The Obama Notre Dame Controversy | Sojourners

The Obama Notre Dame Controversy

The University of Notre Dame recently announced that President Barack Obama will be its spring commencement speaker and that he will also be receiving an honorary doctorate of laws degree. For this act, Notre Dame should receive praise. And President Obama, in an effort to avoid playing the partisan game, should be acknowledged by all for accepting an invitation to speak at a Catholic university where a large percentage of the student body comes from conservative backgrounds.

Yet, some view Notre Dame's decision as an opportunity to continue playing the divisive partisan game. These "divisive" groups paint Democrats as vehemently opposed to life and family, while portraying Republicans as the only orthodox defenders of the unborn and the traditional family. Further, they falsely uphold abortion as the single most important issue of our day.

Within days of Notre Dame's announcement, several Web sites have appeared that militantly call for Notre Dame to rescind its invitation to the president. One such Web site,, invites its viewers to electronically sign and send a petition to Father John I. Jenkins, president of the university. Another Web site,, seems to attack not only the ideas and stances of President Obama, but also his character and that of those who support any aspect of the current administration.

What is the source of this outrage at Notre Dame's attempt to engage with individuals who don't agree with the Catholic church's stance on the abortion issue? Some cite an unhealthy fear of exposure to other points of views not "Catholic." Others may agree that maybe it is the venting of angry Catholic McCain supporters who every day must deal with the reality that their candidate lost. Or perhaps it is the result of something more serious, namely the division present within U.S. Catholics and Christians who, on one hand, favor social justice issues and those who, on the other hand, uphold biomedical issues -- especially abortion -- as the most fundamental contemporary issues. This false dichotomy proves damaging to the church and to society.

To begin finding common ground, both groups should realize that both social and biomedical justice, along with environmental justice, are essential to forming a more humane and sustainable global society. In other words, there exists an interconnection among all issues, so to solve today's problems requires that we view them holistically. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church echoes this by stating that "

for more info