In an exclusive interview with CMR, Mary K. Daly, the President of Notre Dame’s Right to Life group, said that the school administration’s decision to invite President Barack Obama to deliver the Commencement Address is a “slap in the face” to many Catholics and has many students questioning whether they can “in good conscience” attend their own college graduation.”
“I think that this is a travesty that students should have to wrestle with whether or not to go to their own college graduation, after working very hard to gain admittance to this university and then working very hard to earn a diploma from this university,” Daly said.
Daly expressed her “acute disappointment” with the administration’s decision, adding that the invitation “undercuts the University’s Catholic character.” Daly said she believed the school should hold its Catholic Identity above that of secular prestige.
Daly acknowledged that the school has offered numerous Presidents honorary degrees and invitations to speak at Commencements and said she realized the importance of Obama being the first African American President but added, “However, and in spite of this, it is an acute disappointment in view of his political and personal beliefs that Obama will be speaking. This president espouses and defends many political ideals that are fundamentally in tension with and in opposition to what lies at the foundation of this University. That these are his ideals and beliefs cannot be separated from his position as president.”
Daly pointed to Church documents such as Ex Corde Ecclesia…”it is a serious conflict of interest and failure to live up to its Catholic obligation for Notre Dame to allow Obama to speak on campus in the capacity of the graduation ceremonies.”
Daly urged organizations who wish to protest the school administration’s decision, contact her organization in order to coordinate efforts.
* The “May” in the headline “ND Students May Not Attend Commencement” does not mean that Daly herself is instructing others that it is morally impermissable to attend. She is saying that some students may not attend due to Barack Obama’s pro-choice stance. I think that was clear but she asked me to pass that on lest a reader be confused.
Below is the entire transcript of the interview done via email:
CMR: What’s your response to Notre Dame’s invitation to President Obama being the commencement speaker?
My personal reaction is one of disappointment and frustration. My reaction is founded in my belief that the University should hold its Catholic Identity above that of secular prestige. I address this further in the next questions.
CMR: How does this invitation relate or contrast with ND’s Catholic identity?
One the one hand, I recognize the great honor it is of having the President of the United States coming to my university. It is a tradition dating back to Hoover that ND extends this type of invitation to each newly-inaugurated president. That this president is the first African-American president of the country also makes this an exciting occurrence. However, and in spite of this, it is an acute disappointment in view of his political and personal beliefs that Obama will be speaking. This president espouses and defends many political ideals that are fundamentally in tension with and in opposition to what lies at the foundation of this University. That these are his ideals and beliefs cannot be separated from his position as president.
Notre Dame is a premier university, but what makes it distinctive amongst other premier universities is its Catholicity and its tradition. Many people, including many with no affiliation to this school, look to Notre Dame to be a leader in American Catholicism because of it is the most prestigious Catholic university. To invite and host Obama as the 2009 commencement speaker is a slap in the face to these people and it undercuts the University’s Catholic character.
According to Church documents such as Ex Corde Ecclesia as well as other Catholic groups (see http://www.cardinalnewmansociety.org/News/tabid/54/ctl/Details/mid/452/ItemID/99/Default.aspx for good, compiled information on these subjects), it is a serious conflict of interest and failure to live up to its Catholic obligation for Notre Dame to allow Obama to speak on campus in the capacity of the graduation ceremonies. Furthermore, because Obama stands for so many things that are decidedly not Catholic, there are a number of students who believe that they cannot in good conscience (sp) attend their own college graduation. I think that this is a travesty that students should have to wrestle with whether or not to go to their own college graduation, after working very hard to gain admittance to this university and then working very hard to earn a diploma from this university.
CMR: Do you folks have any plans to protest?
Notre Dame Right to Life as a student group, though we do not at this time have concrete plans of response, I can assure you that there will be a response. The leadership committee of Right to Life, together with the leadership from all of the other conservative, Catholic-minded campus groups, will be meeting this Tuesday to discuss an organized response.
CMR: What can regular folks do?
The most important thing to do is to recognize that this event should not be considered damning of the entire community and history of the school There is a substantial amount of students and faculty who strongly support the Catholic mission and identity of the University, who believe in it and who believe that it is still worth fighting for. This said, any form of negative reaction should be contained and directed towards the event of Obama’s speaking engagement.
Many non-University groups have contacted me and other students asking us what we plan to do in response, letting us know that they want to be involved, or letting us know that they are planning reactions or protests of their own. I would advise that outside groups be in contact with University groups, such as Right to Life, so that people are “on the same page” about what is going on. I appreciate that groups like the Cardinal Newman Society are informing people of the situation. However, for an unaffiliated third party to come to campus and to solicit current students to join their protests is counter productive. Outside groups, as truly concerned as they might be, do not have an intimate enough knowledge of the University life and of the actions or protests being planned behind the scenes by informed students and affiliates. As has happened at ND in the recent past, outside groups can end up doing much more harm than good, because they are usurping a role that is most competently filled by those who are invested in and present at Notre Dame. This said, I reiterate that people are welcomed to be in touch with University groups for guidance on potential action they might want to take.