4 P.M. UPDATE: Michael Sean Winters saved his fire for the end. He found Obama's views on faith and doubt "bewildering."
His honorary doctorate is a doctorate of laws, not a doctorate in theology and the speech should have avoided this sophomoric foray into the nature of faith.
Winters is "guessing" that the huge tribute to Rev. Hesburgh "was done at the request of Notre Dame officials who know Father Ted's magic will help with alumni donors."
The President was kind not to point out that the GOP has done nothing to lower the abortion rate and so far from being "pro-abortion" his policies aim at lowering the abortion rate here and now, not in some remote and frankly unlikely criminalization of abortion. George W. Bush would make a phone call to the Right-to-Life march every January. Not sure what that did to help women facing crisis pregnancies.
Chittister, a Notre Dame graduate, says,
The strength of this speech is that it calls people beyond the temptation to impose our personal positions whatever the cost to the universal principles of the Golden Rule.Â He asks no one to change their own religious principles. Instead, he asks us to maintain our faith with confidence so that we can all both learn and teach one another. This speech will be a catalyst for a higher national discussion than the particular issue that prompted it.
I've asked the panel for their overall remarks so watch for a new post shortly..
3:45 UPDATE: Obama's speech concludes to a standing ovation. HeÂ spoke of
... the law that binds people of all faiths and no faith together. It is no coincidence that it exists in Christianity and Judaism; in Islam and Hinduism; in Buddhism and humanism. It is, of course, the Golden Rule - the call to treat one another as we wish to be treated. The call to love. To serve. To do what we can to make a difference in the lives of those with whom we share the same brief moment on this Earth.
He told the story of how Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, former president of Notre Dame, brought together 12 diverse members of the Civil Rights Commission to create the foundational resolutions of the civil rights act. Hesburgh took them all fishing -- a place of common ground.
I will not pretend that the challenges we face will be easy, or that the answers will come quickly, or that all our differences and divisions will fade happily away. Life is not that simple. It never has been.
But as you leave here today, remember the lessons of Cardinal Bernardin, of FatherÂ Hesburgh, of movements for change both large and small. Remember that each of us, endowed with the dignity possessed by all children of God, has the grace to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we all seek the same love of family and the same fulfillment of a life well-lived. Remember that in the end, we are all fishermen.
3:40 UPDATE: Obama described his work as a community organizer in Chicago working with a Catholic-church funded effort that pulled together an "eclectic crew:"
Catholic and Protestant churches. Jewish and African-American organizers. Working-class black and white and Hispanic residents. All of us with different experiences. All of us with different beliefs. But all of us learned to work side by side because all of us saw in these neighborhoods other human beings who needed our help - to find jobs and improve schools. We were bound together in the service of others.
He cites Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, the late Archbishop of Chicago and "a saintly man" who always spoke his mind but was "always trying to find common ground" who said, "You can't really get on with preaching the Gospel until you've touched minds and hearts."
The graduate's he said will face all their challenges while...
You will hear talking heads scream on cable, read blogs that claim definitive knowledge, and watch politicians pretend to know what they're talking about. Occasionally, you may also have the great fortune of seeing important issues debated by well-intentioned, brilliant minds.
They should speak their minds, hold firmly to faith, stand as a lighthouse.
But remember too that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt. It is the belief in things not seen. It is beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what He asks of us, and those of us who believe must trust that His wisdom is greater than our own.
Lawler finds this morally confusing:
The sight of the president standing at the country's biggest Catholic podium, literally wearing the badge of Catholicism,Â pontificating on the meaning of dialogue, tells viewers who might not understand the Catholic perspective on the issues that the Church believes that a principled stand on problems like abortion is beyond the realm of dialogue. Fr. Jenkins is responsible for the moral confusion that results from this episode.
The president speaks of universal principles but seems to treat many beliefs in a relativistic way -- my belief is as good as yours. Reducing abortion is not the same protecting life (positively).
The 163rd graduation class of the university, Obama says, must deal with the global economy, the environment and the world's need for peace andÂ we must find a way to reconcile our ever-shrinking world with its ever-growing diversity - diversity of thought, of culture, and of belief. In short, we must find a way to live together as one human family.
...Moreover, no one person, or religion, or nation can meet these challenges alone. Our very survival has never required greater cooperation and understanding among all people from all places than at this moment in history.
The difficulties in finding common ground are legion. Selfishness, prejudice, fear, and human nature itself, he said, citing
...the imperfections of man - our selfishness, our pride, our stubbornness, our acquisitiveness, our insecurities, our egos; all the cruelties large and small that those of us in the Christian tradition understand to be rooted in original sin.
It is "vexing" thatÂ "even bringing together persons of good will, men and women of principle and purpose, can be difficult, particularly without "demonizing" thoseÂ who disagree.
The soldier and the lawyer may both love this country with equal passion, and yet reach very different conclusions on the specific steps needed to protect us from harm. The gay activist and the evangelical pastor may both deplore the ravages of HIV/AIDS, but find themselves unable to bridge the cultural divide that might unite their efforts. Those who speak out against stem cell research may be rooted in admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son;s or daughter's hardships can be relieved.
Obama tells how he changed his own web site during the campaign after a pro-life physician emailed that he though it was not fair-minded to call people like him "idealogues." That phrase was removed, he said,
And I said a prayer that night that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me.
Because when we do that -- when we open our hearts and our minds to those who may not think like we do or believe what we do -- that's when we discover at least the possibility of common ground.
That's when we begin to say, "Maybe we won't agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this is a heart-wrenching decision for any woman to make, with both moral and spiritual dimensions.
So let's work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term. Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound science, as well as respect for the equality of women."Â
(Applause punctuated every sentence in that paragraph).
He calls for "Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words" -- a way of life he called the Notre Dame tradition.
Maniscalco notes, "Chrisian tradition" and "original sin" -- not heard too often from politicians." and that this "Call to responsibility and "one human family" are themes Catholics would resonate with."
3:15 p.m. UPDATE:The President began with a joke about his honorary degree.
I know it has not been without controversy. I don't know if you're aware of this, but these honorary degrees are apparently pretty hard to come by. So far I'm only 1 for 2 as President. Father Hesburgh is 150 for 150. I guess that's better. Father Ted, after the ceremony, maybe you can give me some pointers on how to boost my average. The President began with a joke about his honorary degree.
(Maniscalco notes: "Good joke. But it highlights ND might have got away with only having him speak.")
3:10 p.m. UPDATE: Rev. Jenkins is giving a resounding introduction to Obama, saying that while much attention was paid to the invitation to Obama, little has been paid to why the president chose to accept and to address a community that disagrees with him on pro-life issues.
Lawler is unimpressed::
Fr. Jenkins's introduction pits those who favor dialogue against those who "demonize" or "condemn" others. This obviously has overtones for the debate over Obama's appearance. Fr. Jenkins intentionally misunderstands the difference between seeking dialogue with those who oppose you and honoring them. Again, no one at Notre Dame would object to a dialogue with the president -- it is just that commencement and an honorary degree do not constitute a dialogue at all.
Graduates made a clear statement in their opening applause of Obama's welcome at Notre Dame that the pursuit of ideas, from all perspectives, are still the foundation of a Catholic university.
2:50 P.M. UPDATE: President Obama is awarded an honorary doctorate,Â "not for the demonstration for potential to improve the world but for its actual accomplishment," says University of Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins. He cite's Obama's "willingness to engage with those who disagree with him," as well as his commitment to diplomacy and his welcome to voice of faith to bring their views to the table.
If anyone objects, they're not in the camera sight-line for the university video and only cheers can be heard.
2:25 P.M. UPDATE: The president has entered to resounding cheers (but networks report that a nearby campus prayer grotto is full of protesters, too). Winters notes:
The absence of a member of the hierarchy, however, is glaring. The bishops have delivered their snub. Hard to believe that they couldn't find a way to welcome him and express their ambivalence at the same time.
A picture is worth a thousand words, and this picture says that the nation's most prominent Catholic university welcomes the president, his policies not withstanding.
Chittister's comments in advance of the speech are that invitingÂ Obama to speak was "right and necessary...
It is a sign of political majority and responsibility to a new group of voters, the proof that the country and the university take them seriously. It is not a brainwashing act. What he says and does is their responsibility to evaluate now with the rest of us, as we must now do in regard to the other eight Presidents awarded honorary degree, including the most recent George W. Bush.
Obama's task, she says, is to "assure the public that this new stem cell initiative does not permit the creation of stem cells for either research or cloning.
2:10 P.M. UPDATE: Huffington Post is carrying what it says is the text of Obama's speech. Read for yourself here. Obama is entering the stadium now.
Sure enough, he will talk about the need to find "common ground" by working bi-partisanly to reduce the number of abortions, promote adoption, and provide for expecting mothers. Of course, those are all things that the pro-life movement already excels at doing. So in that sense it is, as expected, a huge disappointment. He will talk about a "sensible conscience clause," which would hearten pro-life advocates except for his recent decision to do precisely the reverse: undo many of the conscience clause protections enacted by executive order by President Bush. A misleading statement, it seems.
2 P.M. UPDATE: Earlier posts areÂ below.
Before the speech, I asked experts: Was Notre Dame wrong to extend the invitation to an honorary degree and the commencement speech? What could Obama say that might draw -- or drive away Catholic leadership and the public?
-- Michael Sean Winters had no problem with Notre Dame's decisions and a great deal of problems with the strong protests by more than 70 Catholic bishops. He says, they look like "they are taking their talking points from The Republican National Committee."
As the administration and Congress get ready to debate health care and immigration reform, issues the bishops also care about deeply, the President is within his rights to tell the bishops they will not have a seat at the table seeing as they have spent much of the past two months embarrassing him in public. I don't think he will do that. I do think the bishops need to take steps to repair their relationship with the administration.
He says, if Obama
re-iterates his commitment to reducing the abortion rate(something Republican administrations have not accomplished) he will appeal to most centrist Catholics - the swing voters - who are concerned about abortion and won't vote for anyone who dismisses Catholic concerns on the issue, but who also recognize the GOP has not delivered and it is time for a new political approach for the pro-life movement. Once he clears that "threshold" most centrist Catholics agree with the President on virtually every other issue.
-- Joseph Lawler disagrees on all points. He says Obama's track record violates the guidance of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops which says, institutions should not offer honors to those who "act in defiance of fundamental Catholic principles."
Some of those actions include repeal of the Mexico City policy, the reversal on President Bush's stem-cell research restrictions, and the efforts to undo certain conscience clause provisions for doctors, he says.
Even so, Lawler says,
There is plenty that Obama could say to please his pro-life opponents. Any signal that he would reaffirm the conscience clause, protect parental notification laws, or promise to oppose government funding for abortion, etc., would be viewed as a major step forward for pro-lifers. Language about reducing the number of abortions, however, without addressing theÂ policies he is promoting that directly increase the number of abortions, will fall flat and increase the divide. It is never too late for the president to cross the divide with pro-life opponents, but he has to give them something real.
ORIGINAL NOON POST:
Here's more about them and the perspectives they may offer.
Joseph Lawler, a 2008 alumnus of Notre Dame where he was managing editor of an independent Orthodox Catholic newspaper, recently notedthat Obama, who shies away from sectarian prayer and symbolism at public events, will don Notre Dame's doctoral robes "prominently featuring a cross and a prayer to Mary in Latin meaning 'Our life, our sweetness, and our hope.'"
In an earlier post, he writes
...The Church hierarchy has, when it has spoken on the issue, clearly and unambiguously condemned Notre Dame's decision to honor Obama. At last count 70 American bishops, including 4 cardinals, had responded publicly to the Notre Dame situation. All were at least skeptical of Notre Dame's choice, and many denounced the university officials in strong language.
Msgr. Francis Maniscalco, former spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and now public policy director for the diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., heads the diocese's Respect Life office.
His objections to Obama's actions on this topic look as well into move the president thas made to open federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Maniscalco wrote, in a discussion on the soul:
The human embryo deserves respect and protection for that reason and because it alone among developing creatures is destined to receive an immortal soul at whatever moment God chooses to create it.
Maniscalco also served on my panel of experts commenting when Obama and Sen. John McCain appeared last summer at a forum at Saddleback Church (Rick Warren's megachurch in California). That's the time when Obama, asked when life begins, said the answer was "above my pay grade." Maniscalco said,
To grant that abortion is a moral issue but to duck when human life begins is at best inconsistent. One would think it is vital (no pun intended) to think though exactly that question. (Obama's) unguarded line about not punishing a daughter of his with a child really hurt him in the pro-life movement.
Sister Joan Chittister, author of numerous books on peace and contemporary spirituality. The former prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, PA., recently analyzed the church's need for renewal in an article for the National Catholic Reporter. In it she notes that the Church cannot quell all the new ideas afloat, including,
"...ideas we don't want to hear, for ideas that are continually disrupting the past, for thinking groups of Christians who are beginning to organize themselves. Now the task is no longer to suppress dissent; it is to keep up with it, just in case, as the sixth-century Rule of Benedict says of visitors who point out difficult things to the community about itself, "God guided them to the monastery for this very reason."
Free lance writer and blogger Michael Sean Winters, author of Left at the Altar: How the Democrats Lost the Catholics and How the Catholics Can Save the Democrats, is also a correspondent for the British Catholic weekly, The Tablet.
There he wrote his own version of the speech Obama "ought" to give at Notre Dame, focusing on areas where people can find common ground. I can't link to the full text as it's subscription only but David Gibson excerpts from Winters-as-Obama here, including this passage.
I believe that common-sense proposals to try to reduce the abortion rate are the only available common ground. I believe that if we stop shouting at each other and listen to the women who are actually facing an unplanned pregnancy, we will find plenty of work to do to help them through a difficult chapter in their lives ... I believe that if we seek common ground on this most divisive of issues, it will be easier for us to work together on the other urgent moral tasks facing our nation.
In an America magazine post, Winters points out why he thinks 54% of Catholics voted for Obama despite his positions on life issues that conflict with Church teachings:
...While we recognize that our concern for the unborn springs from the same part of the Catholic heart as our concern for the poor, for the immigrant, for those who lack health care, many voters concluded that the Republicans were paying lip service on abortion and it was better to vote our moral conscience on these other issues where we are already seeing a difference.
Keep your screen set on Faith & Reason (and The Oval where our political writers will be live-blogging Obama's text) for the panels commentary during the speech. Refresh your screen often for updates once the speech begins.