Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Notre Dame Should Welcome Obama

BYU took a lot of flack for inviting Vice President Cheney to speak at a commencement. I strongly disagreed with those who protested Mr. Cheney's appearance. Whether you agree or disagree with him personally, as a holder of high political office, he represents not only himself, but our country. If you can't agree with his politics or policies, you can at least celebrate the chair he sits in.

My view about Obama speaking at a commencement at Notre Dame is the same. I disagree with President Obama's position on abortion. But the ideals that he stands for as the president of our country are far greater than the several policy issues where we differ. I would be proud to hear Mr. Obama speak at any event and to honor his as our president.

In writing this post, I had to ask myself if I would have taken the same position on President Clinton. I'll admit that I would have had a harder time supporting him speaking at some BYU event. I understand that a similar sense of revulsion drives those who oppose Mr. Cheney. But I would hope that the principle of open dialogue would prevail and that we would be willing to hear those who are our elected leaders and honor the great traditions of our country.


Scott Hinrichs said...

A staunch Catholic acquaintance of mine that is conservative agrees that President Obama should speak and be graciously treated by Notre Dame now that the speaking invitation has been extended and accepted. However, he feels that the university made a mistake when it decided to invite the President to speak. He does not fault the President for being who he is; he faults the university administration for exercising poor judgment.

This man explained to me that there is a significant ideological struggle occurring the Catholic community in the U.S. Some argue for strict alignment with the church's official policies coming from the Vatican. Others prefer a more liberal view of the U.S. church's relationship with Rome. This is actually something that has been going on for some time.

One of the main arguments during the years of strong anti-Catholicism in the U.S. was that no one that could kiss the Pope's ring could be a patriotic American or hold a trusted position. Only with JFK's presidency did this sentiment substantially wane. But the criticism helped engender a desire among some Catholics for a looser relationship with the Vatican.

Notre Dame had become almost completely secularized at one point before becoming somewhat more religiously oriented in recent years. It is, after all, the premier Catholic educational institution in the U.S. and serves an important symbolic role. The invitation of a man that holds one of the most extreme views on abortion -- a high profile issue for the church -- to speak at commencement seems like a signal to conservative Catholics that the university is again listing away from its ties to Vatican orthodoxy.

I don't see President Clinton speaking at BYU as quite the same thing. I do not believe that it left many with the impression that BYU leadership was out of step with church headquarters. Perhaps this helps explain the concern that conservative Catholics have about the precedent being set by Notre Dame inviting President Obama to speak at commencement.

Bradley Ross said...

Great comment. I read some stuff on that points out some official policy documents the church has issued to prohibit certain invitations from being extended. Apparently, there is a policy that a catholic who supports abortion should not be invited to speak, but the policy seemed to leave the door open for a non-catholic like Obama to speak.