“Hey, Notre Dame! Let the President Speak,” Ellis Henican Column, amNew York, May 15, 2009
It’s one of the great things about America’s Catholic universities, one of many — the long coexistence of intellectual openness and faith.
We Catholics are not expected to shut ourselves off from honest discussion. We are not taught to close our minds but to open our hearts.
Someone really ought to mention this to the ardent band of anti-abortion activists trying to turn the University of Notre Dame into a Catholic madrassa – and boot Barack Obama as commencement speaker on Sunday.
What are they so afraid of?
Most college seniors, including those at Notre Dame, would be honored to receive a commencement address from a president of the United States.
Especially this president.
He won with wide support from college-age voters. He’s inspired a sense of public spiritedness in young people everywhere. He certainly isn’t known for boring speeches.
But these one-issue activists, many from nowhere near campus, insist that the president be forbidden to speak because he hasn’t campaigned to overturn legal
Even though Obama’s not a Catholic, he is somehow expected to embrace every teaching of the church?
Father John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, begs to differ. He believes the president should be welcomed. He understands the difference between civil and religious leadership. He’s confident in his university’s core beliefs.
Now this kind of rigidity can turn Catholics into a political fringe group. It’s been especially hard on Catholic politicians. Just ask Joe Biden or Geraldine Ferraro or Mario Cuomo.
No one objected in October when New York Cardinal Edward Egan invited candidate Obama to speak at the Al Smith Dinner along with pro-choice politicians Al Gore and Tony Blair. Why the sudden outrage now – and on a college campus?
Father Thomas Reese, the Georgetown theological and former editor of the Jesuit magazine America, said it best in an essay this week: “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.”
We’d be closing our minds – and our hearts.
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