Chicago Sun-Times

Obama, the Abortion Wars, and Notre Dame

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March 28, 2009

BY CAROL MARIN Sun-Times Columnist

It takes courage to be a Catholic educator. In America's culture wars, abortion is the trump card of every moral discussion. Or so the righteous right requires us to believe.

At Notre Dame, the most Catho- lic of Catholic universities, a national protest is building over the decision by the school's president, the Rev. John I. Jenkins, to invite President Obama to give the commencement address on May 17.
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Sun-Times columnist Carol Marin

Petitions are being gathered. Graphic posters of aborted fetuses are being prepared. Protesters plan to line the road into South Bend on graduation day.

All of this is happening because pro-choice Obama, in the first weeks of his presidency, has reversed Bush administration policy by restoring funding to international family planning groups that provide abortion services and by removing limits on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

You'd think that's all he had done in his first 69 days in office. Winding down the Iraq war, fortifying forces in Afghanistan, trying to stop the economy from going over a cliff, working for decent health care for all citizens apparently don't matter much.

The Notre Dame decision once again raises the question of whether a Catholic university must be Catholic first and a university second.

In Chicago, this is not a new discussion, as Dick Meister, the former provost of DePaul University --the nation's largest Catholic university -- knows firsthand.

In 1986, Eleanor Smeal, then-president of the National Organization for Women, was invited to speak by the DePaul Student Affairs Office. Protests, petitions, threats and demonstrations all arrived at DePaul's doorstep, and Meister's boss, the president of the university, withdrew the invitation under pressure.

A counterprotest, led in part by Meister's undergrad son, Christopher, argued that the mission of a university is to hear all voices -- not condone them necessarily -- but hear them.

Dick Meister's job was to find a middle ground. That turned out to be an off-site location where Smeal could speak -- but not as an official guest of the university.

"It was a juggle," Meister recalled by phone last week.

What about Notre Dame?

Meister, who got both his master's and doctorate from Notre Dame, has very strong feelings about that. "With the president of the United States at Notre Dame, it's not even close to the Smeal situation," he said. "She represented an organization, Obama represents the whole nation."


"The role of a Catholic university," said Meister, is to "espouse academic freedom where people are allowed to research, teach and hear many voices on campus . . . at the same time manifesting the gospel of Christ and the beatitudes to serve the poor, be the bridge between the haves and the have-nots."

What about the fear that Notre Dame is compromising its Catholic identity?

"It epitomizes Notre Dame's Catholic identity," he argued. "Hearing many voices is its strength, not its weakness."

On the Obama decision, Catholic bishops vehemently disagree. Chief among them is Bishop John D'Arcy of the South Bend diocese, which includes Notre Dame. He will not attend, saying, "A bishop must teach the Catholic faith 'in season and out of season,' and he teaches not by his words -- but by his actions."

If only Catholic bishops were consistent in their own actions. Haven't they allowed Cardinal Bernard Law, formerly of Boston, and the prelate who obstructed justice in the investigation of the horrific pedophilia scandal in his own diocese, to remain a member in good standing? Law wasn't sanctioned but rewarded: He now runs the third largest basilica in Rome.

Does that outrageous Vatican decision mean we shouldn't listen to what else they have to say?


Bishops aren't one-dimensional.

And neither is Barack Obama.

Commencement will be a testament to Notre Dame's strength and Rev. Jenkins' courage.

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The Cardinal Newman Society, in an online petition to Jenkins, said that by inviting Obama the university "has chosen prestige over principles, popularity over morality."

Right. If anything, Obama is the one going against his principles by agreeing to speak at a university run by people who are part of a morally bankrupt, stupidity-inculcating cult, led by a criminal, who recently, on his "compassion and humanity" tour, was reminding tens of millions of people in Africa to NOT use condoms, so as not to either increase (!) the spread of AIDS or offend the invisible man. It would be hilarious if it weren't so sick and twisted and murderous. Religion, that is. And if I didn’t know any better, I would think “catholic” was Latin for smug, mendacious hypocrite.
To the self-righteous, catholic morons (excuse the redundancy): there is not and never has been any scientific consensus on just when human "life" begins; it is, in fact, a very gray area, but to continue to morally equate abortion with baby murder or child rape, is tiresomely disingenuous at best. Gee whiz, if the stupidity of the religious could be harnessed and converted into energy, America's economic problems just might be solved.


As others have noted, didn't you turn in your resignation when Jerry Springer was given a chance to voice his opinion?

If you believe journalistic standards take precedence over free speech, why shouldn't Notre Dame exercise it's right to exercise Catholic standards, too?

Dave Perry

The fact that this is even a problem highlights why organized religion is a detriment to society: all people in this debate selectively choose whether to defend a living fetus' rights, or a woman's rights; forcing your subjective choice into that situation belies any claim of moral authority that you care about the people involved, but exposes that you want to exploit the concept to further the control of your own organization. Catholic hypocrisy on the issue of church employees raping children is also obvious proof of their desire to manipulate the ignorant masses who can't decide for themselves, apparently.

Carol makes an interesting point about courage. Sadly, it's the wrong point. More on that in a moment.

She also says that abortion is the "trump card of every moral discussion." Again, interesting... but wrong.

Rather, it is perhaps the only pure dividing line any individual faces in today's world.

We can argue that there are good aspects and bad aspects to most issues --for only one example, the decisions on economic issues and the direction these actions are taking American society as a whole; this, certainly not the abortion issue, has largely dominated the 69 days of the Obama Administration, Ms. Marin-- and discuss the varying levels of gray involved.

But with abortion, there is no middle ground, no comforting grayness: in our innermost selves, we realize that one either believes that a fetus is a living human being... or one does not.

The Catholic Church does; Mr. Obama does not.

And this is where the courage comes in.

I fear that Ms. Marin shows little in her own arguments presented in this column. As a former journalist myself, I know how easy it is to re-align any controversial position into a "free speech" issue. There's a certain moral smugness involved in doing so. Who can be against the open exchange of ideas? Inevitably, the argument somehow becomes one of intellectual "courage," and the question morphs into one of whether the "other side" fears that its own position is "too weak" to survive direct confrontation with the arguments of the other side.

That is what Ms. Marin is attempting here: to define the conditions under which the opposing side -- the "righteous right," as she so pejoratively labels them-- can argue.

No thanks, Carol.

Rather, let's look at the issue without her rhetorical fog:

--While it's debatable whether Notre Dame is, as Ms. Marin says, "the most Catholic of Catholic Universities," Notre Dame clearly is operated under the auspices of the Catholic Church. The position of that Church on abortion is as clear as is the position of Mr. Obama-- even to the point where pro-choice politicians are supposed to be denied that Church's most sacred sacrament, Holy Communion. Given that, the Church's position probably doesn't lend itself to providing a forum for those who promote what it considers a mortal sin--as it might not with any other mortal sin. How narrow-minded, no?

--It's doubtful that, as Ms. Marin slips in, the controversy at Notre Dame stems from Mr. Obama's decision on stem-cell research in those "first 69 days in office." Rather, I'd suggest it "stems" from the strong pro-abortion actions he's taken throughout his amazingly short public life. (I also suggest that Ms. Marin knows this, too; but I appreciate the need for her to ignore it. It might weaken her argument.)

--It's enlightening to have Ms. Marin bring up the DePaul University matter, but only from a historical vantage point. However, one might argue that it wasn't Dick Meister's job to find a "middle ground." As with Mr. Obama, Ms. Smeal's position was widely known; as with Mr. Obama, there was no shortage of other forums where that position could have been (and, politically, SHOULD have been) once more presented. Not knowing Mr. Meister, I can't speak to his "courage." But finding a so-called "middle ground" clearly speaks to his desire to placate both sides... and that's seldom considered "courageous."

--There is indeed a question whether Catholic universities must be "either Catholic or a university." There's also a question whether a Catholic hospital must be either Catholic or a hospital, and once again we have a question that involves abortion. In both cases, I suggest, it is again a question of courage (tho it's also likely there's one of Federal funding). However, there's certainly a question here somewhere involving how courageous it is to force a university, a hospital, or an individual to violate moral fundamentals simply because one has the power (or, as in the case of Ms. Marin, a prominent spot on an op-ed page) to try.

--There used to be a semi-official rule to debates: the first person to bring up Hitler automatically lost. It might be refreshing --to say nothing about adding to the relevance of the way it is so often used as its own "moral trump card"-- to apply the same rule to the "pedophile priests" issue. Clerics who rape and abuse are criminals, and clearly violate the tenants of the Catholic Church... as does promoting abortion; unless Ms. Marin is implying that Rev. Jenkins, Mr. Meister, Ms. Smeal, Bishop D'Arcy or Mr. Obama are somehow involved in the pedophile issue, it's merely another shameless attempt to score points, not make them.

I hope Ms. Marin (and those who may read this commentary) forgive the length of my writing... and the inclusion of one final point.

We can all agree that Mr. Obama is not one-dimensional. (I'm tempted to remind all that Hitler reportedly liked puppies, but I've argued for far too long to stumble into the automatic "you lose" clause).

There is more to Mr. Obama --and more to the protestation of his appearance at Notre Dame-- than the issue of abortion.

But in the final analysis, it may just be enough.

Carol, you are without doubt one of our finest journalists. But I was offended by your opening statement. Do you really think that only the "righteous right" believe murdering babies is wrong? I am a middle class father of four with a modest income and am strongly against something as barbaric as abortion. If that makes me part of the "righteous right", then you must be part of the "sleazy left".

We need to get past labeling and name calling. You're better than that.

As a student at DePaul with many many friends and connections at Notre Dame, to say that ND is anything approaching "most Catho- lic of Catholic universities" is laughable. It's nearly as ridiculous as using DePaul in the same breath as Notre Dame. If Notre Dame is an averagely Catholic school... then DePaul is a standard deviation below the average. I see a complete lack of understanding of the national Catholic university scene, and quite frankly a lack of understanding of what it means to be a Catholic.

What epitomizes Catholic identity is Catholicism, not just choosing one aspect of the faith and running with it, ignoring everything else. That is mere simple fanaticism which can be found anywhere, for example in NoW or Planned Parenthood. It is supreme fanaticism, being fanatically in love with one's faith, humanity, and the world around one that makes him or her a Catholic. Choosing EVERY aspect of the faith and running with them make one a Catholic. The truth necessarily cannot contradict the truth. That's the thing about Divinity. It is decidedly more confusing to hear these "leaders" declare that every aspect OTHER than abortion should be considered... than to hear the perhaps overzealous everyday Catholics say everything INCLUDING abortion should be considered. "Hearing many voices" and then [i]choosing the right one[/i] is indeed the whole point.

All of this being said... I don't really care where Obama speaks. He has a national platform regardless. I do, however, think there is a line between listening to ideas that one currently disagrees with (a very good thing) and embracing them (an insane paradox). The unfortunate truth is that the average university student is quite clueless, myself included. If a university doesn't establish an identity then some silly student may be lead to believe that by letting someone speak the university agrees with everything he has to say. Just look at what happened at Columbia with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Am I comparing Obama personally with him, of course not, that would be ridiculous. But Obama has a million times more influence than the Iranian president. And that's exactly my point. Universities have to walk that political line constantly and I don't envy them.

You argue that Cardinal Law should not have been honored for the good that he accomplished because of his failure to protect those entrusted to his pastoral care. Fine. Let's agree then that Notre Dame is not merely "hearing" President Obama but honoring him despite his record of repeatedly taking action to remove protection from the weakest and most vulnerable human beings. By your own logic, this is wrong.

It is a testament to Notre Dame's weak moral reasoning and fear of losing the approval of the powerful.

Carol, you are missing the point. No one is suggesting that Obama not be allowed to speak in some capacity at Notre Dame. I think everyone would like to have a true dialogue with him. The issue is that Notre Dame is choosing to honor someone with a degree who has campaigned on and has spent the first 60 days of his adminsitration proactively expanding abortion rights and acting directly contrary to the Catholic church's teaching of protecting life in all forms. It is the HONORING of this man that is the problem. I would love to have Obama have a townhall meeting type gathering at Notre Dame to explain his ideas on protection of life. I would be interested to see his response particularly if he doesn't have a teleprompter.

Good grief! From the tone of this reporter's adoration, you'd think Barack just walked across water to heal a blind man. She babbles on about how Obama has been busy doing this and that for the good of the country... yet ask yourself honestly: what has he actually done for the good of the people?

He's broken every campaign promise he ever made. He's forcing God fearing men and women to pay for the wholesale murder of little babies all around the world. His knack for associating with vile people and criminals has carried on even after his crooked Chicago days, as evidenced by the fact that nearly every single cabinet member he's appointed is a tax cheat or involved in some form of corruption. Rather than pull the troops home like he promised, he merely moved the soldiers from Iraq to Afghanistan and is planning on sending more of them over. His Treasury Secretary, a member of the CFR, said he's open to the idea of a our switching to a one world currency, just as soon as he finishes destroying the American Dollar. And Barack Hussein Obama is planning to spend more than all of the presidents from - George washington to George W. Bush - combined! And all the while trying to blame everything on George W. Bush. So what has this socialist done? He's turning 'our' country into a Socialist nation, even planning on taking away our 2nd amendment rights so his tyranny can prosper, while educated idiots like this reporter are licking his shoes like sick puppies.

If this liberal reporter worshipped the anti-christ Obama any more, she would probably offer to have his baby... and then sacrifice it through modern Molech worship known as abortion.

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This page contains a single entry by Carol Marin published on March 28, 2009 2:19 PM.

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