More letters about commencement coverage

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Judging by the first eight letters to the editor regarding the president’s visit, Father Jenkins has his hands full with alumni who perhaps thought they had attended a seminary rather than a university.

And following the president’s warm reception at The Vatican, did that crowd also send letters to Rome, advising the Holy Father that they had made their last donation to the Church?

One would hope that the ratio of letters pro and con on this question as represented by the 12 letters that you printed are not a representation of the alumni as a whole.

John Dixson ’61

I am sure you have seen a great many letters with regard to this matter, so I will keep my concerns concise. I was of the camp of Notre Dame alumni that was offended and embarrassed by the brouhaha surrounding President Obama’s invitation to speak at commencement this past spring. I am a proud American and was embarrassed to be associated with an institution that could make such a dramatic statement opposing the leader of our great, free society. I can count the number of times I have worn my Notre Dame class ring since commencement on one hand. I had begun to forget the drama of last spring and hoped that the rest of the country had as well when I opened the summer issue of Notre Dame Magazine. The “letters to the editor” page was the first and last page I read of the publication published by the institution to which my parents and I dedicated so much of our resources.

I was (and still am) angered and surprised by the vicious strength of the sentiments displayed in those letters. When I was a student at Notre Dame from 2002-06, I felt as if the University truly espoused the progressive, inclusive Catholicism to which it stated it aspired. I now see, somewhat bitterly, that it does not and never has.

Alison Kelly ’06

I was disappointed by the handling of the President Obama “visit and a talk” in your Summer 2009 edition. The letters to the editors were a good start in that about 50 percent expressed views that opposed the visit and about 50 percent expressed support. But then the articles fell 0 percent for the former and 100 percent for the latter. I am disappointed that you did not attempt to find one person to write an article giving a reasoned explanation of why 50 percent of the alumni found the visit to be in direct conflict with their Catholic faith and beliefs.

Michael Fons ’78

In the article “Day of Reckoning,” by R. Bruce Dold, he is quoted as saying “the president’s invitation (Jenkins).. also offered a chance for a family to find the good.” What good can you find in a president who would allow a live baby who survives a botched abortion to die, Mr. Dold? Or a Catholic (?) University that would drag pro-life protesters praying the rosary, including elderly priests and women from Our Lady’s campus?

My son, a 1998 graduate of Notre Dame, is proud of his alma mater. His mother and I are not. When someone asks if our son went to a Catholic University, we reply: “No, he went to Notre Dame.”

Father Jenkins, Mr. Dold , et al. who reveled in Obama’s appearance, would do well to remember the words of Our Lord in Revelation 3-16: “But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, not hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth.”

Norm Beznoska, president
Enterprise Security Partners, Inc.

Over at Our Place. Day of Reckoning. The Time and the Place. Defining Moment. . . . All favorable reviews of the invitation. . . . No dissenting opinion (except in letters — mostly imprudent ones — to the editor).

Doesn’t sound like much “debate” being promoted by ND Magazine.

John Napierkowski

Say what you want, the decision makers at Notre Dame are proud they invited Barack Obama, a man who supports abortion, to the campus. My decision is to disown the University. This is one of many decisions I have made as our once moral country, and once moral University, embraces secularism and the pursuit of power and money. I am opting out.

David McLaughlin
Seattle

For the past four years, I looked forward in receiving the Notre Dame Magazine. Not only was I proud of my daughter being a student at the University of Notre Dame, but receiving the magazine made me feel a connection to all the traditions and those who had graduated from that fine institution. My wife and I have sacrificed for many years in able that our daughter could receive her University of Notre Dame diploma on May 17, 2009. We sacrificed more than you will ever know, but somehow, after paying over $150,000 the past four years, I am so proud to say my daughter is a ND alumni. Every time the University of Notre Dame asked me for financial support, whether be Father Ted’s Fund, Father John’s request, the Band of the Fighting Irish request or, yes, even the Notre Dame Magazine asking to support them, I opened my checkbook and sent what I could.

Now, I get my summer edition of Notre Dame Magazine, thinking there will be all kinds of photos of any of the 2,900 ND graduates, and to my surprise, I find on page 1, a commencement weekend protester, and on page 75, the pinhead that tried to ruin my daughter’s and her fellow graduates “special” day. You must have taken hundreds of photos on May 17 of our honored graduates, and this is what you decide to print in your magazine. I just don’t get what you were thinking. If you have any justification for it, please let me know!

Mike Myers

I was delighted to see that great advocate of civil rights, Father Theodore Hesburgh, welcoming President Obama to our campus. Some more of my favorite professors who would also have been very pleased include: (1) Frank O’Malley, legendary teacher of the Modern Catholic Authors course, who promoted the ideas which led to Vatican II. (2) Monsignor Philip Hughes, famous church historian. He was an admirer of Adlai Stevenson, whom at the time I regarded as a quasi-communist. (3) Father Thomas McAvoy, an authority on the American church and a truly wonderful person. A loyal son from the Rockne era, he was a progressive in the spirit of Orestes Brownson.

As has been noted since commencement, not even the pope is so narrowly focused on one moral issue as are many of our fellow Domers. If we consider Catholic teaching more broadly, we find the president supporting it in most respects, much more than leading Republicans.

Bill McMahon ’59

Smugness and total self-assuredness in all matters is very unbecoming in any circle — but especially so for those who should know better. Instead of ripping on ND for having Obama on campus because of his support for legalized abortion, the critics should acknowledge its legality and work to help those trapped in an unwanted pregnancy. I read nary a word about such kindness in a variety of ugly and condescending letters to the editor. These grads should crawl back in their hidey-holes and pretend that the last president to address ND grads was totally in the right simply because he was anti-abortion. Oh the evil that such hypocrites do.

Dan Hurley ’74

I just received the copy of Notre Dame Magazine. The article regarding having President Obama at the commencement made me so sad. It was fine having him be speaker but to condone giving him an honorary award is such an insult to all the people who fight for pro-life when he is so blatantly pro choice and to such a degree that on the third day in office he repealed the ban on partial birth abortion. If Notre Dame can honor him then maybe all us Catholics who fight for life might as well chuck it in and give up. You all have given approval and absolution to all Catholics who are pro-choice. I know in the future that ND will regret having compromised what is our Catholic belief. I have a feeling that this will start a trend with our young people when we have not stood fast for what is right and holy. The real hero that day were all the graduates that did not attend the commencement. Even though they were just a handful, they are the future leaders of carrying out what our Church stands for.

Gloria Denisoff

What disappointed me most about Obama’s visit to Notre Dame, and more fundamentally the University’s decision to invite him, was not the fact that Obama opposes almost every key aspect of the Catholic social agenda. It was the fact that the University was celebrating a man who possesses none of the elements — character, integrity or commitment to service — that the University holds so dear.

Steven Cieckiewicz ’95, ’00MBA

Your coverage of President Obama’s address failed to mention that, even as he promised to draft a “sensible” conscience clause to protect pro-life health care workers, he was doing away with the Bush administration’s extant conscience clause.

This single detail, more than any other, explains why Obama was honored at Notre Dame — and why the honor occasioned such outrage.

Tom Riley ’82M.A.
Napa, California

As a former Holy Cross seminarian, I feel compelled to write a response to the recent articles in Notre Dame Magazine in which Holy Cross priests express their displeasure with the president serving as the commencement speaker.

I find it interesting that in Father Miscamble’s book Go Forth and Do Good: Memorable Notre Dame Commencement Addresses (a collection of 24 Notre Dame Commencement addresses) that he chose to include several speeches given by pro-choice politicians, most notably Jimmy Carter and Condoleezza Rice. In the introduction to the book, Father Miscamble states, “I take full responsibility for the selections and would like to convey that the addresses included are the ones which in my judgment are of the most value and interest to the contemporary reader” (p xvi). So, it is possible that speakers, whose views are not all completely in line with Catholic teaching, might have valuable and worthwhile thoughts to share with graduates? It seems from Father Miscamble’s point of view they do.

Abortion is an important life issue but it is not the only one. As a result of this controversy, it seems that Notre Dame and other Catholic universities can never invite politicians to campus because no matter whom they invite, his/her stance would contain elements that are in contradiction to Catholic teaching. It my hope however that campus leaders, such as Father Miscamble, might examine their views regarding how the Obama invitation, which failed “to embrace all the tenets of our faith” (magazine, page 25), might be consistent with their previous endorsements.

Thomas L. King ‘04
Los Angeles

Alumni, administrators and students polarized by President Obama’s support for abortion rights and embryonic stem-cell research seem to have little interest in the ongoing struggles in Afghanistan that are destroying the lives of members of the American military, their families and civilians.

Nothing is more anathema to Christ’s teachings than killing the innocent for personal and monetary gain, yet a wide segment of Americans accepts a perpetual war economy as a means of upholding their lifestyles.

Obama inherited quite a mess, and only time will tell if he can restore the United States to a semblance of a firm moral foundation. But as long as the government hierarchy and the media continue to subtly suggest blessed American lives are worth more than those in less-developed nations, most young people will follow their lead, diminishing hopes for social justice across the planet.

Michael C. Henry
Bradenton, Florida

I am proud to be an alumnus of the University of Notre Dame. What shames me is that I am thereby associated with so many narrow-minded bigots who consider themselves to be more Catholic than the University. Did these people not learn anything about ethical complexity when they went to a Catholic University?
The University managed to invite George W. Bush, who started a war that the previous pope said was immoral by Catholic standards. Inviting someone to speak is not the same as canonizing them. If the University invited only saints to speak, no president would ever be invited. In light of the ethical ambiguity of the moral lives lived by past presidents who have spoken at Notre Dame, how could the university not invite the current president to speak? Are we a world Church, or are we a tiny, righteous sect that is going to avoid all outsiders so that our purity is not compromised?

As for my own personal politics, well, I am a Republican who has never voted for a Democratic president in my life of 61 years. I am staunchly anti-abortion; for some years I was even a tax-resistor over the issue. But right is right, and wrong is wrong, and the University did the right thing by inviting the president to speak.

Thanks for your courage.

Rev. Patrick J. Madden ’79M.A.

Thanks to Richard Conklin for providing much-needed historical perspective regarding the Notre Dame/Obama controversy that dominated the summer issue. Even so, however, it seems doubtful that his contribution to the discussion of the propriety of the president’s visit would pose any significant restraint on those sanctimonious alumni who wrote to declare their intention to cancel their subscription to Notre Dame Magazine or withdraw financial support to the University, each of whom took a more pious and less tolerant position than either Pope Benedict XVI, who graciously received President Obama and his family at the Vatican on July 11, or Father Hesburgh who was pictured in the magazine in a warm mutual embrace with the President at the time of the latter’s commencement appearance.

All of which prompted me to wonder whether those who wrote criticizing President Jenkins and the University so vociferously had taken a similar stand when President George W. Bush was awarded an honorary degree in 2000. Did they stop their subscriptions or withdraw financial support back then? Did they yell or picket or stomp on the ground upon Mr. Bush’s arrival on campus nine years ago?

Or didn’t they bother to check the record and learn that George W. Bush, during his six years as governor of Texas, presided over the execution of 131 Texas inmates, more than any other governor in the nation’s recent history? Did they learn that Mr. Bush was advised on many of the executions by his legal counsel, Alberto R. Gonzales, later Attorney General of the United States, in cursory execution summaries usually presented on the day of execution and in oral briefings that usually lasted less than 30 minutes? Did they know that Mr. Bush himself rarely, if ever, personally reviewed a petition for clemency?

Did they know that the most notorious of those executions — that of Karla Faye Tucker in early 1998 — followed upon Mr. Bush’s refusal to consider evidence that Ms. Tucker, though having viciously murdered two sleeping persons with a pickaxe, had in the intervening 15 years in prison become a “born again” Christian, an exemplary inmate, an outspoken opponent of addictive drugs, and a “role model,” as it were, for a multitude of depraved and suffering women? Did they know that Mr. Bush ignored evidence that Ms. Tucker had been abandoned by her parents when very young, had first smoked pot with her sisters when she was 8 years old, was shooting heroin by the time she was 13, followed her mother into prostitution when only 14, and that from the very beginning her life revolved around drugs and violence? Or that Mr. Bush had turned a deaf ear toward hundreds of clemency pleas for Ms. Tucker from around the world including those of religious leaders (such as Pope John Paul II), foreign heads of state (such as Vladimir Putin), celebrities (such as Bianca Jagger), and even right-wing evangelists (such as Pat Robertson)?

Did they bother to check to find out that Mr. Bush, himself “born again” after overcoming addiction to alcohol and who at the time was widely promoting himself as a “compassionate conservative,” publicly defended his intransigence toward Ms. Tucker’s case for clemency by saying he was seeking “guidance through prayer,” and abjured his statutory responsibilities as governor with the pious pronouncement that “judgments about the heart and soul of an individual on death row are best left to a higher authority”? Did they learn that Mr. Bush had no clue whatsoever about what he was talking, and that if, as he suggested, commutation of death sentences ultimately comes to rest in resort “to a higher authority,” then all the clemency statutes in the land have been relegated to the trash heap?

And did they learn that Mr. Bush had told the journalist Tucker Carlson while traveling during the presidential campaign in 1999 that he had refused to speak with Larry King when he had come to Texas for his famous death row interview of Ms. Tucker. Or that when Mr. Bush was asked by Carlson what Ms. Tucker had said in response to King’s question about what she would say personally to the governor if she had the opportunity, Mr. Bush famously answered by derisively whimpering, his lips pursed in mock desperation, “Please, please, don’t kill me”?
The long and short of it is that George W. Bush personally had his fingerprints all over the execution of a large number of inmates during his six years as governor of Texas. Whatever his beliefs, I don’t think you can say anything comparable about President Obama and the deaths of any unborn children.

Franklin A. (Steve) Morse II ’64J.D.
Suttons Bay, Michigan

Our class secretary, Zane Trinkley, was absolutely correct in expressing my delight at hearing that Notre Dame has established a fund in its Center for Ethics and Culture to support pro-life activities on campus, and that the fund will be ministered by a committee under the direction of my favorite teacher at Notre Dame, David Solomon. As founder and director of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League, I have dedicated my life during the past 37 years to spreading the pro-life message and trying to use the most effective methods available to saving unborn children and their mothers from abortion. But while my enthusiasm at this pro-life decision was sincere, I think that to balance my position it must also be pointed out that in response to the invitation of President Barack Obama to be honored at Notre Dame at the 2009 graduation, our organization worked closely with the students opposing that invitation, wrote the administration for a meeting to voice our protest, attended the gathering on Palm Sunday in front of the Main Building, ordered and paid for two anti-Obama billboards on the Indiana toll road, brought four busloads of protestors to the May l7 ceremonies and lined Michigan Street and Angela Boulevard with graphic abortion posters, “Stop Abortion Now” signs and signs saying “Obama = Abortion” and “Shame on Notre Dame.” More than 200 of us also attended the ceremonies at the Grotto by Father Frank Pavone.

I love Notre Dame and admire all the good the administration does and has done, but I love Notre Dame enough to express my disappointment and even outrage when it abandons, even temporarily, its true mission as a bastion of Catholicity, as I believe it did with the Obama invitation and conferring of an honorary law degree upon him.

Joseph M. Scheidler ’50
National Director, Pro-Life Action League, Chicago, Illinois

I am not in favor of abortion. I pray that no woman should ever feel that she has to resort to having one. But I will not deny to a woman the ability to make that decision for herself.

We are not saints and we do not live in a saintly world. Did you ever make a mistake? Especially under the influence? Do you remember when you were in love? Did you ever go too far? What about rape and incest? Should a woman receive a life sentence as a victim of violence or for a lapse in judgment in a moment of passion?

For male Domers, have you ever slept with a woman who was not your wife? Did you take precautions? Are you willing to support and nurture, for the entire term of its natural life, any child who may result from such an encounter? Have you instructed your male children in the
responsibility that should go with relationships, or do you leave it to the woman to deal with the precautions and results?

Why is the issue of abortion never resolved? Why, when the “pro-life” political party had control of Congress and the White House, was legislation or a constitutional amendment banning abortion never implemented or even seriously proposed? Do you really think that any mainstream political party in America ever will?

Even if abortion were to be banned in America do you actually believe that it would disappear? Do you think that women with means would not cross the border? Do you wish to condemn those without money to the back alley or the coat hanger?

I do not like abortion but I also live in the world. The words of a previous era still ring true, “You can’t legislate morality.”

Guy Wroble ’77
Denver, Colorado

I read the Summer 2009 issue with great interest. I especially focused on the 12 letters to the editor. I am sure it was not lost on many that of the seven letters from alumni against the president’s visit, six were in classes 1958-67, whereas, the three alumni in favor were in the classes 1986-97. Perhaps maturity does count for something. I think Notre Dame should decide if it wants to be a Catholic university or just a university.

Cy Letzelter ’64

We all know the harm caused by the Obama invitation: disunity and divisiveness, anger, a sense of betrayal, hypocrisy and even scandal. But what was the benefit? A comparison to Arizona State?

Indeed, the heart of the issue is Notre Dame’s chronic and mysterious inferiority complex. Mysterious, because for many years now Notre Dame has been considered to be among the most prestigious of America’s many thousands of colleges and universities. Believe it or not, there are students and occasionally faculty who both seriously consider and in fact choose to come to Notre Dame rather than to the secular schools which Notre Dame so unctiously envies. One would think that this high academic status would liberate Notre Dame to be uncompromisingly Catholic. Instead, as the Obama invitation symbolizes, Notre Dame has chosen to pander rather than to bear witness to a world that ironically has long ago recognized its value, and, consequently, has now chosen to address a different question: Should it now be known as the finest Episcopalian or the best Anglican university in the United States?

Noel J. Augustyn ’74J.D.
Chevy Chase, Maryland

I wonder whether the letters applauding the 2009 President Obama commencement fiasco that appeared in the Summer 2009 Notre Dame Magazine would have been written had the writers known, as did Notre Dame, that not only was Obama an unwavering supporter of abortion on demand, but that he was also an abettor of infanticide as a member of the Illinois Senate where, on three occasions, he voted against legislation that would protect babies born alive after surviving abortion attempts on their mothers.

Instead of protecting abortion survivors, Obama favored the hideous Illinois practice then in effect of putting the babies in some out-of-the-way place in the hospital and letting them die a horrible death, unattended and alone. That, of course, is what civilized people understand is infanticide, but it did not deter Notre Dame, more interested in prestige than principle, from honoring the death-dealing Obama.

As a result, the 2009 commencement had to be one of the most bizarre and perverse commencement days in Notre Dame history: a radical anti-life Obama being honored and celebrated by Notre Dame, while at the same time pro-life demonstrators are being arrested by order of Notre Dame. Hypocrisy, thy name is Notre Dame!

William A. Reale ’55
Shaker Heights, Ohio

I commend you for having the courage to publish so many letters critical of Obama’s presence at graduation.

Zen Antoniak

Last issue’s spate of letters from those vowing to halt future contributions to the University in retaliation for President Obama’s commencement invitation were so disappointingly predictable. I just hope those letter writers (along with the few rogue attendees who disrespectfully tried to interrupt the president’s commencement address) realize that their actions will have absolutely no measurable effect on the University or on the issue of abortion.

Change comes from hard work and sacrifice. Writing a letter instead of a check is easy. Publically stating these intentions probably gives the authors a real sense of fulfillment. The reality is that withholding their check to the University will only hurt the overall effort to change the tone on abortion in this country.

Want to really make a difference? Go teach somehow how to read. Support any effort (like the University’s) which is focused on assisting people to reach their academic potential. These are the sacrifices which will allow us to create a generation that is capable of actually solving humanities’ woes. The only real sacrifice to those who withhold their annual contribution is a reduced chance for getting football tickets.

If you have not adopted an unwanted baby or have never counseled at-risk young women then please do not claim any sense of accomplishment when you stand up and shout your anti-abortion position or publically vow to stop supporting Notre Dame. You have made no difference at all.

Timothy Donley, D.D.S

Having printed letters in the summer issue regarding the commencement controversy, I hope you will entertain letters related to them. I was struck by the contrasts evident in the selected missives — the letters supporting the University were without exception thoughtful and soul-searching. The critical letters were predominantly laced with blind rage and shockingly ill-considered, ill-informed statements, such as this one regarding our democratically elected President: “[H]e murders children in the womb…”. If your selection was at all representative, the tenor and content of those letters should speak for themselves, loudly and clearly to anyone who has openly, honestly and humbly read and contemplated the teachings of Jesus — all of them, not just the ones that appear to coincide with one’s preferred political ideology.

Michael Hogan ’79

I didn’t expect anything less, but reading your summer issue was painful nonetheless. Predictably, it was full of the same old form of tricky self-deception it takes to justify such a horrific decision — the nail in the coffin for an institution which has been on a continual 40-year slide away from the source of its strength: Christ’s mother and His Church.

Mr. Conklin left out a glaring omission from ND’s “tradition to invite [presidents] for a visit and a talk” (as if a commencement address and honorary degree have anything to do with "dialogue’). Father Malloy did not invite President Clinton. I wonder why?

Mr. Dold praises two of the most poisonous speeches I’ve ever heard. Both Obama and Jenkins delivered textbook rallying cries for what Pope Benedict XVI calls the “dictatorship of relativism.” And the notion that “his address made clear that Notre Dame was being true to the advice of the bishops’ conference” is simply embarrassing. Given that over 80 bishops forcefully stated otherwise and the USCCB issued a joint statement of support for Bishop D’Arcy’s boycott, this twisted logic is essentially claiming that “Jenkins and ND can interpret the bishops’ document better than the bishops themselves can.” How does that make sense?

The bottom line is this: either you understand that abortion is murder or you don’t. Those who claim to understand this fact yet still support Obama and/or ND’s honoring of him, obviously don’t get it. Nobody in their right mind would ever think of giving this honor to a Nazi leader or Stephen Douglas. So how is Obama different? Either killing a human being via the gas chamber, burning at the stake, and ripping them apart limb from limb are all murdering the dehumanized, or they’re not. Apparently most of ND, including your magazine),believes the last method is somehow different (along with stabbing the back of the skull before vacuuming out the brains).

As a formerly proud graduate, this moral blindness is embarrassing beyond words.

Our Lady on the Dome, pray for us!

Ryan O’Connor ’02MBA, ’06M.Ed.

Our Lady’s university granting an honorary degree to the top proponent of abortion? It is shocking! The article “The Time and the Place” in the magazine’s summer ’09 edition relates the great enthusiasm of the welcome given to President O’Bama by the crowd at the graduation ceremonies of the university. A case of elite Catholicism valuing celebrity over life? Apparently. A great embarrassment!

Art Wenczel ’54

Believe some of us will always view your summer ‘09 issue as the Whitewash issue. While some of the articles on the Obama visit had a little balance, they all had a “Look how well it turned out” theme. There should have been at least one article with a differing viewpoint, especially if we really wish to encourage debate. The University’s gag orders to the heads of alumni clubs on the issue belied that notion. While inviting Obama wasn’t the worst of the school’s recent actions in betraying its Catholic heritage to attain an Ivy League status, many of us will never forget scenes like an elderly priest being literally dragged across campus by uniformed security goons merely for expressing his views in support of Catholic doctrine. It was frightening to believe such a thing could happen here in the U.S., especially on Our Lady’s campus.

Bill Reilly ’60

I am writing because I am wholeheartedly in agreement with the views expressed in the excellent articles written in your summer edition regarding President Obama’s visit and involvement in the Graduation Ceremony this summer. The issues facing our nation today speak to the very core of our spiritual beliefs, Where we stand on the resolutions for dealing with them as individuals and as a community at large need to be addressed. My son left for Notre Dame back in 1998 from our home in Southern California and entered a whole different world that he soon found to be his second home. He has since graduated with a BA in History and entered the ACE teaching program and received his Masters in Education. He’s presently in his fifth year at Moreau Seminary and “con la favor de Dios” will be ordained as a Holy Cross priest in 2011. His love for Notre Dame has spread to all of us in our very large family and has grown even more so as we’ve shared these articles among us.

The views expressed regarding the need to respectfully reach out on both sides of these issues is how our close Mexican family was raised for generations to do while also being raised to be of service to our community. We can be assertive and varied in our opinions but we never allow these disagreements to break our love for each other. Likewise, our Notre Dame family must not allow the demonization of any of our members to take place — nor to anyone else for that matter who is willing to be of good faith as our president has demonstrated on a whole slew of social justice issues. Father Jenkins has shown himself to be a wise, moral and compassionate leader and his words that day filled me with pride and admiration for standing his ground — not only on the abortion issue, but for his willingness to not only allow President Obama to speak. but to be honored to have him do so. Also note that I greatly appreciate receiving your publication each season gratis and read each one and thoroughly enjoy them. I am disabled and on a fixed income and though some have canceled their subscriptions in protest, it will be my honor to send you a check from now on for my subscription — that is how a family works! Gracias a Dios por Notre Dame!

Theresa Coria Ybarra Salcido

Thank you for the articles about the 2009 graduation. They gave a much clearer picture of what transpired that any media coverage I saw.

I was very disappointed to read that after the “Vigil for Live” about a dozen people made their way to the corner of Juniper and Douglas Roads so they could turn their backs to President Obama’s motorcade. If any of the dozen was a Notre Dame graduate, he or she missed the point of his or her Notre Dame education in the Holy Cross tradition. To show such disrespect for the office of the president is a sophomoric tactic that has nothing to do with advancing the culture of life in American society.

To the latter point, Christopher Donohoe’s artilce, ‘Failure to Thrive,’ was, in my opinion, the strongest statement in the Summer issue about what it means to promote a culture of life in the United States today.

Saint James exhorts us to be “doers” of the word, not merely “hearers.” Christopher Donohoe’s work as a National Health Service Corps member, speak much louder that any of the prayers, signs or shouts of the protesters.

Brother George C. Schmitz, CSC, ’70

“Defining Moment,” Kerry Temple, Summer 2009, does a good job of pointing out that “disagreement, even among members of the Notre Dame family, is inevitable.” I would hope, however, that those like myself who opposed giving President Obama an award would not disaffiliate from Our Lady’s University. I visited the Center for Ethics and Culture, housed in Flanner Hall, and came away much impressed with their efforts to protect human life and promote Catholic teaching and tradition. Those interested in learning more about this institute can go to http://ethicscenter.nd.edu.

Mack R. Hicks, Ph.D. ’57

For the first time in the over 30 years that I have been reading Notre Dame Magazine I was not looking forward to the arrival of an issue. Why? Because I was afraid that the response from your writers to last spring’s commencement controversy would be defensive. Having now read the issue from cover to cover, I find that my worst fears were realized.

With the notable exception of several readers’ letters, all four articles to deal with the honoring of President Obama went out of their way in tone if not explicitly to congratulate the university on what a fine decision it made. Some of the authors were positively desperate in their efforts at justification. Academic freedom is wonderful and the presentation of opposing viewpoints is essential to education (though apparently the administration had a problem when the pro-life viewpoint got a little too strident for them, and so we had the ugly scene of police arresting people on the campus for expressing their views), but every author in the issue was completely blind to the possible no, likely harm caused.

Of Messrs. Conklin, Dold, Nagy and Temple, have any of them (or Father Jenkins for that matter) given any thought to what the commencement scene has done to the Catholic Church’s pro-life cause? Did any of them seriously weigh the likely harm of honoring this pro-choice politician against the supposed benefit of “starting a meaningful conversation” on the abortion issue? Here is what the controversy boils down to for the average Catholic (borne out by many conversations and comments people have felt compelled to have with me knowing my longtime allegiance to the school): “Well, if the premier Catholic institution of higher learning in this country thinks it’s OK to award an honorary degree to the president, and I know that the president has been staunchly pro-choice his entire career in thought, speech and voting record, then why are we supposed to get so worked up over abortion? It must not be that big of a deal.” It has taken over 40 years of the killing of innocents and the Church’s steadfast and often unpopular opposition to same to get to the point where the most recent poll on the subject found a majority of Americans consider themselves pro-life. With one ill-advised and unconsidered lapse of judgment, the Notre Dame administration and trustees have stuck a giant finger in the eye of the Church, and set back its pro-life efforts God knows how many steps.

And as far as meaningful conversation goes, what benefits do those responsible for this situation really think will occur? If both sides of the issue treat each other more civilly in trying to get their points across, wonderful. But what is that when weighed against the actions not the pretty words of President Obama? Every action he has taken thus far in his presidency on the abortion issue has been decidedly pro-choice, even while his words seek to sooth and “find a middle ground.” And he has shown no inclination to change.

Well, the bottom line is that the pro-life cause will survive and continue, with or without the help of the premier Catholic university (thank God for many of the students, at least). Eventually, I hope I will return to my usual boisterous defense of most things Notre Dame, but for now my ND voice has been silenced, unable to justify to my family, friends and parishioners the supposed good that has come from this.

One can at least take some solace from the article by Prof. Daniel Philpott in that same issue. He is to be commended for urging his students to support Catholic social justice teachings. I pray that he includes in that teaching the evil of abortion, as great a social justice issue as there is. In the article, when speaking of the early fathers of the Church Philpott says that “they held that political authority, even the authority of the Roman emperor, was ordained by God for His good purposes and that he was subject to God’s judgment. Christians, it followed, were both to commit themselves to the common good and to resist political evil.” Would that Father Jenkins and the trustees had taken this to heart.

Stephen F. Kern ’75
Flemington, New Jersey

The latest edition of Notre Dame Magazine (summer 2009) worked very hard to reassure alumni that Notre Dame is still a great Catholic university, the stress this time on “great Catholic.” The key claim seems to be that the invitation to President Obama with the addition of an honorary doctorate was an opportunity for Notre Dame “to engage” the President on abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. Two questions worry me.
1. Was this intellectual engagement the original purpose of the invitation or was it brought into play when bishops and many others criticized the invitation?
2. If engagement between the president and Catholic principles was part of the original intention, did the invitation make that clear to President Obama? (It would be very discourteous, of course, and indeed immoral to invite him without informing him that “engaging” him with an opposing position was at least part of the University’s intention. One suspects that the University did not wish to discourage Mr. Obama from coming to Notre Dame and so never mentioned “engagement.”)

Jeff (John) Gruenenfelder ’50, ’55, ‘61
Gary, Indiana

As a former Holy Cross seminarian, I feel compelled to write a response to the recent articles in the Notre Dame magazine in which Holy Cross priests express their displeasure whit the president serving as commencement speaker.

I find it interesting that in Father Miscamble’s book Go Forth and Do Good: Memorable Notre Dame Commencement Addresses (a collection of 24 Notre Dame commencement addresses) that he chose to include several speeches given by pro-choice politicians, most notably Jimmy Carter and Condoleezza Rice. In the introduction to the book, Father Miscamble states, “I take full responsibility for the selections and would like to convey that the addresses included are the ones which in my judgment are of the most value and interest to the contemporary reader” (p xvi). So, it is possible that speakers, whose views are not all completely in line with Catholic teaching, might have valuable and worthwhile thoughts to share with graduates? It seems from Father Miscamble’s point of view they do.

Abortion is an important life issue but it is not the only one. As a result of this controversy, it seems that Notre Dame and other Catholic universities can never invite politicians to campus because no matter whom they invite, his/her stance would contain elements that are in contradiction to Catholic teaching. It is my hope however that campus leaders, such as Father Miscamble, might examine their views regarding how the Obama invitation, which failed “to embrace all the tenets of our faith” (magazine, page 25) might be consistent with their previous endorsements.

Thomas L. King ‘04M.Div.
Los Angeles

Hope this finds you well. I just finished re-reading the latest edition of Notre Dame Magazine which featured three pieces on the president’s commencement address and award. I found your coverage . . . well, (uncharacteristically) disappointing. I was so let down by the lack of a principled commentary on why it was a terrible mistake for Notre Dame to grant this man an honorary law degree, that I am taking the time from a busy schedule to convey my thoughts in writing.

Here is how I view the three articles you included. R. Bruce Dodd, an obviously proud father, wrote warmly about Fr. Jenkins, including praise for his decision to invite and honor the President. John Nagy delivered a piece that reported on the activities surrounding the event, which very briefly included some critical commentary from Bishop D’Arcy and Father Wilson Miscamble – a few paragraphs in a rather lengthy piece. Finally, there was your own contribution, a misplaced call for civil discussion and acceptance of difference.

I say misplaced because the crux of the matter is not that Notre Dame gave Barack Obama, the enthusiastic ringleader of the anti-life movement in this country, a platform to express his views. Rather, it was the fact that it chose to present him with an honorary law degree that cheapens what the University claims to uphold. Sadly, I must agree with Bishop D’Arcy, in conferring this honor, the University has “chosen prestige over truth.”

Let me explain. By its own pronouncements, Notre Dame should condemn, not honor, the actions of a lawyer who takes the positions that Mr. Obama has taken. In her welcome letter on the Law School’s website, Dean O’Hara proudly states, “Building on our traditions and our mission, we seek to educate a different kind of lawyer — one who is extraordinarily competent and committed to the ideals of the profession, as well as one who recognizes the obligation to turn prudential judgment to the service of others.” And on the Law School’s homepage, there is this quote from Professor Amy Barrett, “You will know the same law, are charged with maintaining the same ethical standards, and will be entering the same kinds of legal jobs as your peers across the country. But if you can keep in mind that your fundamental purpose in life is not to be a lawyer, but to know, love and serve God, you truly will be a different kind of lawyer.”

Really? Seems to me that there is a fatal disconnect between pronouncements and actions on this one. Words and nice sentiments are not what distinguish Notre Dame from other schools. A dogged effort to live by those words is. Ironically, the photograph of Father Jenkins presenting the president with a framed picture of Father Hesburgh locking arms with Dr. King says it all. Hesburgh followed the condemnation of racial hatred with robust and determined action; Jenkins says a Mass now and again for the suffering of the unborn.

This brings me back to your commentary. I have several serious disagreements with you, not the least of which is that you consistently conflate the principled disagreement I present here with the heckler in attendance at the president’s speech. The core of your argument is Father Hesburgh’s oft-quoted wisdom that “we have to learn to disagree with being disagreeable.” Fair enough. I note in passing that in changing the country’s mood on civil rights, Father Hesburgh reached out to those who could be persuaded — the gentleman from Selma you mentioned at the beginning of the piece was not invited to Land O’Lakes.

What’s more important, however, is that if you really embraced that concept, you would have included a principled commentary written by a thoughtful person who believes the University stumbled here. Actions speak louder than words, Kerry! The absence of such a piece drowns out your sentiments, washing them into the same hollow stump as the nice words in the Law School’s marketing materials. Perhaps if you followed your own advice of inclusion of different perspectives, there would be more understanding as to why a great many people like me feel betrayed by what has happened and what has been said.

In closing, permit me to return to Bishop D’Arcy’s though on choosing prestige over truth. In Jesus’ time, the Scribes and Pharisees used words and pronouncements to trumpet their piety and righteousness. Jesus railed against them because their actions, the way they treated others, did not measure up. Is history repeating itself in Michiana? Maybe not, but it is a question worthy of serious consideration in Notre Dame Magazine.

Timothy P. Connors ’97MBA, ’00J.D.
Highland Falls, New York

Your latest issue is a gem. The way you handled the dustup with the invitation to President Obama was just right. Certainly some percentage of our Conservative Alumni were distressed about the direction of “Their” university, but there are plenty of us who believe that Father Jenkins did the right thing.

I think I have told you that my wife is disabled since 1977. So I try to get her out in her wheelchair as often as she wants. So a few weeks ago we went over to Sausalito just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. It is an “artsy” community for tourists. In a T-shirt store we ran into three young women tourists who were vacationing after graduating from Notre Dame this year. Upon questioning about the Obama flap, they were SO ENTHUSIASTIC about their class graduation that I had renewed hope about our young grads.

I was particularly upset with the actions of our Class ’52 officers, Dempsey and Heidkamp, et al. Of course, I protested that but there is surely a cadre of Hard Right Conservatives in our alumni ranks. And their announced plans to restrict their University donations could be somewhat serious, so one has to have some concerns, especially in your publication.

In my last letter to you in April, I included some copies of letters I wrote to about 290 American Catholic Bishops to decry their political strategies to organize Catholic votes on a single issue candidate. Which is what got us eight disastrous years of Bush/Cheney. Interestingly, I only got responses from about four so far. In my three previous letters to the bishops about world population (since 1963) I would get maybe 10 replies and five of those told me I was going to hell. So much for responsible discussion.

John Minck
Palo Alto, California

I wonder if Notre Dame in inviting Mr. Obama to its campus and bestowing on him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, hasn’t inadvertently encouraged him to expand the range of the culture of death, even as he has expanded the size and scope of the federal government.

We need to remember a lesson of history: that governments are the greatest threats to human life and liberty; and that none of the evils that totalitarianism claims to cure is worse than totalitarianism itself.

As Langdon Gilkey, with the bitter experience of being in a concentration camp behind him, observed: “Only in God is there an ultimate loyalty that does not breed injustice and cruelty.”

Kenneth A. Stier Jr
Great Neck, New York

The Obama invitation was a calculated slap in the face of millions of faithful Catholics who have for years worked and prayed thanklessly on behalf of legal protection for the unborn. As regards the honoree, judge not his rhetoric but his actions. His support for slaughtering these innocents has been unyielding.

Tom Mahoney
Buffalo Grove, Ilinois

At the outset I wish to state that I approve of the invitation to President Obama and the awarding of the honorary degree. The Catholic Bishops, in my view, are dwelling too much on the single issue of abortion. I am an 87-year-old CPA and attorney retiree. I graduated from Notre Dame in 1950. For the last 30 years I have been attempting to contend that there could be acknowledgment that abortion could be justified in certain circumstances based on unjust aggression (the same basis recognized for war). That would cover the life of the mother, rape, and incest.

I do not know the reasoning behind Father Hesburgh’s answer in an interview for USA Today 11/29/84

Question: Would you work for an amendment banning abortions in the USA?
Hesburgh: I would work toward limiting abortion to perhaps what most Americans would agree on — the life of the mother, rape, and incest.

I trust his reasoning even though it might not have been “unjust aggression.” This may be a talking point for any discussion with President Obama.

Lawrence E. LeRoy ‘50
Mission, Kansas

We all know the harm caused by the Obama invitation: disunity and divisiveness, anger, a sense of betrayal, hypocrisy and even scandal. But what was the benefit? A comparison to Arizona State?

Indeed, the heart of the issue is Notre Dame’s chronic and mysterious inferiority complex. Mysterious, because of many years now Notre Dame has been considered to be among the most prestigious of America’s many thousands of colleges and universities. Believe it or not, there are students and occasionally faculty who both seriously consider and in fact choose to come to Notre Dame rather than to the secular schools which Notre Dame so unctuously envies. One would think that this high academic status would liberate Notre Dame to be uncompromisingly Catholic. Instead, as the Obama invitation symbolizes, Notre Dame has chosen to pander rather than to bear witness to a world that ironically has long ago recognized its value, and consequently, has now chosen to address a different question: Should it now be known as the finest Episcopalian or the best Anglican university in the United States?

Noel J. Augustyn ’74J.D.
Chevy Chase, Maryland

I have seen the barrage of letters concerning Obama’s visit to Notre Dame, including the constitutional scholars confirming abortion as a legal right in America. So was slavery. I prefer neither.

There have never been thought police at Notre Dame, so Obama’s visit was welcomed. Unfortunately, so were his remarks. Eleven thousand applauded when the president said: “We need to work together to have fewer abortions.” I guess next year’s speaker should be Henry Gondorf.

This is the same president who thrice supported killing newborns who had the temerity to survive the abortion process. Death by starvation, death in isolation, so those responsible are spared the pain of witness. In hospital rooms, no less.

Now President Obama proposes rationed health care, complete with end-of-life counseling. From abortion of the young to abortion of the old in only 36 years. If we’re fooled this time, it will be the last time.

William Joseph O’Connor ‘74
Hammond, Indiana

The summer issue of Notre Dame Magazine was magnificent — a tribute to your good judgment and hard work. I stand in awe of you and all who made it happen.

Mark Stewart ‘55
Higganum, Connecticut

I had what the West Virginia boys from my youth used to call a twofer last Friday. My post-commencement Notre Dame Magazine arrived on the same day we were having the combined Tulsa Universal Notre Dame Night and freshmen sendoff. The magazine was replete with subtle and not so subtle explanations of and justifications for the award of the honorary degree to the president of the United States. At the Notre Dame Night gathering, Reggie Brooks gave an eloquent presentation on the Notre Dame family and its intrinsic values of Christian spirituality, mutual respect, family honor and compassion. Very few of our strong traditionally supporting alumni attended. It was, in a way, a grim reminder of the difference and tension between the Notre Dame family and the institutional university.

It occurred to me that many of us who love the family and cherish what Notre Dame means to us are looking at the institution with a skewed perspective. We see Notre Dame as a Catholic university and our definition of Catholic is traditional, pro-life and very deeply ingrained in our sense of spirituality. We hear a university theologian say that Notre Dame is still pro-life and the objectors to the honorary degree are simply pro-birth, which is a small subset of the human and social justice composite of being pro life. That violates our sense of honesty since most of us in the pro-life movement recall adopting that phrase to avoid the negativity of the term anti-abortion. It sounds like he’s playing with semantics.

Possibly we in the family, who are disappointed but still love the Notre Dame for what it has taught us and where it has brought us, are expecting too much of the institution. Maybe we should understand that Notre Dame is not a Catholic university, it is a liberal Catholic university. Whereas conservatives and most conservative Catholics generally allow our religion to drive our political attitudes; liberals and most liberal Catholics generally allow their politics to drive their attitudes about religion. That doesn’t mean they are less well intentioned. Nor does it mean they need to repent, or be forgiven. It just means they can’t see with our eyes. They don’t believe the institution is failing its Catholic mandate. They don’t believe Father Jenkens erred in his outreach. And they definitely don’t understand our difficulty in being more flexible. But they do represent the primary institutional opinion.

Maybe if we consider more where they’re coming from and try to see good faith in their perspective, we can limit the conflict over the 2009 commencement to a family argument and keep it from becoming a schism.

James A. (Jim) Mazzei, ’63

To have the president of the United States accept an invitation to be the commencement speaker at a public university is a great honor. Unlike a public university, however, a Catholic university makes Truth claims and therefore must choose commencement speakers who do not undercut those claims held to be absolutely true.

The University of Notre Dame makes the Truth claim that all men are created in the image and likeness of God and therefore abortion is objectively wrong. To invite President Obama, whose agenda includes unlimited taxpayer-funded abortions as well as the elimination of the conscience clause protecting doctors and nurses who do not
want to participate in abortions, is to land a heavy self-inflicted blow to the University’s very own Catholic identity.

Some people contend that a university should be open to all viewpoints. Certainly a variety of viewpoints should be presented as a way to search for truth. However, a commencement speaker cannot be equated with a panel of speakers who debate a topic back and forth with the opportunity for rebuttal. As a commencement speaker, Obama had full control over his message as well as a captive audience of students who were not given an opportunity to rebut anything he said. The commencement speaker format is a one-way communications effort.

During his speech at Notre Dame, Obama said that we must find common ground. What would that common ground look like when it comes to abortion? The Catholic Church holds that abortion is morally wrong because we are made in God’s image. Obama wants abortions with no limits, funded by all taxpayers regardless of their moral beliefs, and to force doctors and nurses to perform abortions whether they want to or not. Where would the common ground lie? It could lie in keeping the conscience clause intact, and it could lie in maintaining the current limitations on abortion which the states have enacted, such as parental notification. With the introduction of his health plan, Obama wants to drastically alter the status quo. He is unwilling to find common ground from his side of the abortion debate.

His fuzzy phrase of “finding common ground” makes him seem oh so reasonable, whereas the Catholic Church is then seen as the unreasonable voice. Once people view the Church as unreasonable, they no longer have to pay attention to what she says. Obama scores a point in his strategy to marginalize religion in the public square. (For example, President Obama canceled this year’s ceremony at the White House for the National Day of Prayer.) The lesson to be learned is that if you don’t agree with Obama, then you are the unreasonable one, and no one has to listen to you.

The board members of Notre Dame compromised the University’s Catholic character, and allowed the University to appear to be a pawn in Obama’s plan to marginalize the Church. Why does Obama care about marginalizing the Church? Because the Truth claims of the Catholic Church transcend political power. Notre Dame would have exercised more power in the abortion debate had the board refused to issue a commencement invitation to this particular president.

Notre Dame’s recent steps to increase the visibility of pro-life activities on campus as well as at the March for Life in Washington, D.C., next January are fitting activities for Our Lady’s University.

Ann Hoedeman
Edina, Minnesota
(Parent of a Notre Dame student.)


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