Sunday, May 17, 2009

Obama at Notre Dame

With President Obama set to give the commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame this afternoon amidst protests by some Catholics, I offer the following links to some interesting and insightful articles and commentaries.

Vatican Silent on Obama Speech United Press International (May 16, 2009).

Who Is a Real Catholic? – David Gibson (Washington Post, May 17, 2009).

Notre Dame Valedictorian: Obama Practices Catholic Values - Katherine Zaleski (Huffington Post, May 15, 2009).

Church and State; Obama and Notre Dame – Matthew V. Storrin (Boston Globe, May 17, 2009).

Activists Plan Notre Dame Protests – Andy Barr and John Ward Anderson (Politico, May 15, 2009).

Barack Obama, Notre Dame, and the the Casey Myth - Jamison Foser (Media Matters, May 15, 2009).

Right Wing Warriors Cause Damage to the Church – Vincent Miller (National Catholic Reporter, May 15, 2009).

Update 1: Obama Greeted by Cheers, Protest at Notre Dame - Julie Pace and Steven R. Hurst (Associated Press, May 17, 2009).

Above: President Obama arrives to deliver the commencement speech
during the 2009 graduation ceremony at the University of Notre Dame
in South Bend, Ind. Sunday, May 17, 2009. At left is Notre Dame President
the Rev. John Jenkins. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Above: A protester is escorted out as he heckles President Obama as he
delivers the commencement speech during the 2009 graduation
at the University of Notre Dame, Sunday, May 17, 2009.
(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Above: President Barack Obama delivers the commencement speech
during the 2009 graduation ceremony at the University of Notre Dame
in South Bend, Ind. Sunday, May 17, 2009. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Update 2: Following are excerpts from President Obama’s speech today at Notre Dame. (For the full transcript, click here.)

. . . The question, then, is how do we work through [the] conflicts [we face]? 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?

Nowhere do these questions come up more powerfully than on the issue of abortion.

As I considered the controversy surrounding my visit here, I was reminded of an encounter I had during my Senate campaign, one that I describe in a book I wrote called The Audacity of Hope. A few days after I won the Democratic nomination, I received an email from a doctor who told me that while he voted for me in the primary, he had a serious concern that might prevent him from voting for me in the general election. He described himself as a Christian who was strongly pro-life, but that’s not what was preventing him from voting for me.

What bothered the doctor was an entry that my campaign staff had posted on my website – an entry that said I would fight “right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman’s right to choose.” The doctor said that he had assumed I was a reasonable person, but that if I truly believed that every pro-life individual was simply an ideologue who wanted to inflict suffering on women, then I was not very reasonable. He wrote, “I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words.”

Fair-minded words.

After I read the doctor’s letter, I wrote back to him and thanked him. I didn’t change my position, but I did tell my staff to change the words on my website. 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.

Understand – I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. No matter how much we may want to fudge it – indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory – the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.

Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words.

It’s a way of life that has always been the Notre Dame tradition. Father Hesburgh has long spoken of this institution as both a lighthouse and a crossroads. The lighthouse that stands apart, shining with the wisdom of the Catholic tradition, while the crossroads is where “differences of culture and religion and conviction can co-exist with friendship, civility, hospitality, and especially love.” And I want to join him and Father Jenkins in saying how inspired I am by the maturity and responsibility with which this class has approached the debate surrounding today’s ceremony.

This tradition of cooperation and understanding is one that I learned in my own life many years ago – also with the help of the Catholic Church. . . .

[R]emember . . . 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.

This doubt should not push us away from our faith. But it should humble us. It should temper our passions, and cause us to be wary of self-righteousness. It should compel us to remain open, and curious, and eager to continue the moral and spiritual debate that began for so many of you within the walls of Notre Dame. And within our vast democracy, this doubt should remind us to persuade through reason, through an appeal whenever we can to universal rather than parochial principles, and most of all through an abiding example of good works, charity, kindness, and service that moves hearts and minds.

For if there is one law that we can be most certain of, it is 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....

Update 3: Recommended commentaries on Obama at Notre Dame.

Mr. Obama Shines at Notre Dame: Disparate Reflections on the Commencement Address and the Occasion - William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, May 17, 2009).

A Great Day for Notre Dame, A Bad Day for Republican Catholicism - Colleen Kochivar-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, May 18, 2009).

Vatican Newspaper Says Obama Sought “Common Ground” at Notre Dame - John Thavis (Catholic News Service, May 18, 2009).

He Came, He Spoke, He Conquered - Thomas J. Reese (Washington Post/Newsweek, May 17, 2009).

Conciliatory Fighting Words - E.J. Dionne (Washington Post, May 18, 2009).

Obama Gets a C- at Notre Dame - Michael Sean Winters (America, May 17, 2009).

Obama at Notre Dame: Incomplete Eloquence - Douglas Kmiec (National Catholic Reporter, May 18, 2009).

Obama at Notre Dame - Amy Wellborn (Via Media, May 17, 2009).

Notre Dame: The Upshot - Mark Silk (Spiritual Politics, May 18, 2009).

Obama Connects While Deflecting Abortion Furor - Tim Rutten (Los Angeles Times, May 20, 2009).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Why the Bishops Are Being Ignored
Catholic Theologian: “The President of Notre Dame is Following the Example Set by the Vatican”
American Catholics and Obama
It’s Still Out There
Responding to Bishop John “We Are at War” Finn
What the Notre Dame Controversy is Really About and What’s Really at Stake
A Mountain Out of a Molehill
The Bishops and Obama (Part 1)
The Bishops and Obama (Part 2)


Phillip Clark said...

A very profound and reassuring triumph for President Obama and the University of Notre Dame! It was so touching to me when the President referenced gay rights in his speech, although it wasn't particularly signifigant, he showed that it is on his mind and of concern. So he hasn't dismissed it, as some fatalistic, pessimistic, individiuals within the homosexual community perceive.

But what a beautiful day for our Church and our country! =D

crystal said...

I thought it was a pretty good speech :)

Joe said...

What a proud and joyous day for Notre Dame. This is the true face of American Catholicism, deo gratias.