What the Notre Dame president and others at the university have done -- whether wittingly or not -- is to allow themselves to be used to create the impression either that the Church's position on abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and the univocal meaning of marriage as the covenant between a man and a woman is unsettled and amenable to "evolution" or that one can disagree with what the Church has for two thousand years opposed and in recent years declared to be the preeminent moral issue of our age (the intentional killing of innocent human beings in the womb or in their embryonic stage) and still be a faithful Catholic in good standing.
As Ralph McInerny -- nearing his retirement after 54 years as a Notre Dame faculty member -- put it in a recent column for TheCatholicThing weblog:
By inviting Barack Obama as commencement speaker, Notre Dame is telling the nation that the teaching of the Catholic church on this fundamental matter can be ignored. Lip service may be paid to the teaching on abortion, but it is no impediment to upward mobility, to the truly vulgar lust to be welcomed into secular society, whether on the part of individuals or institutions.Stephen Barr, writing for the FIRST THINGS On the Square weblog, put it this way:
Abortion is a defining issue of our time, in the way that slavery was in the mid-nineteenth century and segregation and racial discrimination were in the mid-twentieth century. Overlooking the pro-abortion views of a politician now would be analogous to overlooking pro-slavery or segregationist views in those eras. Would Notre Dame have invited a champion of segregation to be a commencement speaker in the 1960s, however brilliant or talented, however well-meaning in other ways and on other issues he or she may have been?What can those of us who deeply regret this latest sign of capitulation do in response? It's very difficult to say. Here is what I wrote to my bishop yesterday:
Some will say that there is no comparison between the issues of racial discrimination and abortion. From a Christian point of view, however, they are at root the same issue: the respect due to our fellow human beings simply as human beings. The lives of fifty million innocent human beings have been snuffed out in the United States since 1973, so it would be absurd to suggest that abortion is less serious an issue than racial discrimination. The difference between the two issues lies not in their intrinsic moral gravity, but in the way that society views them. Virtually everyone agrees that racial discrimination is morally repugnant. There is a strong social consensus on that issue, whereas on abortion at present there is not. The social elites of this country are largely pro-choice, and being pro-choice is regarded by many as a mark of enlightenment. This, I think, has everything to do with why an institution like Notre Dame would never honor a champion of segregation, but would honor a champion of so-called abortion rights. What governs the moral reflexes of institutions like Notre Dame is not how things appear in the light of the gospel, but how they appear in the eyes of the social elites—or to use more biblical language, how they appear to the world. St. Paul told us not be “conformed to this world”, but to put on the “mind of Christ.” It seems that the University of Notre Dame is conforming itself to the world.
I realize that there are probably limited courses of action with regard to the shameful decision of Notre Dame University to invite the most anti-life politician in America to deliver this spring’s commencement address, but I hope and pray that you and your fellow bishops will do something equally dramatic to send a message of reassurance to the faithful Catholics in this country who have endured this kind of shamelessness for far too long.From the point of view of the increasing number of post-modern relativists who realize that the Catholic Church is the chief obstacle to the accomplishment of the moral and cultural revolution to which they have committed themselves, the next best thing to silencing the Church -- which even they realize is impossible -- is to drown its voice of moral clarity in a cacophony of opinions expressed by self-proclaimed "faithful Catholics."
I have no doubt that your heart is in the right place, and I have no advice as to what might be done, but if there is something, it would be greeted with a great sigh of relief from the faithful.