Here is a humble suggestion to solve the roiling controversy over Notre Dame’s honoring of Barack Obama. The only flaw in the plan is it requires the White House to act.
For those who haven’t seen it in the news, Notre Dame kicked off a furor by inviting Obama to give this year’s commencement address and receive an honorary doctorate. Over 60 bishops have denounced the venerable Catholic institution’s decision to host the most pro-abortion president in America’s history. Over 330,000 people have signed an online petition and alumni are withholding $8.2 million in planned donations.
Respected Harvard professor Mary Ann Glendon has politely yet firmly declined Notre Dame’s highly coveted Laetare Medal since the university was using her presence at the commencement as cover for hosting Obama.
Notre Dame’s president has dug in his heels. Rev. John Jenkins thinks it is “unfortunate” that Obama’s visit is “a little clouded by that controversy.” He met with pro-abortion students that support Obama but rescinded an invitation to meet with pro-life students.
In 2004, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a document called “Catholics in Public Life.” It forbids Catholic institutions from giving “awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions” to people who flout Catholic moral principles — particularly on abortion.
In a strange coincidence, Barack Obama faces similar ethical guidelines. According to a Washington Post profile, Norm Eisen, “the guardian of Obama’s integrity,” advises the administration on government ethics rules. Eisen the ethics czar crafted strict ethics reform. As the Post reports:
“No longer, he decided, could White House employees receive small gifts, honorary degrees or awards from lobbyists. (emphasis mine)
“No way,” he said. “Some of these things are just scams.”
Notre Dame evades its bishops’ ethical guidelines on giving honorary degrees by claiming it doesn’t apply to non-Catholic recipients. Barack Obama’s new guidelines may apply only to White House employees and give leeway to the head honcho. Notre Dame may not be a registered lobbyist, but it does receive federal funding.
So here’s the solution. Obama could diffuse the uproar by declining, due to his stringent ethical standards, to accept Notre Dame’s invitation and honorary doctorate. This populist leader could apply the same ethical standards to himself that he demands of his administration.
Obama sparked this controversy by clinging to a belief that not all people are equal, that pre-born (and newly born) babies have fewer human rights than people who are more powerful. Now the question is if he will apply a different ethical standard to himself than he demands of the “lesser” people in his own administration.