George Weigel addresses this in the Chicago Tribune, "When a university invites a prominent personality to deliver a commencement address and accept an honorary degree, a statement is being made to graduates, students, faculty, parents, alumni and donors: 'This is someone whose work is worth emulating.' The invitation, in other words, is not to a debate, or to the opening of some sort of ongoing conversation. The invitation and the award of an honorary degree are a university's stamp of approval on someone's life and accomplishment.
"Which is precisely why the University of Notre Dame, which claims to be America's premier Catholic institution of higher learning, made an egregious error in inviting President Barack Obama to address its May commencement and accept an honorary doctorate of laws degree."
Francis J. Beckwith is the 2008–2009 Mary Ann Remick Senior Visiting Fellow in the Notre Dame Center for Ethics & Culture at the University of Notre Dame, and professor of philosophy and church-state studies at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Portions of this essay were delivered by Prof. Beckwith on March 28, 2009 at the University of Notre Dame for the 2009 Notre Dame Right to Life Collegiate Conference.
Is this simple a matter of disagreement? a difference of opinion?
No. The President has already taken actions that advance an evil which the Second Vatican Council called "an unspeakable crime" [Gaudium et Spes]. Weigel elaborates: "The president has put the taxpayers of the United States back into the business of paying for abortions abroad. He has expanded federal funding for embryo-destructive stem-cell research [in contradistinction to non embryonic stem cell research] and defended that position in a speech that was a parody of intellectually serious moral reasoning. The Obama administration threatens to reverse federal regulations that protect the conscience rights of Catholic and other pro-life health-care professionals."
The Tribune published Weigel's piece with one by Professor Douglas W. Kmiec as a kind of debate over Notre Dame's decision. You can click through the Catholic News Service's coverage of it to get to Kmiec's arguments.
On the magazine's blog ("On the Square"), Stephen Barr, the physicist and frequent contributor to First Things, writes an intellectual reaction colored by the fact that his son is to be among the graduating class at the commencement.
Barr puts it plainly in perspective, "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?"
Barr concludes that Notre Dame, the premier Catholic brand, is willing to give Obama cover on this, the defining moral issue of our age, to secure the Faustian bargain of this world's acclaim. It is well we begin each Lent being reminded of the three temptations in the desert, representing the flesh, power, and fame.
Francis J. Beckwith is one of the foremost recent converts (actually a "revert") to Catholicism and the former head of the Evangelical Theological Society. Beckwith is the 2008–2009 Mary Ann Remick Senior Visiting Fellow in the Notre Dame Center for Ethics & Culture at the University of Notre Dame, and professor of philosophy and church-state studies at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. On March 28, 2009, he addressed the 2009 Notre Dame Right to Life Collegiate Conference. You will find his edited talk reproduced in "On the Square." His arguments are both theologically weighty and powerfully expressed
He ends quoting a the Reverend Martin Luther King's prophetic call for a return to the early church so "god intoxicated" it was neither intimidated nor impressed by the power and approval of this world. How different from today: "Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent—and often even vocal—sanction of things as they are.
"But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth [and twenty-first] century."