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04.10.09

Showdown at Notre Dame

As Obama prepares to speak at the Catholic university’s commencement, priests and pundits are attacking the school for inviting a pro-choice politician. Get ready for a battle of biblical proportions.

That was a fine display of spittle and foam on Hardball on Maundy Thursday between Pat Buchanan and Lawrence O’Donnell. I went through two rolls of Bounty super-absorbent towels. (Watch below.)

Video screenshot

Excerpt above; for full exchange click here.

The subject was Notre Dame University’s now certifiably controversial invitation to President Barack Obama to speak at its commencement exercise on May 17. ND will also bestow upon him an honorary doctor of law degree—the first of perhaps 100 inscribed sheepskins that our president will be receiving between now and May 2012. This one is controversial, of course, because of President Obama’s pro-abortion stance.

Let’s for once call it that, instead of the more euphonious “pro-choice.” Mr. Obama is for abortion in all its forms, including the ghastly “partial-birth” procedure, the details of which I won’t go into here because a) you already know about it and b) it makes the skin shrivel to hear it.

The next section of a cyberjeremiad against Obama goes on to ask: “Who is worse: Obama or Herod? You decide.”

Pat Buchanan, who can make even a stout Knight of Malta seem like a theological girly man, takes the position of the Catholic Church, namely that abortion is murder, pure and simple. He insists that the leading Catholic university in America ought not to bestow honors on someone of antithetical views.

Mr. O’Donnell (also Catholic) took after Mr. Buchanan on grounds of hypocrisy, morally equating the death penalty with abortion and saying in effect, how can you and the church be against abortion and for the death penalty? It was at this point that I opened the second roll of Bounty.

The battle is joined. Randall Terry, head of the anti-abortion Operation Rescue, has promised to make Notre Dame’s commencement “a circus.”

His ad hoc Web site is graced with a painting of Jesus on the cross and the words, “Would you invite Pilate after he crucified Christ?”

The “mission statement of “Stop Obama at Notre Dame” is as follows:

1) Stop President Obama from speaking on May 17 by peaceful protests
2) The dismissal of Rev. Jenkins [Notre Dame’s president]

Its “secondary mission”:
1) If Obama decides to run again in 2012, we have [sic] politically tarred him with the blood of babies in such a way that he cannot win
2) Create such peaceful havoc [oxymoron alert] that [sic] no other Catholic university commits this treachery
3) Recruit and train new warriors to defend Life and Truth in “on the job” training.

The next section of this cyberjeremiad goes on to ask: “Who is worse: Obama or Herod? You decide.”

While you’re trying to decide that question for yourselves, there is this, as well: Ten priests of the order that founded Notre Dame have written to Rev. Jenkins, in a somewhat calmer, but sincerely troubled tone, to ask that the invitation be rescinded on straightforward grounds: "Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors, or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."

One is tempted—as a lapsed Catholic, I have the luxury of disinterest here—to say to that: fair enough. You may not agree with the teaching of the Catholic Church, but one ought not to excoriate it for taking seriously its fundamental tenets.

Abortion is—forgive the metaphor—a tar baby for Catholic politicians. (Mr. Obama is of course not Catholic, but his former Christian church had its own, um, problems.)

The most-prominent Catholic politicians are: Vice President Joe Biden; Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi; Sen. John Kerry; Gov. Bill Richardson; former mayor Rudy Giuliani; and fresh-from-the baptismal font Newt Gingrich.

What do they all—with the exception of the dripping-wet Newt—have in common? They’re all pro-abortion. Sorry, I meant “pro-choice.” For this, some bishops, who were rather silent whilst their priests were fondling the altar boys, have said they would refuse them the sacrament of Communion. In a public debate, the Bishop of Rhode Island actually likened Giuliani to Pontius Pilate.

While researching this posting, I found myself wondering if the thrice-married Newt had weighed in on the controversy. Sure enough: “It is sad,” he said, “to see Notre Dame invite President Obama to give the commencement speech since his policies are so anti-Catholic.” Well, that didn’t take long.

What all this Sturm und Drang has guaranteed, is that this will be one heckuva commencement speech to watch. What do you want to bet that all three networks dispatch their anchors to South Bend on May 17, making it a four-ring circus.

There is something about dear old Notre Dame and its commencement speeches. Mr. Obama will be its sixth presidential speaker. The one everyone remembers is Jimmy Carter, who in June of 1977 went there and uttered the lines: “Being confident of our own future, we are now free of that inordinate fear of communism which once led us to embrace any dictator who joined us in that fear. I’m glad that that’s being changed.”

This was one of the most coruscatingly vapid statements ever to pass the lips of an American president. In June 1977, the communist leader of Cambodia, Pol Pot, was approximately half-way through his extermination of 1.7 million of his people. As for Mr. Carter, he went on to smooch, wetly, Leonid Brezhnev, Gulag commander in chief and leader of Soviet Russia (aggregate death toll in the 20-30 million or more range), who then rewarded his osculation by invading Afghanistan.

All of which is to say, this will be a commencement to remember. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

Christopher Buckley’s books include Supreme Courtship, The White House Mess, Thank You for Smoking, Little Green Men, and Florence of Arabia. He was chief speechwriter for Vice President George H.W. Bush, and is editor at large of ForbesLife magazine.