Even 200 miles northwest of South Bend, Indiana, tonight feels like the calm before the storm. Tomorrow at 2:00 P.M. EDT, President Barack Obama will deliver the 2009 Commencement Address at the University of Notre Dame and receive an honorary doctor of laws degree.
Until now, most of the controversy over the event has focused on the awarding of the degree, which is seen as an honor being granted to a man who not only campaigned on consolidating and extending the "right to an abortion," but who has actively worked during his first 100 days in office to put his campaign promises into effect. To many, that honor seems like an implicit endorsement of President Obama's rhetoric regarding abortion and his attempts to portray himself as a "moderate" on this gravest of moral evils that we face today. But his actions belie his words.
Tomorrow, however, the focus will shift from the honor to the text of the speech that President Obama will deliver. And the President knows it, which is why I think that he will be unable to resist the temptation to address the controversy, however obliquely, and to attempt to convince the tens of millions of Catholics and other pro-life Christians who will hear or read his words that we are all on the same side.
And some will even believe it, and wonder what the fuss was all about. And perhaps even, on some level, President Obama will believe it. On April 21, in a question-and-answer session at the 2009 Louisiana Priests Convention covered by the Catholic News Service, Francis Cardinal George of Chicago described his meeting with the President on March 18:
"It's hard to disagree with him because he'll always tell you he agrees with you . . . Maybe that's political. I think he sincerely wants to agree with you. You have to say, again and again, 'No, Mr. President, we don't agree (on abortion).'"
And that, it seems to me, is precisely the danger not only in granting this particular President an honorary degree but in allowing him to speak at a commencement ceremony at a Catholic university. A man of a different type of character, who held the same position on abortion but didn't feel compelled to try to convince everyone that they all agreed, might be able to give such an address without mentioning abortion.
Barack Obama won't be able to. However obliquely, he will make reference to the controversy over his honorary degree. Depending on how skillfully he and his speechwriters craft his remarks, he may come off as condescending or as platitudinous.
What he will not be able to do, though, is to convince those who believe that he is wrong on abortion that we are all really on the same side. The only people who will walk away from this speech thinking that are those who thought that before the speech.
No, Mr. President, we don't agree. You think that it is reasonable to tell a mother that she has a "choice" to end the life of the unborn child in her womb. You think that it is morally acceptable to stick a pair of scissors into the base of the skull of a child halfway through her mother's birth canal, and then suction her brains out through the hole.
You think that, if a child somehow manages to survive the best efforts of the abortionist to kill him and is born alive, the law should not require doctors to do what the Hippocratic Oath says they must and save the life of that child. You think it is better for that child to die, because "choice" is more important than life.
Notre Dame made an error not only in deciding to grant President Obama an honorary degree but in inviting him to speak. This isn't a question of "freedom of expression" but of unchanging truth. Tomorrow, President Obama will compound that error, because he will be unable to refrain from addressing abortion.
Only one question remains: When the dust settles, how will Catholics react? Is this controversy finally ending, or is it only beginning?
More on Notre Dame and President Obama:
- Should Notre Dame Honor President Obama?
- Bishop D'Arcy: President Obama "Has Separated Science From Ethics"
- Reader Question: Truth and Freedom of Expression
- Bishop Doran to Notre Dame: "Change the Name of the University"
- Forum Friday: Have You Written to Notre Dame?
- More Trouble for Notre Dame
- All Eyes Are on Notre Dame