He came. He spoke. He got heckled. Months of controversy over Notre Dame's decision to invite Barack Obama as its commencement speaker ended today with a small group of hecklers interrupting the president.
He then asked a good question.
Is it possible for us to join hands in common effort? As citizens of a vibrant and varied democracy, how do we engage in vigorous debate? How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?
For the most, we don't. But that's beside the point of the protest, according to John Kass of the Chicago Tribune, for the problem wasn't that Obama was asked to speak, it was that he was given an honorary degree, he says.
ND missed their chance.
My wife, an alumnus of almost 20 years, has since "[my] senior year" been lamenting the University's becoming more and more enfeebled by (what we like to call) a case of USnewsitis. The prestige of landing a sitting president was just too much to overlook.
That said, while not a big fan of the tone of Kass's article, he had it right to say that to those concerned, the degree was the big issue. Certainly bigger than just giving an address.
The University could have had its cake and ate it too. They could have invited the President to speak. But not conferred a degree. Heck, even "pagan" Arizona State did just that. ;-). Get the feather in the reputation cap, but make the symbolic statement affirming their "Catholic identity". As John Allen (as good a Catholic beat reporter as there is) suggested recently, this would be a doctrinally acceptable solution.
In a perfect world, this would be a brilliant Solomonic solution.
But our world is not perfect. I can imagine this was entertained by the Irish powers-that-be, and declined for fear that it would make no one happy. His supporters would protest he was "dissed". His detractors would claim he was still honored too much by being allowed to speak at all.
I have reason to think that they may have been right.
But I am puzzled and somewhat disappointed that not more was made of the distinction between a speaking engagement and an honorary degree. I can only think that in doing so, the resulting drama becomes less amenable to sound bites. But at the end of the day, both journalism (with a grudging nod of exception to Kass) and Notre Dame missed a chance to really move it up a notch.
Do the people who paid for their degrees (money, study) have to believe abortion is wrong before getting a degree from Notre Dame?
Do they believe any other doctrine of the church?
Or, if you do the work (and have all your fees paid), you get the degree?
I've heard rumors that they have admitted non-Roman Catholics to Notre Dame before. Even Presbyterians. (Extra points if you know the football joke.)
Answers to tangental questions from Bob C.:
Depends on the student.
Non Christians too. And it's not a rumor.