decision, and his invitation to Mr. Obama. I’m not convinced how much gravitas the Catholic Bishopric carries right now, considering their performance on other matters over the last few decades.
This also caused me to remember the polite, respectful, but ever-vigilant posture former University President Theodore H. Hesburgh extended over his almost four decades of leadership, in keeping the hands of the Vatican off the controls of the University. Guys from my era (the ‘60’s) understand that Father Ted’s vigilance and steady hand on the tiller made this university what it is today.
Another friend/classmate sent me a poll taken amongst current students, where 97% of the comments in the student newspaper strongly approved the selection of Barack Obama as their commencement speaker. When all is said and done, is this not their graduation?
For those who prefer a more dogmatic, doctrinaire approach, there is always pizza mogul Monahan’s Ave Maria University on Florida, or Catholic University in Washington D.C. which is under the direct control of the Vatican.