Acton Institute Powerblog

Notre Dame: Decline, Fall, and the Options

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I visited Notre Dame last year at this time to meet with a few professors for the purpose of academic networking. My university was hiring and I hoped to hear about Christian doctoral students ready for their first job. As I walked across the snow-covered campus, I was a little in awe of how wonderfully the sacred space had been planned and laid out.

But when I met with one older professor who had been with the university for quite some time, he expressed a great deal of regret for how his student (the current president) was making decisions. Looking around his office, I noticed photographs of Martin Luther King, Jr. holding hands with priests protesting the injustice of segregation. I thought to myself, if this man feels something good has been lost at Notre Dame, it must truly be so.

When I heard about Notre Dame’s decision to invite President Obama to speak and receive an honorary doctorate, I could not believe it. I knew the university had liberalized. I knew many faithful Catholics felt ND had lost its way, but I also knew many fine, Christian scholars populated its offices and classrooms. How could it be that the university many of us point to when we aspire to building a great Christian academic institution would invite a president to speak and receive and honorary doctorate when he could not liberalize abortion laws quickly enough upon taking office?

Has the protection of unborn and newly born life not been a distinctive of the Christian church from the beginning? Did not the Catholic church act convincingly to remind evangelicals and others of their duties to protect life?

All I can think about as I watch this great university rushing to honor a president who considers the question of when life begins to be above his pay grade and yet who acts to liberalize the capacity to extinguish it is that Notre Dame is trading its heritage for the applause of the culture. Friend, Father Jenkins, I pray that you would consider the quality of the culture whose applause you seek.

As Walker Percy, a self-proclaimed bad Catholic who was actually a great one said, there is decline and fall and then there are the options. Choose life instead, sir. I say that to both of these presidents. One, the president of a university, and the other, a president of a nation.

Hunter Baker Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph.D. is an associate professor of political science at Union University and an Affiliate Scholar in Religion & Politics at the Acton Institute. He is the author of The End of Secularism and Political Thought: A Student's Guide.


  • Joe Zwack

    Our family has emailed and written to Fr. Jenkins regarding ND’s contemptible invitation to Mr. Obama—who holds the worst record for partial birth abortion, abortion in general, embryo stem cell research, voting against providing aid to babies who survive botched abortions, etc.

    We Catholics either stand for something or we do not. The only message screamed from the ND invitation to Prez Obama is that ND stands for NOTHING except possibly secular political correctness. Forget Catholicism, the natural law, the bible and tradition.

    What a disappointment. Our family has had it with Catholic education in general and Notre Dame in particular. Period.

  • Joseph Zuramski Jr.

    Dear Catholics – It is time to let your Priests, Bishops etc- know that we need to unite for Catholism and Christianity, we need to preach from the pulpit politics that will benifit our religious way of thinking. If the black churches can preach politics and not loose their tax status then so can we. Why can’t we talk about politicans who want to change our religious rights and our rights as Christians and our rights as a Democracy.
    I don’t know about you but I want less Government involvement in my life and especially in my religious beliefs. I don’t want Catholic Hospitals to have to abide by government rules I want them to abide by our religious beliefs that all life is sacred.
    Wake up Christian America! Talk Judao/Catholic/Christian politics and only Vote for people that will do likewise.
    Our Pope stood up to the likes of Nancy Pelosi, he sees she is a Catholic by name only.
    God Save America

  • Truly, I believe that this Notre Dame issue as well as our very own President Obama, are a blessing to our Catholic Faith!

    Yes,yes…….we finally, as a Church (the people), are speaking and people are listening! Mostly all of our fellow Catholics who have left the church (they just put Christ on the shelf temporarily, so to speak)are also listening and wondering…….what have I done?

    We, CATHOLICS, need to stand up for Our Lord and His Church and that is what all of this has done. It is about time that we stand up for what the Church stands for and what we the people want! Thank You for listening to me.

  • James Ecos

    Judas has returned for another Good Friday. Hope he does not melt the dome for 30 pieces

  • Charles Alsobrook III

    St. Ambrose….PLEASE pray for us!!!

  • Bill Hayes

    2009/03/28 via e-mail.
    Fr. John Jenkins,
    Shame! For 30 pieces of silver and acceptance by the mob, you prostitute your school and your faith.
    Bill Hayes, BEE 1955 Villanova.

  • GregS

    I just saw the “open letter” from Father Hugh W. Cleary, Holy Cross superior general in Rome.

    I find it weak, and at points insulting.

    The good Father considers this a “teachable moment”. Really? This, after stating that the university was “honored” to be giving him an honorary degree. Exactly what is Fr. Cleary teaching the faithful with this statement? Incredible.

    It seems that Father Cleary is just as out of touch as president Obama. Perhaps he needs a refresher course in the sancitity of human life, and how to go about defending it.

  • yvonne reynolds

    I am shamed and disgusted at this invitation. A nation that is based on murder for the helpless cannot survive – nor can a university that supports such an idea.

  • Carmen and Greg

    I completely agree with Terri W. who believes good with come from this mess.

    I’ve often felt that many of my fellow Catholics were often too silent on issues where some strong moral voices needed to be heard.

    Now perhaps with this ND issue being debated and discussed so openly, we can come together as One Body and speak out on THE most profound issue today: the sanctity of life.

    Maybe this is the beginning of many more such respectful and peaceful protestations against the “culture of death” agenda of this president. This could be the beginning of such a movement.

    And often, during such times, people may rediscover their faith and be renewed in their hearts. It is Lent, after all. All things are possible.

    I am consoled and heartened by the words of so many in this link and the other ones on this site.

  • Jovi Dacanay

    President Obama may signify the triumph of American Democracy to transcend racial issues, and opt for equality for all human beings, even that of the post for American Presidency.

    The Catholic Faith has been a staunch defender of equal dignity for all human beings regardless of race. Fr. De Vitoria from the University of Salamanca is the 15th century precursor of the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights.

    However, the unborn are human beings as well. Their protection and the recognition of their right to life forms part of the binding “choice” to respect life. Biologically, life starts even before birth. Respect for life has always been a binding commitment. If President Obama is anti-slavery and anti-racial discrimination, why does he discriminate against the unborn, just so as to protect the decision of the mother?

    The decision by Rev. Jenkins and the Management Committee of Notre Dame University may have done this move as a signal that this once revered institution in the Catholic intellectual tradition has now chosen to be liberal and egalitarian (perhaps utilitarian) on its stand to life issues.