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

  • http://www.acton.org Anthony Pienta

    Actually, according the the Cardinal Newman Society, 76 US bishops have spoken out in opposition to Notre Dame’s decision to honor President Obama. That’s coupled with the 363,500 that have signed the petition opposing Notre Dame’s move.

  • Noel

    I am a graduate of Notre Dame (1972) and son of a graduate of Notre Dame (1949). The school I went to would stand behind its President 200%. I am prouder now of my Alma Mater than ever before after watching the Obama speech: and I am a DOMER that has never missed watching ND football since 1972. Of course, most of us Catholics believe abortion is totally reasonable under special circumstances. I was thought this when I was in my Catholic grammar school. People like Michael James do not represent the silent catholic majority. Lets work to reduce the necessity for abortion together and quit listening to these old square radicals…

  • John K.

    That’s a very well written and thoughtful letter. NDU may not miss your money now. But, it should certainly be concerned as it continues to devalues its unique stature and status.

  • Makr H

    I am pro-life, abortion breaks my heart.
    Mr. Miller, ND really doesn’t need your money or mine. Their endowment is in the 10′s of BILLIONS. I do have a criticism of bestowing an honorary degree on Obama b/c it seems to give implicit approval to the man’s legal judgments which are flawed. I do not share in the moral outrage regarding his attendance. Merely drawing a line in the sand and essentially calling another the enemy – in THIS case is not helpful to the cause. Building a relationship of trust and dialogue MAY. Had Obama been disinvited by ND in the wake of the controversy, the number of abortions would not have magically gone down, but the number of reasons for the secularists to plug their ears to Catholicism would have gone up. Real life relations ane messy and uncomfortable. Jesus wants us in the frey, not building a Castel St. Angelo to hide out in.

  • Ken Boyer

    Notre Dame needs to decide if it can still call itself a Roman Catholic institution. They need to either stand up for what their church believes or jettison their religious identity. I’m not Catholic, but I am still saddened and bewildered by professing Christians who believe it is a “necessary evil” to allow unborn children to be torn, ripped, or flushed from the womb of their mothers. What ever happened to the commandment, “Love thy neighbor as thyself?” If your unborn child is not your closest neighbor, who is?

  • http://mmoretti.com Mark Moretti

    The president should not have been invited, nor should he have been given an honorary degree. His position on abortion is antithetical to that of the Church.
    Obama’s position on dialogue is that we can talk all we want, he’s not changing. Who wouldn’t want to promote dialogue when all the benefits accrue to the promoter at no cost?
    Notre Dame’s actions are representative of too many Catholics who refuse to take a strong stand on the issue of abortion. It’s representative of why, 35 years since Roe, dialogue has gotten us to the point where abortion continues with practically no restrictions.

  • Gary Bourbeau

    A great commentary, Mr. Miller. As I was reading it I couldn’t help but think about the all talk and no action steps taken during the Clinton administration in response to Al-Quaida and terrorism…until 9/11 woke us up. Hopefully, the Vatican and the American bishops will stand up and strip Notre Dame of its ability to be identified as a Catholic university. Let’s not wait until Notre Dame opens up the President Obama/Planned Parenthood abortion clinic on campus! And for those of you mesmerized by the opportunity to dialogue with Mr. Obama, don’t hold your breath. He will continue to seek dialogue until we all agree with his great insights and go along with his ideas.

  • Theresa Camoriano

    I also am a graduate of Notre Dame (1976 and 1977)and appreciate your comments. It is disappointing to see what ND has come to stand for these days. Dialog and debate are fine, but that is not what this was about. ND should not have bestowed honors on a man who has taken the most extreme positions against Catholic teachings regarding the taking of innocent human life, regardless of his political power. It reflects great moral confusion on the part of the ND administration, which is responsible for teaching morality to the students. Very sad.

  • http://familycoalitionparty.com Giuseppe Gori

    Noel commented on May 17: “Of course, most of us Catholics believe abortion is totally reasonable under special circumstances.” and he remembers: ” I was thought this when I was in my Catholic grammar school.”

    So, he thinks that in moral matters, and possibly in Church doctrine, we can apply the majority rule. What depth of moral understanding for an ND graduate!

    And what scrupulous research of the position of the Catholic Church makes him quote what he remembers he was supposedly taught at ND by 1972. I doubt that by then ND was already in contradiction with the Church on the non-negotiable issue of life.
    I suspect Noel remembers what the media dished to him in 30 years (and many hours/week) of television indoctrination.

    He represents the average person who calls himself “Catholic”.
    God save us from “Catholics!”

    Giuseppe Gori
    giuseppegori.blogspot.com
    ggori on Twitter

  • http://familycoalitionparty.com Giuseppe Gori

    P.S.
    Just in case Noel may wonder what he was taught:

    The intent of abortion is to kill an unborn baby.
    Other procedures that have the intent of saving the life of the mother or the baby or both are not abortions. For example, a C-section procedure is an abortion if the intent is to kill the baby, while it is an ethical procedure if the intent is to allow the baby to be born and live.

    In the same way, an intervention to correct an ectopic pregnancy (for example when the embryo is developing in the Fallopian tube) or an intervention to remove a cancer of the uterus are not abortions, as the intent is to save both lives, or at least the life of the mother, when possible.

    Thus abortion (the intentional “termination” of a normal pregnancy and the intentional killing of the baby), is always wrong.

    The position of the Church is very clear and has always been consistent (no matter what Nancy Pelosi thinks she can teach the Pope).

    For a Catholic public figure, who has all the information available and the responsibility to study that information, defending abortion on the basis of false “exceptions” or any other argument is enough reason for excommunication.

  • Neal Lang

    “Lets work to reduce the necessity for abortion together and quit listening to these old square radicals…”

    Other than pride, selfishness and vanity, actually what makes abortion NECESSARY?

    “Of course, most of us Catholics believe abortion is totally reasonable under special circumstances.”

    Exactly what “special circumstances” might that be.

    The baby may interrupt my career? I wont look good in my bikini? None of my close will fit?

    Abortion is never “reasonable” – at most it is a terrible choice between the life of the mother and the life of her unborn child.

    “Lets work to reduce the necessity for abortion together and quit listening to these old square radicals…”

    AS the an abortion can only be necessary in the very rare circumstances of the possible death of the mother, we can truly make very rare if we limited to those cirstances ONLY. And only after a serious effort to save both the mother and the child.

  • Sue

    I wonder if Notre Dame has any either direct or indirect links with the Pentagon? That is does it in any way receive financial support from the Pentagon? Is any of the research conducted within Notre Dame, either in the soft or hard sciences, in any way funded by the Pentagon? The business of Pentagon being of course mega-scale death.

    The same applies to other Christian universities too.

    Perhaps this matter should be thoroughly investigated and the appropriate moral outrage be thus generated in response.

  • Sue

    Meanwhile this week the world was informed about the decades long systematic abuse of children by Irish priests and nuns. And of the systematic conspiracy to cover up the matter.

    No doubt many of the priests and nuns, and their bureaucrat protectors would have all been very one pointedly righteous re abortion.

    What is also interesting in the creation of this report is that the priests and nuns (etc) were given the immunity of not being named and shamed.

    In my opinion those who are still living be subject to the full force of the law. The priests should also be de-frocked and even ex-communicated.

    Where is the necessary moral outrage on this blog.

  • Thomas Sundaram

    You know, Michael, seeing as you have all that donation money lying around, I was thinking you COULD give it to Thomas Aquinas College… :-D

    heeheehee.

    I was just talking with some of my dad’s co-workers about this, and they all seemed to think it was okay that a Catholic institution gave Obama a law degree (keep in mind they are Hindu engineers, and therefore a bit squishy on such things) until I explained to them how ND had to compromise its entire identity and historical legacy, along with the trust of even those Catholics not at ND (like me) who were still counting on it to be some kind of Catholic university. People just don’t realize how DUMB Fr. Jenkins acted. Thanks for writing this…along with the recent First Things issue, it’s good to see some (healthy) moral outrage come from people who have the right to have it.

  • http://www.pricebonus.com/ PB

    Notre Dame needs to decide if it can still call itself a Roman Catholic institution. They need to either stand up for what their church believes or jettison their religious identity. I’m not Catholic, but I am still saddened and bewildered by professing Christians who believe it is a “necessary evil” to allow unborn children to be torn, ripped, or flushed from the womb of their mothers. What ever happened to the commandment, “Love thy neighbor as thyself?” If your unborn child is not your closest neighbor, who is?

  • Neal Lang

    “The business of Pentagon being of course mega-scale death.”

    No, in fact, the business of the Pentagon is actually preventing “mega-scale death.” Only someone who blinded to the nearly 50 million dead innocent unborn children in the US alone – all sacrificed on the altar of a women’s choice to murder her children, would not see that.