May 9, 2009


God and Obama at Notre Dame: The clash between Catholic culture and Catholic colleges. (Joseph Bottum, 05/18/2009, Weekly Standard)

There's not much use in pretending that Obama doesn't support legalized abortion. This is the man, after all, who voted against the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act when it was in the Illinois state legislature--the man who, by rescinding the Mexico City policy three days after he took office, now has American tax dollars paying for abortions in foreign countries, and the man who used a televised campaign appearance at an evangelical church to dismiss the moral question of abortion as "above my pay grade." Who was he kidding? He told the world flat out where he stands when he said he wouldn't want any daughter of his who made a mistake to be "punished" with a child.

For that matter, there's not much use in pretending that Catholic legal analysis isn't opposed to abortion. Do all the casuistry you want. Bring in the sharpest canon lawyers from Marquette, and the cleverest Catholic ward-heelers from Chicago, and the slipperiest Jesuits from Georgetown. Sit them all down and show them again the tape of Mario Cuomo's 1984 speech about abortion at Notre Dame--you remember, the famous "personally opposed, but publicly supportive" speech that has provided Catholic politicians with talking points for 25 years--and let them spin the president's May 17 visit to campus as hard as they can. Still, there's something peculiar about the honoring of Barack Obama with a Catholic law degree. Couldn't they have made it a degree in sociology or something?

Ah, well, an honorary doctorate of law it is, and now the Catholic faithful are up in arms across the nation. A couple thousand of them are camped out in South Bend, parading past the campus gates with rosaries and placards. A tiny Catholic group called the Cardinal Newman Society jumped on the story and in just over a month collected more than 350,000 signatures for a petition denouncing Notre Dame. Another website announced that it had received, in a single week, pledges to withhold from the school $8.2 million in planned donations.

Of course, the protesters are not the only ones angry. Obama has plenty of Catholic supporters: He won 54 percent of the Catholic vote in the last election, after all, and at least 45 percent of the vote of Mass-going Catholics. A once fairly respectable Catholic law professor named Douglas Kmiec had committed nearly every sin short of mopery to make Mitt Romney the 2008 Republican nominee, but when that campaign stumbled and fell, he took to Slate magazine to declare, "Beyond life issues, an audaciously hope-filled Democrat like Obama is a Catholic natural."

And maybe even without going beyond the life issues: Two months before Election Day, Kmiec published Can a Catholic Support Him? Asking the Big Questions about Barack Obama--a book in which he insisted that Obama, in the secret places of his heart, is actually against abortion, and, anyway, unlike the evil John McCain, he wants to help the poor, and when the poor aren't poor anymore, they'll stop having abortions, so the pro-choice Obama is more objectively pro-life than any pro-life Republican could possibly be.

Unsurprisingly, Douglas Kmiec is not happy with the protesters at Notre Dame: "Jesus' method was one of inclusion, teaching with generosity, forgiveness, and truth--not snubbing those in high office," he recently observed, forgetting, perhaps, Jesus' encounter with that high-officeholder Pontius Pilate. And Obama's other Catholic admirers are equally irate. The left-leaning Jesuit magazine America, for instance, harrumphed its support of "Catholic intellectuals who defend the richer, subtly nuanced, broad-tent Catholic tradition."

Something in that adjectival pile-up--ah, the rich, subtle nuance!--makes it sound more like wine tasting than ecclesiology, but America was soon joined by the other old-line American Catholic magazine, Commonweal, which could not bring itself to express the least sympathy for the protesters. On the First Things website, a young woman named Lacy Dodd published an account of her pregnancy during her senior year and the pressure her boyfriend applied to talk her into an abortion. "Who draws support from your decision to honor President Obama," she reasonably asked her alma mater, "the young, pregnant Notre Dame woman sitting in that graduating class who wants desperately to keep her baby, or the Notre Dame man who believes that the Catholic teaching on the intrinsic evil of abortion is just dining-room talk?" Commonweal put a notice of the article on its own website, and 83 comments later, the young woman had been called everything but a slut. Her story was "flimsy," "manipulative," "hardly fair," a "negative stereotype," "polemical"--and she was just "a horny kid," one of the "victims of the Russian roulette moral theory of premarital sex" so rampant in the protesters' troglodyte version of Catholicism. note how much hate the fact that Sarah Palin hadn't had an abortion--nor her daughter--provoked. Fertility and morality really seem to terrify these people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 9, 2009 5:27 PM
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