Georgetown’s Thomas Reese weighs in on Barack Obama-Notre Dame kerfuffle

Would you let “that one” speak at your school?

Yesterday, we discussed how Notre Dame’s success in booking Barack Obama to speak at the 2009 Commencement was causing a stir among conservative Catholics. Fr. Schall gave a too-coy response to this issue and so we Madlibbed it.

Now, South Bend news outlets report that Notre Dame is sticking to its guns, and Barack Obama is still slated to be their commencement speaker on May 17. This time, another Georgetown voice is chiming in, Rev. Thomas Reese of the Woodstock Theological Center. He dismisses the controversy and tells Notre Dame to get real:

The Rev. Thomas Reese, a Washington-based Jesuit, said Monday that the “controversy over commencement speakers at Catholic universities pops up every spring along with the tulips.”

He called the uproar over the president’s visit “absurd.”

“If Cardinal Edward Egan of New York can invite Obama to speak at the Al Smith dinner in October of 2008 when he was only a presidential candidate, then there is certainly nothing wrong with Notre Dame having the President speak at a commencement,” said Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.

Menawhile, the criticism won’t quit. Should Domers shut their yaps and be glad they’ve booked the President of the United States to be their commencement speaker? Or are concerns about Obama’s pro-choice and other policies legitimate?

Photo from transplanted mountaineer under a Creative Commons license.

12 Comments on “Georgetown’s Thomas Reese weighs in on Barack Obama-Notre Dame kerfuffle

  1. “Absurd?” The common definition of “absurd” goes something like this: “ridiculous because of being irrational, incongruous, or illogical.” With all respect, Fr. Reese, I am quite surprised that a Jesuit priest – especially one of your stature and influence – would react the way you did given the obstacles to core areas of the Catholic Church’s mission that our culture presents (and the President’s policies openly foster). As a matter of fact, over the past few days many well reasoned, thoughtful objections have been written in response to President Obama’s scheduled appearance at Notre Dame. I believe any fair-minded person who is familiar with Catholic teaching would characterize many, if not most, of them to be quite the opposite of “absurd.” Here’s one by George Weigel: “The invitation to deliver a commencement address, especially when coupled with the award of an honorary degree, is not a neutral act. It’s an act by which a Catholic institution of higher learning says, ‘This is a life worth emulating according to our understanding of the true, the good, and the beautiful.’ It is frankly beyond my imagining how Notre Dame can say that of a president who has put the United States back into the business of funding abortion abroad; a president who made a mockery of the very idea of moral argument in his speech announcing federal funding for embryo-destructive stem cell research; a president whose administration and its congressional allies are snatching tuition vouchers out of the hands of desperately poor Washington, D.C., children who just as desperately want to attend Catholic schools.” See This link contains other opinions that are contrary to your own. Perhaps you have not read them. But for you to suggest that it is “ridiculous because of being irrational, incongruous, or illogical” for a Catholic to object to the President’s scheduled appearance at ND is itself, by any fair definition of the word, absurd. Furthermore, I do not believe that Cardinal Egan bestowed a formal honor upon then Senator Obama at the Al Smith dinner (a fund raiser at which politicians poke fun at each other to raise money for Catholic Charities) in 2008; but even if he did, if by your comment you mean to suggest that if Notre Dame is wrong for inviting Obama, then the Cardinal was wrong for inviting Senator Obama to the Al Smith dinner, then so be it. Two wrongs don’t make a right. “Absurd?” And, “It was OK when Cardinal Eagan did it, so why can’t ND?” Come on now, Father, surely you can do better than that. And don’t you think that, as a Catholic priest, you ought to at least try to do so, if only to help to enlighten those of us who just can’t seem to think rationally or logically about such matters?

  2. President Obama has what is truly a rare historical opportunity that he appears to be squandering. History, the economy, the post Bush Administration feeling, and the global threats we currently face all presented him with an American people ready to support dramatic changes in the way our government handles itself.

    Throughout history, very few leaders have ever gotten such an opportunity.
    Instead, President Obama appears to be a hard corps Democrat and extremist liberal falling right into the existing patterns that have led this country down a very slippery and dangerous slope.

    Any man who can rationalize late term abortions, not protecting an infant born alive during a botched abortion attempt, not notifying the parents of teens seeking abortions, and other such extremes is not welcome at my university unless he is there to learn something. To rationalize that the availability of abortion somehow increases a woman’s rights and promotes her social equality is absolute folly.

    Intelligent Catholics may disagree on the cultural value of the “Vagina Monologues”, but Human Rights and the Right to Life are as close to absolutes as we can get.

    I hope that Notre Dame stands for something more than simply honoring Mr. Obama because he is the first black President. Trying to be the first university at which this president gives a commencement speech simply legitimizes his views in the eyes of the world.

    The University of Notre Dame speaks for us. We individuals oftentimes do not have the organization or the political and financial resources of the unions, the automakers, the bankers and others who can punctuate their “needs” with large sums of money at election time, i.e., President Obama received the largest amount of money of any candidate from AIG.

    If the leading Catholic university—who regularly asks us (alumni) to send money to support her “Catholic educational mission” does not stand up for our beliefs when it is absolutely the right thing to do, then I fear all may be lost.

    If the least of us does not have the Right to Life—none of us do.

    I have great expectations of moral courage from the university’s leadership team.

  3. This just in:

    The University doesn’t like “Obama”; and the University doesn’t like the word “suckz”; but the University did approve “Obama suckz”.

  4. IF ND doesn’t want the POTUS, then Georgetown will take him.

    I simply don’t understand how supposedly well-educated students at a school of nation prominence would turn down the opportunity to hear the words of one of the most important individuals in history.

    I am 100% sure that ND graduates individuals that do not hold Catholic doctrine as truth. Are they any less important as students? As alumni? I would say no – they enrich the student body and have important things to give to the University.

    The same goes for Obama. While he might not see eye to eye on Catholic doctrine (fair considering he is NOT catholic), I believe that he has valuable ideas to share. He is no less wise because he believes in stem-cell research. He is not being asked to share his reasoning behind his person ethics, he is being asked to share his experiences with students at a turning point in their lives. Experiences and advice that millions would love to hear.

    Shame on ND.

  5. Hoya, I believe this is the main point that objecting Catholics are making: ND is a Catholic university. As a Catholic institution, ND first and foremost should be concerned with teaching and promoting authentically Catholic Christian principles. Otherwise, calling itself “Catholic” has no meaning. A Catholic institution should not grant an honor or “prize” to one who leads others toward engaging in conduct that is not only completely inconsistent with core Catholic values, but which, if followed, would lead to grave sin. Inviting the President to a forum where his views would be discussed, or to make a speech in which he would explain those views so that the university community can understand and debate them, would be a different story. But what ND is doing is placing the President in a place of honor, awarding him an honorary degree, featuring him as main speaker, which says to the public, in effect, ND believes that what this person stands for is worth emulating. For a Catholic institution to convey such a message about President Obama in light of the policies he is pursuing as president is misleading because it is demonstrably untrue. Having learned that Fr. Jenkins made this decision without prior consultation with his diocesan bishop demonstrates that ND views itself first as a secular institution, and only secondarily as a teacher and promoter of Catholic values. This is extremely sad. I pray that Georgetown, Boston College, and other Catholic institutions will not make the same mistake. But if they feel they must do so, the truthful alternative would be for them to recognize that their secular teaching mission cannot be squared with their obligations as a Catholic institution, and to make a formal break with the Church and operate as a purely secular institution. This has been done by certain institutions in the south that were formerly tied to the Baptist Convention (e.g., Wake Forest University), and could be done by ND, BS, GU, etc. That would be a sad result, indeed, but one which would at least be intellectually honest. Perhaps then institutions such as ND could sponsor affiliated schools of theology which can operate independently, consistent with Catholic teaching. As for students who are not Catholic, why would they attend a Catholic school if they object to being taught in the tradition of that institution, and consistent with its values? A Catholic institution has no obligation to compromise core Catholic teachings because certain members of its academic community may disagree with some (or all) of them. One is free to accept or reject Catholic teachings, but for a “Catholic” school to water them down in the hopes that the institution will thus appear more acceptable within secular culture is just plain wrong. In fact, it is precisely the opposite of what such institutions should and must do if they are to be “Catholic.”

  6. As an alum with a child at GU, this issue is of great concern. An exchange of interpretations with a theologian may be one thing, but to elevate this man (Pres Obama) and his ideas for contemplatation over the word of Jesus is absurd.

    If all men are created equal – the fact of his being the first black president is now irrelevant. Get the job done. Keep us safe, competitive and help us provide opportunity to all.

    I sincerely pray that GU has the distinction of not inviting Barak Obama to speak at such an important occasion.

    Also, it is my understanding that Fr. Reese is associated with the Woodstock Theological Center. Do not honor him by tying him directly to the University.

  7. We do make note of the fact that he’s from Georgetown’s Theological Center. I think it’s only fair to associate him with Georgetown, though, the same way main campus loosely identifies with the law center and medical center researchers—it does independent research but Georgetown founded the center.

  8. A graduate’s comment above inspires me to make one too.
    First, the Woodstock Center is affiliated with Georgetown, so it’s fair to claim Tom Reese, and we should be proud to do so.
    Second, his mention of Cardinal Egan’s invitation (and warm treatment) of then-Senator Obama to the Al Smith Dinner is very apt. Good enough to continue a tradition (plus raising money for a good cause, and getting a lot of face time for the New York Catholic church), then why not good enough to give a commencement speech, especially since Senator Obama is now President Obama. By the way, Senators Schumer and Clinton were also honored Al Smith Dinner guests. And, Senator McCain’s position on stem cell research is the same as President Obama.
    Catholic events are going to be bereft of interesting and prominent speakers if we apply the litmus test of submission to the teaching of the hierarchy.
    The bishops are political actors as well as religious ones — this invitation is a golden opportunity to cry wolf, to raise consciousness on their issues, and to raise money. They love stuff like this — it creates teachable moments.

  9. God bless Notre Dame for upholding academic freedom. Ideas are powerful,let us here all of them.

  10. We’ve got similar problems here in Australia with our new administration overturning the previous ban on overseas aid funding abortions. Our foreign minister is a catholic and our PM, born a catholic but now an Anglican, allowed the change without a struggle. Our PM is an admirer of Lutheran pastor Bonheiffer, murdered by the Nazis during WW2. Bonheiffer was unapologetically pro life. You figure it out, I can’t.
    There are too many prelates and politicians who are products of the age; captured by the zeitgist where popularity is more important than principle.
    It always reminds me of an incident in the 50’s during the reign of the great Archbishop of Melbourne, Daniel Mannix. He was sitting at the dais waiting for the commencement of proceedings to open a new Catholic school when he saw the local Labor Party politician approaching. She was vocally pro abortion. “What’s she doing here”? asked Danny. “As the local member, she’s been invited to participate,” was the reply. “If she comes up here, I’m going”, said Danny. The wimps who invited her had to suffer the self inflicted humiliation of telling her she wasn’t welcome. She left. Danny opened the school.
    That was in the fifties at a time of rampant bigotry, when not too many years before catholics couldn’t get jobs in the government because of the Masonic influence and control. Danny came from Ireland and knew all about bigotry. He fought fire with fire; broght orders of nuns, priests and brothers from Ireland, established novitiates and seminaries to produce Australian clergy and the Catholic population flourished.
    In the seventies, the labor gov’t brought in gov’t funding for private schools. The Catholic ed’ system became addicted to the gov’t teat and muted its criticism of rampant secularism. Coupled with the explosive impact of the sexual revolution, Catholicism went into decline. Today catholic schools are a pale shadow of the

  11. I am reminded of an opinion that certain groups in history have held towards other groups for which they held distain. Hitler said “the only good Jew is a dead Jew” (of course jew was not capitalized). It seems to me that the only good Catholic is a pro-abortion Catholic. I remember how the leftist media gushed over democrat Tim Russert’s deep and abiding Catholic faith. If he had been an anti-abortion Catholic, he never breathed a word of it in his lifetime. Otherwise his religion would not have been a virtue to them, but rather a reasonable condition for his never having acquired the MTP spot in the first place.

    Such as sad commentary on the state of our nation.

  12. Tell the REV. Reese to go molest some kids and leave us Catholics alone.

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