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THIS CATHOLIC’S VIEW
By Thomas J. Reese
Controversy over commencement speakers at Catholic universities pops up every spring along with the tulips. This year the controversy is over President Obama speaking at Notre Dame University May 17. Some have objected that this is a violation of the bishops’ statement Catholics in Political Life. This is absurd.
According to Catholics in Political Life, “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.”
I would argue that having Obama as a commencement speaker and giving him an honorary degree does not violate Catholics in Political Life because:
A fundamental principle of canon law is that it should be interpreted “strictly,” which means “narrowly,” that is in a way limits its restrictions.
How do I know that Notre Dame is not violating Catholics in Political Life? Because Notre Dame is doing nothing more than what has already been done by Cardinal Edward Egan of New York, who taught canon law and worked as a judge in the Tribunal of the Sacred Roman Rota, a church court based in the Vatican.
If Cardinal Egan can invite Obama to speak at the Al Smith dinner in October of 2008 when he was only a presidential candidate, then there is certainly nothing wrong with Notre Dame having the President speak at a commencement. Other pro-choice speakers at Al Smith dinners included Al Gore and Tony Blair (a Catholic). What is OK for a cardinal archbishop is certainly OK for a university. Or are bishops exempt from “Catholics in Political Life”?
Canon law aside, people need to recognize that Catholic universities have to be places where freedom of speech and discussion is recognized and valued. Not to allow a diversity of speakers on campus is to put Catholic universities into a ghetto.
When I was a student in the 1960’s, Jesuit-run Santa Clara University was attacked for performing “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” and for having a Marxist speak on campus. Now we are fighting over the “Vagina Monologue” and pro-choice politicians. If Catholic universities are afraid to have people on campus who challenge our views, then we are not training students to listen and think critically. We are admitting that our arguments are not convincing.
For a report on the organization leading the attack on Notre Dame, see “Catholic academic ayatollah shows true colors” by Joe Feuerherd in the National Catholic Reporter.
Thomas J. Reese, S.J., is Senior Fellow at Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.
By Thomas J. Reese |
March 24, 2009; 12:03 AM ET
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