Acton Institute Powerblog

Notre Dame: Transform or Conform?

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As a graduate of Notre Dame I have been asked many times what I think of Notre Dame inviting President Barack Obama to speak at commencement and receive an honorary doctorate. Many have ably commented on this, including Fr. Sirico here at Acton, Dr. Donald Condit, and over 50 bishops. I think the ND Response video piece sums it up well. But I received a video appeal from Notre Dame the other day asking for money which prompted me to comment. (See my reply to the appeal below)

I think Fr. Jenkins made a serious mistake of judgment in inviting President Obama to the graduation. The controversy over President Obama coming to Notre Dame is not an argument about the value of open debate at a university; it is not about President Obama. It is about a Catholic institution honoring a public figure whose positions directly contradict those of the Catholic Church on the key non-negotiable issues of life.

Faithful Catholics are free to disagree about a host – in fact, the overwhelming majority – of political and economic issues, but some moral issues, like the sanctity and dignity of innocent human life, are not up for debate and never have been. See Cardinal Ratzinger’s Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion. General Principles especially paragraph #3

3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

Notre Dame’s president, Fr. Jenkins, has tried to justify the invitation on many levels, but the attempts have been exercises in sophistry. If you have any doubts on this score see Fr. Raymond De’Souza’s fine piece on the matter.

Despite the outcry against Notre Dame, Fr. Jenkins and his staff seem oblivious and continue business as usual. Just last week I received an e-mail from the Notre Dame development office with a video asking for money. The style was postmodern and adolescent, and the content of the appeal focused predominantly on race and environment–important concerns but tone deaf in the context of the current controversy.

Below is my (edited) response to the development appeal and my views on Notre Dame’s decision to honor the president.

Dear Sir or Madam

Thank you for the e-mail. In light of Fr. Jenkin’s imprudence and moral un-seriousness in inviting President Obama to give the commencement and receive an honorary doctorate, it seems further imprudent and disdainful of your alumni to send out an appeal like this at this time.

Either this is nuanced irony and self-deprecation of the highest order, which I doubt –or you live in such an insular world that you fail to recognize that you are asking people to donate to support a banal and vacuous sentiment of “transform the world” while the university is under serious criticism for brushing aside the fundamental moral and justice challenge of our time–the right to life of the unborn.

I would encourage you to read the late John Paul II on the relationship of the right to life to all other human rights. The notion that we can somehow transform the world through building race relations or supporting politically fashionable causes like the increasingly anti-human green movement while not defending the rights of the unborn is illusory, and dangerous. The deep trans-valuation that has taken place at Notre Dame is a sad commentary on Catholic education and on Fr. Jenkins leadership.

Notre Dame speaks of moral leadership and the call to transform the world, but while Notre Dame graduates are on the front lines fighting the evil of abortion, Fr. Jenkins and the senior staff apparent concern with prestige and sports and other trivial pursuits is a sign of underdeveloped moral and intellectual formation. There is, of course, a place for such things, but not in the midst of a controversy that goes to the heart of Notre Dame’s identity,

I hope and pray that the board has the fortitude and maturity to ask Fr. Jenkins to resign and to install someone who is morally serious, who will put an end to Notre Dame’s vacillation on the life issue, and cease these bathetic, (yes I mean bathetic) adolescent appeals, and focus on the things that matter.

Despite my gratitude for having been able to follow in my father’s footsteps (ND ‘48 and ‘53) and attend and graduate from Notre Dame I am deeply saddened by the reality that Notre Dame, while outwardly professing Catholicism, and (thankfully) while keeping many of the traditions, has in so many ways assimilated into the larger vulgar culture of secularism and moved away from a commitment to Truth, Beauty, and Goodness that is the hallmark of truly Catholic life and education.

It is with regret that I will not be supporting the university with donations, nor will I be able to recommend Notre Dame to the many bright young Catholic students with whom I come into contact in my work—not until changes are made: i.e., until Fr. Jenkins is replaced, and Notre Dame re-affirms its commitment to life and to genuinely transforming the world–not conforming to it

Most Sincerely,

Michael James Miller ’92

Michael Matheson Miller

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