Column: Catholic backdrop makes president’s policies appear palatable

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

With many other bishops, priests and faithful Catholics, I was dismayed to learn that the University of Notre Dame had extended an invitation to President Barack Obama to deliver this year’s commencement address, as well as to receive an honorary degree.

I do not fault the president for accepting this invitation, but the university for offering it.

Notre Dame’s action is inconsistent with its Catholic identity and harmful to the efforts of the church to advocate for the protection of innocent, preborn human life.

In June of 2004, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops requested that Catholic institutions “not give awards, honors or platforms” to those “who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.” Catholic institutions, by honoring those who support legalized abortion, send a message that the church is not all that serious regarding its efforts to defend innocent human life.

Notre Dame is regarded by many as the premiere Catholic university in the United States. Notre Dame’s invitation to President Obama reveals that the leadership of the university is either incredibly naïve or just does not care about the impact of its actions on the church’s efforts to protect the lives of innocent, vulnerable unborn children.

Father John Jenkins, CSC, the president of Notre Dame, has attempted to posture Notre Dame’s honoring President Obama as a vehicle for engaging the president in dialogue. In reality, Notre Dame’s invitation signals to President Obama that there is no need to dialogue. Why should the president feel a need to dialogue when he is honored by our nation’s most prestigious Catholic university no matter how extreme his policies and actions supporting legalized abortion?

Perhaps, if President Obama’s record on legalized abortion was somewhat mixed or he was showing some evidence, since becoming president, of moderating his radical pro-abortion position, one could understand the university’s mistaken judgment. Yet, this is certainly not the case with President Obama. His brief record as an Illinois state senator and U.S. senator was abysmal on the abortion issue. President Obama is the most strident supporter of legalized abortion ever to reside at the White House.

As a state senator, Obama actively worked against legislation that would have banned the killing of disabled newborn children who were born alive after botched abortions. While in the U.S. Senate, he declared his support for partial-birth abortion. As a presidential candidate, he expressed his desire early in his presidency to sign into law the so-called Freedom of Choice Act that would negate every federal and state limitation on abortion, e.g., parental notification and consent statutes, the partial-birth abortion ban, restrictions on tax funding of abortions, etc.

On Jan. 22, with more than a hundred thousand pro-life advocates gathered in Washington to commemorate the somber 36th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, President Obama issued a public statement in favor of the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling that struck down every state law protecting the life of unborn children. A few days later, President Obama issued executive orders releasing hundreds of millions of federal tax dollars to fund abortion groups operating overseas. A few weeks later, the president committed federal financial support for research that destroys human embryos.

President Obama’s appointments are even more troubling. His chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, had a 100 percent pro-abortion voting record. Similarly, Hilary Clinton, the president’s choice for Secretary of State, is a strident advocate for abortion. His initial nomination of former Senator Tom Daschle and his subsequent nomination of our own Governor Kathleen Sebelius — both Catholics who have long records of support for legalized abortion — to the key post of secretary for Health Human Services are particularly offensive. Seeking out pro-abortion Catholics to preside over the implementation of this administration’s policy on embryonic stem-cell research and its proposed health care reform was compared by one commentator to finding a renegade rabbi to bless the pork at a banquet.

What are even more troubling are the appointments that are being made under the radar screen, the second tier of appointments that do not receive much public scrutiny. President Obama has literally filled the White House, as well as federal departments and agencies, with leaders from the nation’s foremost abortion advocacy groups. The president appointed Dawn Johnsen, the former NARAL (National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League) legal director as assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel; Ellen Moran, the former director of Emily’s List — a political action committee that only supports pro-abortion candidates — as the White House communications director. Melody Barnes, a former board member for Emily’s List, serves as President Obama’s director of domestic policy. This is just a sampling of the pro-abortion extremists that now hold key positions within the administration.

Of course, the most potentially damaging appointments President Obama has not yet had the opportunity to make. These will be his appointments of federal judges and, in particular, justices to the Supreme Court, who will be affecting public policy on abortion and the definition of marriage long after Barack Obama completes his term as president. In light of the appointments for his administration and a Senate willing apparently to confirm any appointment by this president, I shudder to think of the future composition of our courts.

I pray for President Obama and urge you to pray for the president’s success in leading our nation through the current economic crisis, as well as for his effectiveness in responding to the many foreign threats to our nation. It goes without saying that the Catholic community must be willing to work with the president and this administration for the good of our country.

Yet, a Catholic university should not honor this president and provide him with the backdrop of a Catholic institution to make appear palatable his radical agenda in support of legalized abortion.

If you are as disappointed and distressed as I am about Notre Dame’s honoring President Obama, I encourage you to write to Father John Jenkins, CSC, at: University of Notre Dame, 300 Main Bldg., Notre Dame IN 46556, expressing your disapproval of the university ignoring the request of the Catholic bishops of the United States that Catholic institutions not honor or give platforms to those who support legalized abortion.

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