Statement on the University of Notre Dame
With shock and deep distress I learned that the University of Notre Dame has invited one of the most pro-abortion politicians ever to appear on the American political stage to be the commencement speaker at Notre Dame on May 17 and to receive an honorary degree.
The University has maintained that it does not agree with President Barack Obama on abortion. In his encyclical "On the Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful," Pope John Paul II teaches that it is unacceptable for one to be right on all the other social issues and wrong on abortion because the right to life is the most basic human and civil right. That is why the protection also of unborn human life has been a perennial core Catholic teaching based on the natural law. Although the University claims to be opposed to abortion, this issue is apparently not deemed important enough to preclude Mr. Obama's receiving honors at the Notre Dame Commencement. Other reasons for honoring him seem to be considered more significant than concerns about abortion.
There is a serious dichotomy between what the University says it believes and what it does. When a university confers honorary degrees and the honor of being selected as a commencement speaker, it is always perceived as a sign of approval and support. That is why in their document of 2004 ("Catholics in Political Life") the United States Bishops stated: "The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions." This passage is addressed first of all to Catholic institutions. It was Notre Dame which extended this invitation and initiated this scandal. The honorary degree and the honor of a speaker's platform obviously contradict the declaration by the United States Bishops and its intention.
Furthermore, it should be noted that the Bishop of the Diocese in which the University is located also refuses to attend the commencement. I declare myself in support of and in solidarity with Bishop John D'Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
It does not seem exaggerated to conclude that Notre Dame is not one with what the Catholic Church believes and teaches. Consequently, how can Father John Jenkins, President, purport to uphold and advocate for the Catholic mission of the institution?
Another tragic dimension of this invitation is that it sends a mixed message regarding the sacredness of all human life. Today no one would tolerate a mixed message on race. Why should a mixed message on the inviolability of human life itself be tolerated?
The attempts to justify this invitation represent for so many a pathetic trivialization of Notre Dame's Catholic identity. The toxic residue from this scandal will be the perception that Notre Dame has made dissent in the Catholic Church respectable. This cannot be looked upon as a paradigm to be followed by others.
For the sake of those yet to be educated at Notre Dame, for the good of the Church which Father Jenkins, as a religious priest, is vowed to serve, I urge him to do what is honorable by acknowledging the crisis and having the courage to cease and desist from pursuing the deconstruction and division he has embarked upon.
May 4, 2009
+ Lawrence E. Brandt
The Most Reverend Lawrence E. Brandt, JCD, PhD
Bishop of Greensburg