Monday, May 25, 2009

The Opportunity Notre Dame Missed

Again, waaay overdue here, but life keeps intruding. Blog posting is something I do when other responsibilities allow.

This is dead news - the president has returned to the White House, the protesters are gone, and the crucifix covers have been stowed away. In the judgment of the media, Obama suffered no serious political setback, and since that's what really matters, all is well.

But the fact that the Obama Notre Dame Commencement Address / Honorary Degree controversy is history gives me a chance to look back on it, and consider things that matter more. The thing that stuck out most was the opportunity that Notre Dame had, but forewent. Of course, anyone who knew anything about them would have been able to predict that they would have done so, but it was still an opportunity they could have seized, had they the will.

When the controversy about Obama being invited to give the Notre Dame Commencement address broke, the ND administration was swift to point out that inviting seated presidents to speak at their commencements was a university tradition. They had invited pro-abortion (Clinton) and pro-life (Bush) presidents, and they had come to speak. This was not only an appeal to tradition, but a subtle boast about the University's stature (how many other universities can claim a tradition of having the sitting president accept their invitation to speak?) Notre Dame's claim seemed to be that since inviting presidents was tradition, how could they violate that tradition just because Barack Obama was so fiercely pro-abortion?

But therein lay their opportunity, had they wished to truly bear witness as a Catholic university. It was a tradition, and furthermore, everyone knew it. It was expected that Notre Dame would extend an invitation to Obama, since that's what they did with presidents.

All they would have had to do was not extend that invitation.

There were any number of other parties they could have invited to speak. They wouldn't even have had to make a big fuss about it. ("Here is the President of Notre Dame, standing on the steps beneath the Golden Dome, burning the invitation he would have sent to President Obama.") All they would have had do do, ever so quietly and discreetly, was nothing. To those who knew, that non-extension of the invitation would have said what was necessary. Everyone knew that Notre Dame invited sitting presidents to speak at their commencements, why not this year? The intelligent would have been able to connect the dots, and see that Obama's fierce and vocal pro-abortion stand was in discord with the University's Catholic identity.

But that non-invitation would have come at a cost. To take a stand against the Culture of Death, to send a message from the heart of their identity as a Catholic university, Notre Dame would have had to take a blow to its stature as university who can get sitting presidents to come speak. The non-extension of an invitation this year would have surely meant that any subsequent invitations would be discarded, and Obama would never come to speak at Notre Dame. Their string of presidential commencement speakers would be broken, perhaps permanently, and their prestige as a university would have suffered.

Anyone who knows anything about Notre Dame understands that if presented with a choice between speaking the truth as a Catholic institution and bolstering their prestige as a university, the outcome is foregone. This is why I mentioned earlier that anyone who knew anything about them would be able to predict what would happen. But this is the opportunity they forewent. It is truly a pity, since by not inviting Barack Obama they would have been implicitly extending an invitation to an even more prestigious Speaker - one who may not have stood behind the lectern, but whose Presence would have made far more difference.

What a shame they settled for so little.


Anonymous said...


Lindsay said...

Appreciate the post!