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Book Highlights Notre Dame's Pro-Choice Commencement Speakers

April 11, 2009

While the trumped-up imbroglio over President Obama's invitation to deliver the commencement address at Notre Dame continues to simmer, the attitudes and voting behavior of American Catholics belie the manufactured controversy. And as it turns out, a 2003 book of the school's commencement speeches issued by the University of Notre Dame Press shows the political diversity of its past speakers. Among the headliners is 1995 honoree and 1975 South Bend graduate, the pro-choice Condoleezza Rice.
Sadly for the likes of Bush speechwriter turned Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, far from "declaring war on Catholics," Barack Obama enjoys their support. Obama, after all, not only won among Catholic voters by a comfortable 9-point margin, he easily defeated John McCain in St. Joseph County, home to the Indiana university, as well as sweeping an October straw poll among Notre Dame students. And as a recent Gallup survey showed, Catholic attitudes towards abortion, stem cell research, homosexuality, out-of-wedlock parenthood and a host of other social issues differ little from the American electorate that put Barack Obama in the White House.
Of course, political popularity and adherence to ideological litmus tests have not been the deciding factors for the nation's elite Catholic universities in choosing commencement speakers. Despite similar protests, Notre Dame's 1992 graduation ceremonies featured the pro-choice New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. And in 1995, the school offered its commencement podium to Notre Dame alumnus and university trustee, Condi Rice.
And to be sure, the "mildly pro-choice" views of Ms. Rice would not be in keeping with the Church's teachings on abortion. As she later told the Washington Times in 2005:

Miss Rice said abortion should be "as rare a circumstance as possible," although without excessive government intervention. "We should not have the federal government in a position where it is forcing its views on one side or the other.

(Apparently, Rice's 1995 speech produced no firestorm akin to that which preceded the Iraq war cheerleader's 2006 commencement appearance and honorary degree at the Jesuit-run Boston College.)
For its part, the leadership at Notre Dame seems to believe that exposing students to the political leadership of their nation, regardless of those leaders' views, fits within the mission of the country's premier Catholic universities. Reflecting that commitment, the University of Notre Dame Press in 2003 published Go Forth and Do Good: Memorable Notre Dame Commencement Addresses by Rev. Wilson D. Miscamble, C.S.C., professor of history at the University of Notre Dame and rector and superior of Moreau Seminary.
With a foreword by Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., who delivered the 1987 commencement, the book includes 24 notable graduation speeches from presidents of both parties as well as a litany of figures who no doubt found themselves on opposite sides of the abortion issue:

Among other featured Commencement speakers are: Joseph Kennedy, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Andrew Young, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Condoleezza Rice, Kofi Annan, and Presidents Eisenhower, Carter and Reagan.

Regarding the invitation to President Obama for its May graduation ceremony, the school's president Reverend John I. Jenkins acknowledged, "Of course, this does not mean we support all of his positions" and called the event "a basis for further positive engagement."
As for Condoleezza Rice, she would doubtless agree. After all, her 1995 speech to Notre Dame graduates was titled, "The Role of the Education Person."
(This piece originally appeared at Crooks and Liars.)
UPDATE: Two days after a new Pew Research poll showed Obama's approval rating among Catholics jumped to 65%, Time asked, "is their support for Obama fraying?"

5 comments on “Book Highlights Notre Dame's Pro-Choice Commencement Speakers”

  1. Where to begin? In the first place the dates you cite are old. The difference in internet access, content, speed, etc., between 1992, 1995 and now is like the difference between dial-up and super high speed. Then we used snail mail; today snail mail has gone the way of the dinosaur. Secondly, you cite "attitudes and voting behavior of American Catholics". I am an American practicing Catholic who did not vote for nor would I ever vote for Obama or any other pro-choice candidate. The operative word here is "practicing". Many people claim they are Catholic but, in fact, are not. Unfortunately for those who think they are but do not adhere faithfully to the tenets of the faith; their Catholicism is,in a word, false. I would not hesitate to add that if those polls you cite were to be taken today, many would indicate their anger and disappointment with Mr. Obama and his real identity and agenda. Having now realized what Obama is truly about, I would venture to say that many who voted for him on the basis of his campaign propaganda, are wishing they hadn't.

  2. Please, A. Terranova, enlighten us as to how President Obama's campaign was based on propaganda? Obama campaigned as pro-choice; he promised to lift the restrictions on stem cell research; he promised to draw down in Iraq and ratchet up in Afghanistan; he promised to cut taxes for the middle class; he vowed to always be honest with us, no matter how bad any news might be. In his first 100 days he has fulfilled those promises, so I have no reason to believe he won't "make good" on the others. For me, and for the 63% of Americans who, as of yesterday's polling, approve of the job he is doing, there is no evidence to support your claim that many who voted for him are "wishing they hadn't."
    You should learn to speak only for yourself, especially when you have no proof for your unhesitant declarations. The facts show that Obama won 47 percent of white Catholic voters; as of this month, 56 percent of them approve his performance, for a net of +9 percentage points. Therefore, it appears you actually don't "know" what polls taken today would say.
    If it somehow comforts you to call Catholics like myself "false", so be it. But you might want to remember that our faith also demands that we have compassion for the least among us, that we treat others as Jesus would treat them, that we do not lie, that "blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God." You state that you have not, nor would you ever vote for a pro-choice candidate. That is certainly your right, but if you voted for Senator McCain, you ignored the Church's admonishments against unjust wars, inhumane treatment of fellow humans, the death penalty, and adultery. Matthew 7:3-5, says, "And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?"

  3. Despite what the church fathers wish to claim, there is evidence that for years many church based universities have accepted so-called "sinners" to speak at commencement. In fact , instead of looking at Notre Dame's commencements, facts about other notable universities would bring to light that the church has not only had many pro-choice speakers, but it has also had known criminals, an occasional fugitive from just (in Italy), a large number of war criminals, and a couple of former dictators, and at least three well known atheists. It makes me wonder if the problem isn't so much skin deep as it is just the color of skin.

  4. It really cracks me up how the Catholics take this moral high ground,43 percent of them are the ones getting abortions.And they sin probably more than any other religion to.Myself being a Catholic,am so tired of hearing about Roe v Wade
    The right wing evangelicals along with conservative Catholics are the only ones complaining about it.The church is just worried they won't be able to drain our money from the collection boxes. I voted for Obama so I guess in some peoples eyes I'll go to hell.Guess what? So Be it!I myself think I will not.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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