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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
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A Controversial Invitation to Graduation


You may have heard about the simmering controversy sparked by the recent decision of the University of Notre Dame's president, Father John Jenkins, to invite President Barack Obama to give the school's commencement address on May 17. Obama accepted, and ever since, Jenkins has been under attack from individuals and groups, mostly Catholic, for providing a prominent platform to, and for conferring an honorary degree from, this leading Catholic university on a political leader who endorses — in opposition to Church teaching — abortion rights.

Jenkins has defended his decision: Obama "is an inspiring leader who has taken leadership of the country facing many challenges: two wars, a really troubled economy, he has issues with health care, immigration, education reform, and he has addressed those with intelligence, courage and honesty."

What about Obama's support of legalized abortion? "You cannot change the world if you shun the people you want to persuade, and if you cannot persuade them ... show respect for them and listen to them."

As a proud graduate of Notre Dame and, frankly, as an admirer of Father Jenkins, I am not a disinterested bystander in this controversy. My university likes to think of itself, not immodestly, as the place where the Catholic Church does its thinking. But the current rhubarb is already conspicuous for generating — mostly off the campus — more heat than light.

Let us first agree on some basic facts: Any college (even those located in Cambridge and New Haven) is delighted to have the president — any president — as its graduation speaker. President Obama would be ninth chief executive to be awarded an honorary degree by Notre Dame. Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush preceded him.

The Catholic Church categorically opposes abortion. But American Catholic bishops have made it clear that a Catholic voter cannot legitimately invoke a candidate's opposition to abortion "to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity" — such as this country, at the cost of thousands of lives, invading and occupying another country on the untrue grounds that the invaded country posed a serious threat to the United States, or passively accepting continued increases in poverty, homelessness and hunger.

Notre Dame is honoring Barack Obama as president of the United States and as a major political leader, not as a champion of legalized abortion.

Obama did not campaign in 2008 on the issue of abortion. When questioned, he answered directly that he was pro-choice. He regularly added that he wished to work with others to reduce the number of abortions. The economy and health care and Iraq, not abortion, were major issues in the last campaign. On Nov. 4, 2008, a majority of Catholics voted for Barack Obama.

The reality is that Roe v. Wade is not going to be overthrown. Americans remain uncomfortably ambivalent on the thorny issue of abortion. Our complicated position is best described as pro-choice and anti-abortion. A majority is clearly unwilling to criminalize a woman — after consulting with her conscience, or her confessor, or her physician — for making that agonizing decision. At the same time, no candidate has won election promising to work for more abortions.

I want President Obama to give the commencement address at my alma mater. I want him to spend time with graduates who are enrolled to become commissioned officers in the Marine Corps, Navy, Army and Air Force, and where more than 10 per-cent of the class will commit a year or more of volunteer work in Teach for America, the Peace Corps, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and the Alliance for Catholic Education, and on a campus where four out of five of the students participate in volunteer work in South Bend and around the globe.

I want the President to personally encounter Catholic teaching that champions public policies with a clear priority for poor families, for the unemployed worker, the undocumented immigrant, for the vulnerable child and the forgotten elderly.

I believe that Notre Dame will be good for President Obama and that President Obama will be good for Notre Dame. They both will benefit from the visit.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




6 Comments | Post Comment
Sir;...I don't have an Alma Mater..I do have a Mater, and to her, the Church is God's representative on earth.... She once tried birth control pills....That did not last long... Her guilt made her confess, and the priest refused to absolve her until she promised to quit the pill... And three children later she found she was wrong when she did not think she could not afford, or care for more...I'm not one of them...I am one of the first three that had her convinced three was plenty... We really were not all that poor...My older brother was 80% paralyzed...Like every other kid on the planet, I was clearly brain damaged... The third was normal... So; round about; what ever the church can convince her loyal minnow munchers to swallow is fine with me...I am not going to say they have not got a perfectly good moral issue...I will not admit that the woman who aborts is less a victim than the one who bears...I will offer a religious test of sort: If you think our lives are commanded by fate, and if you let faith rule your reason; then stand aside, and trust in God, and don't vote.... Everyone else is counting on government to deliver them justice or get the roads paved....They know that when societies work, that moral issues resolve themselves outside of government....My difference with the church is simple....When the church had political power it did not make an issue of morality... Now it uses the moral issue to seek political power... I think when they have political power that they will cease making the moral argument, and will resort to coercion...And coercion is immoral... Now; Our Lady is their house... They can refuse entry... But, instead; I would suggest that the church royalty should break a buck and buy a new color T.V....The world is not all black and white, and has many colors, and many subtle shades...Much as we wish our lives could be turned on single issues, we find that those with THE moral issue are incompetent, and criminal...And I am not going to dive into whether to kill a living breathing Muslims is worse than aborting a potential Christians...I am saying the church should make the moral argument, and do everything to influence its government, and members to reduce what is obviously considered a need for abortions....If that means economic or political justice, then so be it... My church should not piss away the blood of Christ it futility...It should strike at the roots of evil, and spare the branches... Attack the causes of abortion, and abortion will die....That is a good use of political and social power... All else is bound to result in a backlash, as there well should be against majority rule..The most immoral people on the planet have always been slaves of one sort or another; Infidels...No people has ever been both immoral and free... The key to morality is freedom and the key to feedom is morality, and if to have both we must sweep away all our old forms of relationship and behavior; then Amen... .. Thanks...Sweeney
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sat Mar 28, 2009 8:33 AM
Re: James A, Sweeney Absolutely beautiful aesthetically and morally brilliant column. Accolades to follow. As a non-anything, maybe a confirmed atheist, i fully concur with your empirical views. I respect the right of all religions to believe. I wish they would respect mine to defer.
Comment: #2
Posted by: alf1052
Sat Mar 28, 2009 1:36 PM
Re: arthur l. finn
Thanks; and thanks again to Mark Shields... The A is for Arthur by the way, one to another... Best...Sweeney
Comment: #3
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sat Mar 28, 2009 3:05 PM
"Any college (even those located in Cambridge and New Haven) is delighted to have the president any president as its graduation speaker."

I wonder how welcome W. would have been at Berkely last year?
Comment: #4
Posted by: Fred
Sat Mar 28, 2009 4:21 PM
Political, TV commentator Mark Shields argues by inviting President Obama to Notre Dame and bestowing an honorary award on him, they are honoring him as President, and not for any of his views.

"Notre Dame is honoring Barack Obama as president of the United States and as a major political leader, not as a champion of legalized abortion. Obama did not campaign in 2008 on the issue of abortion. When questioned, he answered directly that he was pro-choice."

Let play some Madlibs on this absurd comment to show you how ridiculous Shield's line of thinking is:

"Yeshiva University is honoring Yasser Arafat as head of the Palestine Liberation Organization and as a major political leader, not as a champion of Israel's destruction. Arafat did not campaign in 1969 on the issue of Israel's destruction. When questioned, he answered directly that he was anti-Israeli."

Do you think a statement like this would ever be made by Mark Shields in this situation? How do you think the press would handle Yasser Arafat, who has extreme, contrary views against the core principles of Yeshiva, being invited to Yeshiva? Would they being dishing the garbage they are now against the Catholic Bishops? How long do you think the President of Yeshiva would be around if he made the ignorant blunder that Fr. Jenkin made? Would anyone dare defend the President of Yeshiva if the Jewish community demanded him to rescind the invitation, or have the University President step down? The answers are obvious.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Voice in the Crowd
Sun Apr 5, 2009 5:59 PM
Is there no end to graduates of Catholic Colleges who no longer practice the faith? Phil Donahue and Mark Shields from Notre Dame had the benefit if being educated by Father Richard McBrien who is responsible for leading Catholic students AWAY from the Church. At Holy Cross, Professor O'Brien was so effective as a Theology prof that his own children left the Church. Marquette is no different with prof MacQuire, the head of the Theology Dept driving his son to become a Muslim. At Georgetown, former pro-abortion Congressman Father Drinnan poisoned the minds of Catholic students for many years.

When Catholic Colleges and Universities place a premium on saving souls rather than building endowments, they will graduate knowledgeable and faithful students rather than the anti-Catholic bigots dusted off when critics of the Holy Father and the Church need the credibility from quoting those possessing a degree from a nominally Catholic institution.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Frank
Sun Apr 12, 2009 10:34 AM
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