This May, Notre Dame University will host President Barack Obama to inspire its graduates as they are sent into the world. Obama will be awarded an honorary degree. For the record, this will be a direct violation of the American bishops' 2004 declaration that Catholic colleges should not give "awards, honors or platforms" to pro-choice politicians.
Of course, the abortion issue is the crux of the controversy. Many Catholics, including as high up as bishops, are protesting the invitation, and some are boycotting the ceremony. Many pro-life Protestants are likewise unhappy. This has become a national issue.
Not surprisingly, it is the protesting Catholics–those faithful to Church policy and moral teachings on abortion–that are being criticized, particularly by the secular media. Among the criticisms is that Notre Dame had previously invited President George W. Bush to speak at commencement, even though "the Pope" disagreed with Bush on the Iraq war. I heard this charge leveled even by a sympathetic voice at FoxNews.
Aren't you pro-life Catholics being hypocritical? Why didn't you complain about the invitation to President Bush?
The critics think they've got a clever trump card here. They don't.
For starters, their dates are wrong. President Bush did Notre Dame's commencement in May 2001, long before he deployed a single troop anywhere, and certainly before American soldiers landed in Iraq in 2003.
Even then, let's assume for the sake of argument that Bush had sent troops into Iraq beforehand–to the objections of the Vatican. Doing so offers a worthwhile teachable moment on a very common, misplaced moral equivalency, often made by believers and non-believers of all stripes.
On the issue of war: all American presidents swear an oath to protect the nation. They have consistently, constantly engaged in armed conflict. Nearly every president, certainly in the last 100 years, deployed troops. Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, Protestant or Catholic, a Woodrow Wilson or FDR or Harry Truman or JFK or LBJ or Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton or George W. Bush: they've all used the military. It is a core function of government to commit troops to battle.
In fact, President Obama has already ordered a troop deployment–to Afghanistan.
In some of these cases, the man in the Vatican disagreed with the man in the Oval Office. Of course, popes understand that presidents use the military. They know that presidents typically use force because they desire peace or a larger good.
Thus, while Pope John Paul II, or Pope Benedict XVI, may have had misgivings, large or small, with President Bush's use of force in Iraq, they understood that Bush believed he was advancing American security and a greater good, irrespective of whether he was right.
You can pick at what I've said, but the basic point is not debatable: Presidents use military force; it is a core function of what they do as Constitutional commander-in-chief.
Now, on abortion: It is not a core function of government to fund abortions, as Barack Obama has already begun doing–abroad–via his rescinding of the Mexico City policy, and with much more to follow. This was one of Obama's first presidential acts, an executive order he signed on January 23, the day after the March for Life in Washington, DC.
Likewise, it is not a core function of government to use taxpayer money to dissect and destroy human life at its earliest stage of development as embryos, as Obama authorized on March 9.
It is not a core function of government to support taxpayer funding of abortion at all stages of pregnancy, with no state or local restrictions, including the vast array of limits enacted by bipartisan legislatures all over America since Roe v. Wade. That's what Obama seeks via the Freedom of Choice Act, which he co-sponsored as a senator in April 2007, and which he promised Planned Parenthood would be the "first thing" he would sign as president. Moreover, no president in history has called Planned Parenthood a "safety-net provider," as does Barack Obama.
Should I go on?
There has never been anyone in the Oval Office as extreme on abortion as Barack Obama. He doesn't merely want abortion to be "safe, legal, and rare," he wants to use the force of government to mandate that you to pay for it, from conception to delivery, at home and abroad.
Thus, Notre Dame's invitation to Obama in 2009 is different from its invitation to George W. Bush in 2001. Obama vehemently rejects the Catholic Church's moral teaching on a procedure that the Catechism calls "gravely contrary to the moral law." Bush did not.
A final point of contrast: In his commencement speech at Notre Dame, Bush spoke of the "God who endows us with individual rights." For Bush, that included unborn life. When President Obama spoke of those inalienable rights in his inaugural, he conspicuously left out the word "life." Obama candidly disagrees with Bush, as well as with Pope Benedict XVI, with the late Pope John Paul II, with the cardinals, with the bishops–with the Catholic Church.
In protesting their college's awarding of an honorary degree to President Obama, Notre Dame's pro-lifers are not being hypocritical. They are being faithful to a fundamental moral teaching and policy of their Church.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of The Center for Vision Values at Grove City College. His books include God and George W. Bush: A Spiritual Life (HarperCollins, 2004) and The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007).