Kmiec vs Wiegel: dueling editorials

In a sort of op-ed cage-match, the Chicago Tribune has back to back editorials on the topic of Notre Dame University’s invitation to President Obama. 

One is in favor, the other against.

One is by Doug Kmiec, the other by George Weigel.

Guess how they line up.

My emphases and comments.


Notre Dame’s common ground

By Douglas W. Kmiec
    March 29, 2009

As a former law school dean, I know selecting commencement speakers can be difficult. The ideal speaker must raise your institution’s prestige and be universally beloved for a life well-lived. Toss in the school’s religious mission, and it’s depressing to think Mother Teresa is deceased.  [Should those be the criteria? "raise prestige"?  "be univerally beloved"?  I don’t think that being universally beloved has to be a factor.  But actually honoring a person who stands for things your institution should be against seems might be a criterion for disqualification.]

One would think the president of the United States would be a good bet.

Presidents are political figures, of course, but just as politics are expected to stop at the water’s edge, partisan sentiment ill-becomes a graduation. [Is Kmiec, like so many others, going to reduce this to a political issue?] The rough and tumble of political debate is as awkwardly out of place at commencements as attempting to mediate an intrafamily grievance would be at a wedding.

Commencements are mostly celebrations—of achievement, past and anticipated. Seated among the berobed faculty is everyone from Grandma to Uncle Harry, and while the scholars expect to hear, and the families tolerate, orations touching on the issues of the day, ponderous intellectual heft is best checked at the door, or at least moderated with kind words about the graduating class and a touch of wit. Not everyone follows this prudential guidance, of course. In the 20 years I taught at the University of Notre Dame, I witnessed presidents, scholars, actors, scientists and world figures defy this formula—or worse, the need for brevity. One speaker delivered his remarks entirely in untranslated Italian. A South American head of state went on so long that it is a standing joke among the graduates of that class that Notre Dame built a new auditorium because he is still speaking in the old one.

Of course, the controversy over President  Barack Obama at Notre Dame is different. [Not if it is reduced to a political issue it isn’t.] Even as unprecedented numbers of Catholics voted for the president (54 percent of the Catholic vote nationwide), Catholic voters paying respectful heed to local bishops had reservations. [Which bishops?  Also, I detect a whiff of the universal excuse I call "the struggle".  If you "struggle" with something, you are to be exonerated of any guilt for doing something wrong.  I am guessing that "having reservations" does the same thing on Kmiec’s planet.]  Of course, this is not unusual either. Politics is the art of compromise and candidates are the embodiment of it. But there’s the rub, the Catholic Church is the foremost defender of unborn life, and properly, uncompromising about it. [That use of "properly, uncompromising" surprises me from him.  So… is he saying that the Church’s pastor’s, properly following the properly uncompromising stand of the Church on abortion, properly warn their subjects about the consquences of improperly promoting abortion?]  Obama is more pragmatic, accommodating other religious and scientific views that see the origin point of life differently. [How enlightened he is.  He sees so many sides of the difficult issue at once.  Oh… ! ……   …..  ……  I almost swooned there for a moment, but I am better now.] Obama may thoughtfully [he is so pragmatic, accomodating… and thoughtful too!  He is a deep thinker.  He’s like that statue… you know… The Thinker.] call reducing the "moral tragedy" of abortion a top priority of his faith office, but this is not absolute legal protection, and the Catholic hierarchy has not been shy about raising moral objection, for example, to the president’s new direction on embryonic stem-cell research.  [Okay… let me get this straight.  Kmiec has chosen to cite, of all the various things Pres. Obama has said and done about abortion, to cite… wait for it, his desire to reduce the "moral tragedy" of abortion as a priority of his "faith office". That is what Kmiec is going to say about Pres. Obama’s position on abortion?  His desire to reduce the "moral tragedy"?]

Notre Dame’s president, Rev. John Jenkins, has also made it plain that the commencement invitation represents no disregard of the church’s commitment to life[Right!  And President Obama is working through his faith office to reduce the moral tragedy of abortion!] And while it is unfortunate the local prelate, Bishop John D’Arcy, has chosen to be elsewhere rather than pray with Obama and engage him in conversation, [booo! hisss! bad bishop!  President Obama is so pragmatic!  He would be practical enough to use the occasion for dialogue.  But not Bp. D’Arcy!  Pres. Obama is so accomodating!  But not the bad bishop!  Pres. Obama is thoughtful!  He reflects on everything … with depth!  But Bp. D’Arcy won’t come to pray with him.  He has chosen to be elsewhere rather than be with The Wun!] the significance of the bishop’s absence and Jenkins’ candor is surely not lost on our intellectually gifted 44th president.  [pragmatic, accomodating, thoughtfull, intellectually gifted… wow…  Well.. I should hope the absence of the bishop will be noticed!]

So with all this reservation and dissent, [sooo… what does "dissent" mean in this sentence?  I think he might actually be applying it to the people who don’t approve of the invitation to the President.] should Notre Dame regret Obama’s acceptance? [NB: regret his acceptance…. Clever.  Should they regret the invitation!] And in light of the commotion being stirred up by Obama’s detractors, should Obama feel unwelcome?  [It just piles up, doesn’t it?  The dentification of Pres. Obama’s positions as morally unacceptable to a human being (not just a Catholic) because they violate natural law and reason, is not "detraction".  Kmiec is saying that if you call the President’s positions for what they are, you are a "detractor".  Maybe this is why Kmiec wouldn’t say more, above, about the President’s position on abortion other than that he wants to reduce the moral tragedy, blah blah….]

No, on both counts; the "O" in Obama’s name may be only remotely Irish (kin on his mother’s side traced to Moneygall—which sounds like a place American International Group execs go to vacation), [soooo funnny too!]  but this much is undeniable: both Notre Dame and our new president are "fightin’ Irish" when it comes to working for social justice[Hey!  Forget about the dissent in the theology department or the disgraceful desire to honor a man who is working so concretely to advance abortion – because that is what the President is really doing Prof. Kmiec.  Forget about the President’s actual record, his promises, his concrete actions since taking office!  They are fighting for social justice.  Applicable to all but the unborn.  Er… no… I guess some of those who were accidently born don’t get social justice either.] The Obama administration’s early victories extending health insurance to children, rectifying imbalances in a tax code neglectful of the working man, and persuading Congress to allocate abundant resources for educational reform, despite the economic distress, all coincide strongly with church teaching. [He is so, gifted, and pragmatic, and thoughtful, and …. gosh…. wonderful. It’s just that pesky thing about the the meaning of all human life, isn’t it.  This has been Kmiec’s position since the campaign: all these things he lists are, in effect, more important than defending the dignity of all human lives.  Some are less valued, in effect.  Some are expendable.  But if they are expendable… then why not old people, or the sick or stupid… as defined by, well, me!  Or, because people will blue eyes irritate me today…. them too.]  So too is the president’s disposition to end an unjust war, the exploitation of the immigrant and his pursuit of environmental stewardship that will no longer be profit’s afterthought[He’s soooo groooovy.]

And there is a very special reason [When "special" isn’t enough to describe our need to honor President Obama, it becomes "very special"!] why only Notre Dame is capable of giving emphasis [And let’s pander to Notre Dame!  Maybe they’ll invite Kmiec next year?] to these compelling aspects of Barack Obama. The reason: honoring the extraordinary priesthood and life of Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, 92, [Hesburgh? The driving force behind the notorious Land O’Lakes Statement?  That Fr. Hesburgh?] Notre Dame’s president emeritus who during the 35 years he led the university to its present greatness, served as chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. Today, Father Ted has been rendered nearly blind by illness, but he, like Obama, can see clearly two great goods missed by the short-sighted critics [Get it?  Get it?  Hesburgh is blind but can see more clearly than the physically sighted but obtuse critics of the President and Notre Dame? Get it?  Get it?] of the invitation: first, that while on Inauguration Day, all Americans rejoiced in the election of the first African-American to the presidency, today we are with him or against him irrespective of race, and second, that despite our occasionally profound disagreement, if we are truly to learn to live with one another, [can’t we all just get along?] we will need to find a way, as Obama has remarked, "that reconciles the beliefs of each with the good of all."  [YES WE CAN!]

Cheer, cheer [clever to the end, I see] for Notre Dame for being an inviting place of common ground.

Douglas W. Kmiec is a law professor at Pepperdine University and the author "Can a Catholic Support Him? Asking the Big Question about Barack Obama."

And now for something completely different …

The university’s egregious error

By George Weigel
    March 29, 2009

When a university invites a prominent personality to deliver a commencement address and accept an honorary degree, a statement is being made to graduates, students, faculty, parents, alumni and donors: "This is someone whose work is worth emulating." The invitation, in other words, is not to a debate, or to the opening of some sort of ongoing conversation. The invitation and the award of an honorary degree are a university’s stamp of approval on someone’s life and accomplishment.  [Precisely.  You can’t just hide behind the reason that he is POTUS.  This is a POTUS with a difference!]

Which is precisely why the University of Notre Dame, which claims to be America’s premier Catholic institution of higher learning, made an egregious error in inviting President Barack Obama to address its May commencement and accept an honorary doctorate of laws degree.

Since Inauguration Day, Obama has made several judgment calls that render Notre Dame’s invitation little short of incomprehensible. [Noooo… I know this is a rhetorical device, but please.  But compare the list that follows with Kmiec’s list, above:] The president has put the taxpayers of the United States back into the business of paying for abortions abroad. He has expanded federal funding for embryo-destructive stem-cell research and defended that position in a speech that was a parody of intellectually serious moral reasoning. The Obama administration threatens to reverse federal regulations that protect the conscience rights of Catholic and other pro-life health-care professionals. And the administration has not lifted a finger to keep its congressional and teachers’ union allies from snatching tuition vouchers out of the hands of poor inner-city children who want to attend Catholic schools in the nation’s capital.  ["But Father! But Father!", you are squeeking as you wave your hands to get my attention.   Yes… I know… you are itching to point out that Pres. Obama is working through his "faith office" to reduce the "moral tragedy"…. etc.  Prof. Kmiec taught me that, above.]

How any of this, much less the sum total of it, constitutes a set of decisions Notre Dame believes worth emulating is not, to put it gently, easy to understand.  [Again.. the rhetorical device.  It is really quite easy to understand.]

Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and the Catholic bishops of the United States, following the teaching and intention of the Second Vatican Council, have all declared that the defense of life from conception until natural death is the premier civil rights issue of our time. [HUH?  What about all those things Kmiec listed above?  Don’t they really, if put in the balance against all the great things The Wun is doing… don’t they outwiegh the whole abortion thing?] It is important to remember, however, that the Catholic defense of the right to life is not a matter of arcane or esoteric Catholic doctrine: You don’t have to believe in the primacy of the pope, in seven sacraments, in Mary’s assumption into heaven, in the divine and human natures of Christ—you don’t even have to believe in God—to take seriously the Catholic claim that innocent human life has an inalienable dignity and value that demands the protection of the laws. [Right!  This is a human issue, not a Catholic issue.  Doesn’t that make it twice as bad when a Catholic, who has the advantages of the Church, dissents from the clear truth?] For that claim is not a uniquely Catholic claim; it reflects a first principle of justice that anyone can grasp, irrespective of their religious convictions or lack thereof.

Moreover, it is precisely that claim—that all members of the human family [the unborn included… and those born even accidently … in Illinois…] have a dignity and worth that law and public policy must recognize—that once led men like Notre Dame’s former president, Father Theodore M. Hesburgh, to work for decades on behalf of civil rights for African-Americans. [If you cannot defend the rights of the innocent unborn, then you have no grounds for defending the rights of anyone else.  If one innocent group is denied the right to live, then another innocent group can be denied other rights.] That claim and that work made it possible for Obama to be elected president of the United States. And, in a bitter irony, it is precisely that claim that is contradicted, indeed trampled on, by the Obama administration’s policies on a whole host of life issues. This is what Notre Dame wishes to propose as worth emulating, by the award of an honorary doctorate of laws? This is what a Catholic institution dedicated to the idea that all law is under moral scrutiny wishes to celebrate? The mind boggles.  [Yes… a good rhetorical device.  We know why they are doing this.]

If Notre Dame wished to invite Obama to debate the life issues with prominent Catholic intellectuals during the next academic year, it would have done the country a public service and no reasonable person could object. If Notre Dame had invited the president to address a symposium on the grave moral issues the president himself acknowledges being at the heart of the biotech revolution, that, too, would have been a public service. For that is one of the things great universities do: They provide a public forum for serious argument about serious matters touching the common good. But, to repeat, a commencement is not a debate, nor is a commencement address the beginning of some sort of ongoing dialogue, as Notre Dame officials have tried to suggest. [Exactly.] A commencement address and the degree that typically accompanies it confer an honor. That honor is, or should be, a statement of the university’s convictions. [Therefore… what do we conclude about the University’s convictions?  (Keep in mind the pivotal role UND played in the Land O’ Lakes Statement.)]

By inviting Obama to address its commencement and by offering him an honorary doctorate of laws, Notre Dame’s leaders invite the conclusion that their convictions on the great civil rights issues of our time are not those that once led Hesburgh to stand with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and proclaim an America in which all God’s children are equal before the law. And that is very bad news for all Americans[Not just Catholics.]

George Weigel is a distinguished senior fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.


I think you can see which argument I think was the more compelling.

What about you?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Broadsword says:

    ” Rev. John Jenkins, has also made it plain the commencement invitation represents no disregard of the church’s commitment to life.” And the invitation representing genuine disregard of the church’s commitment to life goes to whom…?

  2. ckdexterhaven says:

    Fr. Z, I don’t know exactly what the Land o’ Lakes Statement was. I’m in my 30’s, I know it wasn’t good, but that’s about it. Could you point me (and others) who are ignorant of it and it’s implications to where we could read about it? I’m assuming I don’t want to go to the NCR webpage and read their account… ;)

    Thanks, Mr. Weigel for writing this op ed.

  3. Mark says:

    Moral clarity and principled stand versus politics as the art of compromise. Enduring versus forgettable. Substance versus banality.

  4. Catherine says:

    Kmiec seems to get angrier and more defensive as he goes on. (Wonder who he voted for?) It appears that he assumes his audience (all of us “detractors”) is pretty stupid. I deplore his talking down to us (reminds me of Obama), and I am left with absolutely no respect for him whatsoever.

    And he taught the law?

  5. Vincent S. says:

    One of the things that’s so annoying from an economic standpoint about the “social justice” card which Kmiec plays is that he (and others who fall back on this position) almost always neglect the long-term consequences of the policies in question. If all of the wonderful Obama policies Kmiec cites in his op-ed directly contribute to the bankruptcy of the country at some point in the future, thus creating more poverty, will Kmiec entirely revise his arguments on Obama’s behalf?

    It’s not enough to consider one’s good “intentions” in promoting specific legislation if in the long run the policies are detrimental to society and the common good. But those who use “social justice” as code for certain types of economic policies traditionally associated with the Democratic party are never forced to follow up on these arguments 5, 10, 20 years later and explain whether the policy actually did what they said it would.

    Take away Kmiec’s adoration of the intellectually gifted president’s “fight” for social justice and what does he have left? I won’t hold my breath for Kmiec’s future mea culpa for supporting a president whose policies in this area only exacerbated the poverty and need in this country and around the world.

  6. Andrew, UK and sometimes Canada says:

    So Obama’s been elevated from “special” to “very special”. I was always taught that resorting to the qualifer “very” was a sign of intellectual laziness.

    Oh, and “faith office”. Is that kind of like the Petrine Office? I didn’t realise that all American presidents exercised such an office. But then, I’m only a Canadian.

  7. Fr. Z., please enter into a debate with these people. You’ll clean house. I’m tired of these lunatics running the asylum. Let’s take back the culture!

  8. RC says:

    Let us pause and thank God that none of the presidents he served ever appointed Kmiec to a judgeship.

  9. PMcGrath says:


    The “Land O’Lakes” statement was a 1967 document by major Catholic university leaders in the U.S., led by Hesburgh of Notre Dame, that (in effect) rejected the guidance of the magisterium of the church. Uncle Diogenes explains it all for you:

    “It was forty years ago when the leaders of the major Catholic universities agreed to the Land O’Lakes rebellion of 1967.

    Notre Dame’s Fr. Hesburgh was the rebels’ alpha male who ceremoniously announced that Catholic colleges and universities should be independent of, and no longer submissive to the teaching authority of the Catholic Church in their teaching and research functions, if they wanted to be “effective.” Evidently, the Notre Dame trustees, and the bulk of its faculty wanted the school to be “effective” — that is, well thought of in the editorial pages of the New York Times. They accepted the terms of rebellion. The ties to the Church were kept in name only.

    You can read the full text of the statment at this link.

  10. paul says:

    I find it so shocking that there is even a debate on Obama, abortion and the church. There is no debate when it comes to killing the unborn for Catholics. Catholic doctrine is clear on abortion- again there is no debate- I think allowing these pro-abortionists defenders any legitimacy is the wrong way to go.

  11. Elastico says:

    An expanded litany from the National Catholic Rgister (Lord Have Mercy):

  12. Son of Trypho says:

    Is Kmiec still hoping for a Presidential appointment?

  13. LouisianaCatholic says:

    Fr. Z and others:

    Related to this subject, and coming off the recent statement
    by Cardinal DiNardo of Houston, we now have
    Archbishop Dolan of Milwaukee, soon to be Arcbishop of
    New York criticizing Notre Dame’s decision. It
    seems we may be in for another Cardinal O’Connor, of
    blessed memory, who was very outspoken on the abortion
    issue. Note that Abp Dolan has forbade radical theologian
    Dan Maquire from speaking at any Catholic parish in
    Milwaukee and Maquire is a public supporter of abortion.

    Again, to quote Fr. Z, “brick by brick”

  14. Ryan says:

    Repent, Doug, and believe in the gospel. If not, you will go down in history with the supporters of Herod and all subsequent tyrants who destroy innocent life. On your deathbed, the Holy Innocents will be your judges.

  15. cthemfly25 says:

    I pity Kmiec as he is his own charicature of the dissenting katholic. He falls back on his professorial distinction as a substitute for Truth. He bellows about ND tradition in contradiction to Tradition. Shameful.

  16. liebemama says:

    I was stunned this morning when our Pastor spoke openly about this issue against the ND invitation at the end of Mass. He is usually very non-confrontive and ……. hmmmmmm …. jolly(?). He suggested stopping present donations to ND, and of course suggested another alternative for the said $$$. :-) I was so thankful that he even mentioned this at all.

  17. Rick says:

    Vincent S. makes a great point! Go back and read his post if you have not done so. Anytime the liberal Dems throw out that they are the party of social justice, we should ask if the practical measures which they endorse to bring about “social justice” actually achieve the goal. In fact, they do not, as have been proven time and again. I am not endorsing the Republicans, by any means. But liberal Catholics, especially bishops, who have suggested, even through thier silence, that we need to weigh the social justice issues, including abortion, are leading us down the wrong path. What about the left’s invocation of class warfare and redistribution of income? How are these to be defended using Catholic doctrine? Weigel’s point is a good one. Notre Dame does not want to start a dialogue on abortion. They want to promote the liberal Democrats and thier agenda. Many, many, many conservatives and traditionalists can tell you story after story that the liberals’ famed tolerance and dialogue apply only to other liberals.

  18. Christa says:

    From Kmiec’s opening paragraph:

    “The ideal speaker must raise your institution’s prestige and be universally beloved for a life well-lived.”

    1. President Obama is not universally beloved. All one has to do is a cursory search of the web to know that.

    2. President Obama’s life has not been well-lived, to date. He has consorted with some dubious characters, freely admitted and bragged about various sins in both of his books, and has said some very hurtful and divisive things. His major accomplishment has been getting elected, which may go to my 3rd point.

    3. Prestige apparently is the operating word for Kmiec. All I have to say is to quote Sacred Scripture: “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world but lose his soul?”

    Remember John Edwards “Two Americas?” I think that there are two churches: the one that follows Scripture, Tradition, and Pope Benedict and a bizarro church that does everything the opposite, just like Bizarro Superman.

  19. Jason Keener says:

    Kmiec points out how “intellectually gifted” Obama is. Is Kmiec serious? Has he heard any of Obama’s “moral arguments” for the pro-choice position or embryonic stem cell research? Obama’s moral reasoning on some of the biggest issues of our day boils down to this: If science can do it, we should just push ahead and do it. There is no talk of when personhood begins. There is no talk of the natural moral law. There is no talk of how dangerous science can be without ethical constraints.

    Kmiec’s article is drivel, but kudos to George Weigel for writing a good one.

  20. Jeff M says:

    It’s really interesting that the left keeps saying that by not coming to the graduation, the Bishop won’t be able to engage Obama in conversation. (As Kmiec does above.) A commencement address is not a dialog nor a conversation, and I suspect the President won’t be hanging around to debate the matter with D’Arcy. I recall a Kmiec essay posted a month or two ago by Fr. Z. in which Kmiec argued for more civility in the abortion debate. Where is the civility in mis-characterizing what others are doing? He is making it sound as though the Bishop is somehow not open to dialog, yet if D’Arcy did go he would just be a part of the captive audience.

  21. Dcn Jake says:

    Just so everyone knows it is NDU, not UND… just one of those things

  22. Dcn Jake says:

    whoops, that was a typo… UND is correct not NDU… people from South Bend just call it ND

  23. Joe says:

    Dr Kmiec starts off by saying that President Obama’s position on abortion shouldn’t have anything to do with it, and then goes on to justify Obama’s position on abortion. Even if a pro-life Catholic is willing to swallow Obama for the sake of ‘other issues’ (which is not tenable) how is Kmiec not horrified at Obama’s funding of research requiring the destruction of human embryos? Even if if wasn’t already difficult to believe Kmiec’s word that he is pro-life, he reduces himself to inanity in trying to defend Obama on this issue.

  24. Re: Kmiec’s essay, words fail me. Were I to speak my mind, I’d be banned.

  25. little gal says:

    I made a comment in another thread about the reaction of moderates to the ND situation. Fr. Barrons is one that I was thinking of:

  26. Ricky Vines says:

    As Kmiec stated, “Politics is the art of compromise and candidates are the embodiment of it. But there’s the rub, the Catholic Church is the foremost defender of unborn life, and properly, uncompromising about it. Obama is more pragmatic, accommodating other religious and scientific views that see the origin point of life differently.”

    It is the job of the public servant not to compromise at the expense of someone’s inalienable rights which are absolute consequently non-negotiable. “Pragmatic and accomodating” are constructs appropriate for relative matters. But it the case of truth and justice, one cannot deprive someone of his rights in the name of pragmatism. If a pregnancy is not convenient, the baby still has the right to live. That right does not change with the situation.

    That’s where Weigel provides the missing concept that Kmiec fails to understand, “innocent human life has an inalienable dignity and value that demands the protection of the laws. … it reflects a first principle of justice that anyone can grasp, irrespective of their religious convictions or lack thereof.”

    As far as the spirit of commencement goes, Weigel holds that, “A commencement address and the degree that typically accompanies it confer an honor. That honor is, or should be, a statement of the university’s convictions.” This is a consistent extension of the vision and mission of the institution.

    Kmiec on the other hand points to the speaker as someone who will “raise your institution’s prestige”. It is shallow, superficial, hollow, empty, lacking in substance, selfish, puerile, childish and dumb.

  27. Mary says:

    I’m sorry to say but “social justice” is just code for pro abortion. Scratch any social justice program and you’ll find a population control program. It’s the big fat red juicy apple all over again.

  28. Susan says:

    When I was an undergrad at U of Chicago, they always had commencement speakers from within the University itself (they called it convocation, but hey). Almost never anyone from outside, and when they did it was an academic. They fell off the wagon when they brought in Clinton in the mid-90s; but it was a good idea. No distractions, no pseudo-intellectual celebrities, and usually, no politicians. Unfortunately, now we have a Hyde Park Lakefront Liberal in the White House, so the U of C has failed in its primary mission – to serve as an internment camp for these people, so that they can’t get out and do any harm in the real world. They should have offered him tenure, and a big enough salary to offset his political ambitions.
    As for ND, may their football program wither to University of Chicago levels.
    As for Kmeic, may he wake up tomorrow, realize how absurdly wrong he has been, and become a pro-life warrior again, as he is said to have been in the past.

  29. Alice says:

    Go George! What a champion!

  30. Virgil says:

    Actually, I find both the arguments quite compelling. Both of these men are making a similar point: it is important for Notre Dame to stand up for what is right. As I would expect from them, they differ not because they disagree about what is right. They differ in what is the MOST EFFECTIVE MEANS for Notre Dame to make the point.

    Weigel believes that the time for dialogue on how to reduce the tragedy of abortion is passed. The only solution is an aggressive formation of barricades. Often I agree, as the tragedy of abortion is so very great, greater than Iraq and torture and other life issues.

    Kmiec believes that the only way we will make strides as Pro-Lifers is to engage the other side. Especially when the other side is wanting to engage. By accepting the invitation from Notre Dame, the President is showing his willingness to engage.

    Now, Father Z, I am disappointed that you take such delight in pummelling Kmiec, and being condescending to Weigel! [Condescending to Weigel? You must be joking.] Both of these guys are worth more. I challenge you to re-post these articles, or to write your own level-headed assessment of their thoughts and post it.

  31. Corleone says:

    Virgil – Kmiec believes that the only way we will make strides as Pro-Lifers is to engage the other side. Especially when the other side is wanting to engage. By accepting the invitation from Notre Dame, the President is showing his willingness to engage.

    I would have to strongly disagree here. Obama’s acceptance of the ND invitation is in no way necessarily a display of any sort of willingess to “engage”. To me it is a PR stunt/coup showing the US that even Obama has now trumped the teachings of the Catholic church and made the church accept the fact that he is in control and will do what he wants dispite their/our objections. When Napoleon coronated himself in front of pope Pius VII, he was not saying, “I am now showing a willingess to engage the church”.

    As for Kmiec, it is clear he has in effect hitched his wagon to Obama some time ago. His fortune will ebb and tide with that of the current president, and I have the distinct feeling Kmiec will defend him no matter what. The “social justice” comments were really just too pittiful and cloying to be taken seriously. It’s like saying, “Sure Hitler killed all those innocent Jews, but he created a lot of very useful social programs which employed a lot of out-of-work Germans too.” And I’m not trying to make one of those “worse than Hitler!” hyperboles against Obama, which I think are ridiculous. I am simply showing the absurdity of Kmiec’s moral relativism.

  32. Frank H. says:

    Virgil said – “By accepting the invitation from Notre Dame, the President is showing his willingness to engage.”

    It seems to me that the only thing his accepting the invitation means is that Obama gets a nice Catholic platform from which to speak, and an honorary degree to bolster his already outsized ego. In what, exactly, will he be “engaging”? A commencement address is clearly not a debate.

  33. Jake says:

    The “Fellows” have ultimate responsibility at ND to:

    “e. Ensure that the University maintains its essential character as a Catholic institution of higher learning;”

  34. Catherine says:


    You are joking—right? “The President is showing his willingness
    to engage?”

    Good Lord, man….

  35. chironomo says:

    “Kmiec points out how “intellectually gifted” Obama is. Is Kmiec serious?”

    Unfortunately… Yes he is (Kmiec being serious, that is!!)Obama is a gifted speaker, and even that is coming into doubt these days. A gifted politician? Perhaps…. but that is not necessarily a good thing. Obama doesn’t appeal to morality, or ethics, but only to the latest polling. If a majority of democrats opposed it, so would he…

  36. Tomas says:

    Father Z, I second the statement of Kevin Symonds above. You need to enter the fray (as in friar) more publicly, so we don’t have to listen to these simpering PC egomaniacs like Kmiec and Thomas Reese, the media’s favorite go-to guys when it comes to undermining the Church.

  37. TNCath says:

    Just watch: Doug Kmiec will be Obama’s choice as ambassador to the Holy See. If this turns out to be true, this will be a disaster. By the way, does anyone know if Doug Kmiec is related to Bishop Edward Kmiec of Buffalo?

  38. Fenton says:

    The story continues yet…

    Obama=Pilate=one who has no moral foundation but to be guided by the loud and politically connected
    Kmiec=Caiphus=one willing to sell his soul to Pilate to keep his power and favor among the elite

    Pretty clear.

  39. Keith says:

    The invitation of an anti-Christ heathen such as B.O. to Notre Dame gives further proof that Notre Dame is and has been but nominally Catholic, for decades. The local ordinary did right, to avoid THAT scene. He should also publically state why he kept away.
    Those who graduate from an institute of higher (presumably) learning should be allowed to hear a commencement speech from a good, solid Catholic, who can inspire the audience to go forth and be mindful of their duty to God and do all things to His greater glory, that they may set a good example for others.

  40. Corleone says:

    Fenton – given Obama’s predisposition to allowing innocents to die, I’d liken him more towards Herod…

  41. Mark says:

    I think it was silly for Wiegel to invoke the “Second Vatican Council” as if that somehow is what set our anti-abortion agenda.

  42. Corleone says:

    Mark – unfortunately, to many (if not the majority of) Catholics, Vatican II is the end-all/final say on church authority. If you invoke anything prior, it is usually dismissed as “archaic” or irrelevant. So, at times it is necessary to quote from Vatican II, just to show even the ultra-liberals that what they are thinking is wrong (not that it matters much to the vast majority of cafeteria-caths tho).

  43. Fenton says:


    Spot on!

    I stand humbly corrected!


  44. STB says:

    Indeed, it is somewhat funny to see Vatican II invoked in this context. I agree with Corleone that it is sometimes necessary, yet every time I hear it, I brings to my mind recollections of the phrase which I heard so many times in 70’s and 80’s in communist Poland: “As declared by XX Party Congress…”, “XX Congress decided that…”, etc. etc. :-) Sorry, I cannot help – I guess I had so much exposure to this type of naive propaganda, that I see it everywhere now :-)

  45. Dear Fr. Zuhlsdorf,

    Is there no alternative? Must one either be all for it, a la Kmeic, or righteously indignant, as Weigel (whom I greatly admire) et al.?

    If the Pope can make Nicholas Sarkozy an honorary Canon of the Cathedral Basilica of St. John Lateran, then surely Barack Obama can speak at ND without it being a grave scandal or repudiation of the university’s mission? [I think Weigel describes this in the best way. Perhaps go back a review his editorial. It is not the fact of speaking at Notre Dame that is the problem. It is the particular event and motivation for this invitation that vexes the Catholic.]


  46. It all works swimmingly for Kemic once what’s true and what’s false is bypassed, and proportionality disregarded.

    Existence becomes pointless.

  47. irishgirl says:

    I second what was said above about Kmiec: ‘What does it profit a man….?’

    I think you should engage in a debate, Fr. Z-you’d clean their clocks, for sure!

  48. Corleone says:

    FENTON – ’twas not a correction : ) I liked your analogy.

    STB – LOL! FYI, on Father Z’s other thread about book suggestions, I mentioned “The Deliverance of Sister Cecilia”. Have you read it? It’s about the communist takeover in (then) Czechoslovakia and how they essentially transformed the church through a series of perversions and repression, often times completely overlooked by the general population. This is EXACTLY what at times seems to have happened in the church post Vatican II. So, you’re analogy of the “XX Party Congress” is in effect far more accurate than we would like to believe : ( And yes, I too lived in a communist country when I was a child, and the vocabulary tends to get smaller and smaller under Communism. Meaning, the same catch-phrases and buzz-words seem to be used in any conversation (i.e. proletariate, workers, dergue, revolution, new society) regardless of whatever the topic.

  49. kate says:

    The Kmiec article is just the sort of equivocation that you read in the Tablet here in the UK.

  50. Veritas says:

    It remains to be seen how Obama will reward Kmiec for his shameless support. I still say a judicial appointment over an ambassadorship. When you place your own career advancement ahead of logic and coherency, this is the type of writing you get: shameless self-promotion.

  51. Gregor says:

    “…If you “struggle” with something, you are to be exonerated…”

    So right Father Z., struggle is the get-out-of-hell-free card for the dissident.

  52. jarhead462 says:

    Doug needs to come off of the kool-aid drip for a few days.
    Obama is smart
    obama is thoughtful
    Obama is kind
    Obama is wonderful
    Obama is superior to all others
    Obama can cure cancer
    Obama’s touch can cure your rash
    Obama supplies a full days’ supply of vitamin C.
    Obama has very clean boots thanks to Mr. Kmiec’s constant licking.
    Anyone who disagrees is a Neanderthal.
    Oy Vey!

    Semper Fi!

  53. The motivation was rather awkward. The defense ND offered after the first waves of criticism was only more so, and the statement to the effect that ND had been expecting the criticism all along was frankly incredible.

    Is it possible that ND, more or less surprised by the vehemence of the critiques, stumbled (as often we do ourselves) in its effort to offer an explanation for behavior about which it had a clean conscience, and for a defense of which it was therefore unprepared?

    ND’s motivation of the decision to award an honorary doctorate makes it rather more difficult to deny the premise Weigel uses as his starting point, i.e. that the university’s actions are somehow a seal of approval on the President.

    Nevertheless, the Sarkozy analogy holds here, I think: an honorary doctorate is what ND gives a POTUS when a POTUS comes to speak at Commencement. My understanding of the historical record is that this is the case.

    N.B. If I were the president of ND, I would not have invited this President of the United States to speak at Commencement. I just do not think it is scandalous. The appearance of scandal has been caused by ND’s poor handling of harsh, even vitriolic criticism, the sources of which often surprised me.

    It seems, frankly, that many critics ought to have made greater efforts to “think all the good we can” before putting pen to paper.

    If that step had been taken, perhaps much of this unpleasantness could have been avoided, the strength of a great Catholic institution affirmed, and, at the very least, another platform for Prof. Kmeic’s disagreeable character avoided.


  54. Daniel Latinus says:

    Leaving aside all the positions contrary to Church teaching that Obama embodies, why is a newly elected president getting an honorary degree when he hasn’t accomplished anything but getting elected? (Not that Obama, following his present course, would be any more acceptable three or even seven years from now.)

    And as for Obama wanting to engage prolifers, he has no such intentions. All he’s ever done is listen politely, say some conciliatory things, and then proceeded to pursue the most radically anti-life agenda persued by an American president.

    Mr. Kmiec needs to get one thing clear: Obama is not going to ever put him on the Supreme Court, or even appoint him to an important appellate court. To think he’s carrying so much water for nothing…

  55. Katie says:

    re the post referring to Sarkozy: the French head of state has been an ex officio Hon. Canon of St.J. Lateran for lo these many centuries. O’Bama is not an ex officio Irishman nor an ex officio honoree of ND.

  56. Dear Katie,

    That is actually my point. The honorary doctorate is no more a stamp of approval on the POTUS’s conduct, public or private, than is the Canonship a stamp of Papal approval on the conduct of the French chief of state, public or private. It is just what ND gives POTUS when he comes.


  57. RBrown says:

    That is actually my point. The honorary doctorate is no more a stamp of approval on the POTUS’s conduct, public or private, than is the Canonship a stamp of Papal approval on the conduct of the French chief of state, public or private. It is just what ND gives POTUS when he comes.
    Comment by Chris Altieri


    Of course, it’s a stamp of approval. That’s why it’s called “honorary”–honoris causa.

  58. Dear RBrown,

    Honor is not approval. [?] Honor is due the chief of state. Honoring him is ultimately honoring the people, whose unity his office symbolizes.

    While it is true that a great humanitarian or military leader or civic hero might receive a degree in honor of some signal service, the nature of the the award is not necessarily to communicate that kind of recognition.


  59. Fr. Michael says:

    Yes, President George W. Bush received an honorary degree from ND in 2001. His line was, “My brother, Jeb, may be the Catholic in the family–but between us, I’m the only Domer.” [Thanks for that information!]

  60. Muscovite says:

    Kmiec is absolutely right that reducing the “moral tragedy” of abortion is one of Obama’s top priorities. He clearly thinks the way to approach that goal is to reduce the perception of abortion as a moral evil, rather than to reduce the number of abortions. [I don’t think that is clear at all. I don’t think Kmiec is for abortion. But I think he has fallen into a trap.]

  61. Thomas Burk says:

    Obama’s willingness to engage: I won, you lost.

    Like the world president in Fr. Elijah, Obama wants the photo-op that says to the world, see, the Catholics actually love me, and what those fringe elements say about life issues is irrelevant.

  62. Dear Muscovite,

    I think you are confusing the President of the United States, with his stooge, Prof. Douglas Kmeic.

    Reverend and Dear Father Zuhlsdorf,

    When Sts. Peter and Paul exhort us to honor the Civil Authority, they do not for a moment intend that we approve of their every action. This is not to compare the POTUS to Nero, but only to illustrate the point; we render the honor due the office.

    It limps, perhaps, but another way to look at it is in analogy to the soldier who salutes his superior – he salutes the rank.

    ND need not have invited this POTUS, but he is the POTUS; if one grant that there is nothing wrong in inviting the POTUS, then one ought not begrudge ND its exercise of mere good manners [I think you are wrong about this.] in bestowing on this POTUS the same honor it has bestowed on the other P(s)OTUS who have spoken on another Commencement Day. [There is a an old phrase “all things being equal”. This is not one of those cases in which all things are equal.]


  63. TJM says:

    Thomas Burk, right on! You get it. Tom

  64. Dear Muscovite,

    I mean to say that I agree with Fr. Zuhlsdorf: Prof. Kmeic is sincerely pro-life, and tragically mistaken in his estimation of the POTUS, who would not see a young woman “punished” with a child.


  65. RBrown says:

    Honor is not approval. Honor is due the chief of state. Honoring him is ultimately honoring the people, whose unity his office symbolizes.

    You’re mixing two orders here: Honorary degrees, which are personal and usually are awarded for distinguished contributions, and the honor due to the holder of an office, which has nothing to do with university degrees.

    According to your argument, Bishops D’Arcy is dishonoring the office of the Presidency by boycotting ND graduation.

    While it is true that a great humanitarian or military leader or civic hero might receive a degree in honor of some signal service, the nature of the the award is not necessarily to communicate that kind of recognition.
    Comment by Chris Altieri

    Again incorrect. See Above.

  66. Bruce Barker says:

    I can see Kmiec’s point. After all, German racial purity laws DID improve social justice for Arians. The imagination “swoons” at the possibilities for Americans of the President’s abortion policy!

  67. ssoldie says:

    1967, religious liberty? forty two years +, fruits, fruits, fruits

  68. Ricky Vines says:

    Chris: When the Lord said, “Render to Caesar, what belongs to Caesar”, he did not really say what belongs to Caesar. If Caesar disregarded the rights of the weak, what would belong to him? Check out the “Julius Caesar Act III, Scene II”

  69. Muscovite says:

    Sorry, all. Guess I wasn’t clear. Here’s what I meant:

    Kmiec is absolutely right that reducing the “moral tragedy” of abortion is one of Obama’s top priorities. He (Obama) clearly thinks the way to approach that goal is to reduce the perception of abortion as a moral evil, rather than to reduce the number of abortions.

  70. Federico says:

    Kmiec writes: The Obama administration’s early victories extending health insurance to children, rectifying imbalances in a tax code neglectful of the working man, and persuading Congress to allocate abundant resources for educational reform, despite the economic distress, all coincide strongly with church teaching.

    Even if we were to concede that there was moral equivalence (there isn’t) Mr. Obama sought these so-called objectives from the most centralized, most removed government available to him. When did subsidiarity cease being a foundational part of Catholic social teaching?

  71. Dear RBrown,

    As a matter of fact, I have a fairly decent idea about what a degree honoris causa is, and what it may or may not do.

    You may disagree with my specific application of certain principles, but my position, to the extent that I have taken one, is not non-sensical.

    I am not going to go back and forth with you. This is silly, and it ends now.

    Rev.d and Dear Fr. Zuhlsdurf, [Zuhlsdorf]

    I beg leave to ask, once more only, whether by chance the perfectly justified disgust, the right and even holy indgnation over the President’s positions on abortion, which any God-fearing man must abhor as quite literally abominable, is not in this case acting as a lens through which the moral quality (I mean this word in its etymological sense) of ND’s actions might appear distorted? [“might appear”?]

    Is ND’s decision to invite the President and to award him a degree honoris causa in this connection really as morally wrong and awful as, e.g. +Olmsted says it is, or is it really an omen of so pitched and momentous a change in the very ethos of ND as Prof. McInerny claims? [Yes and yes.]


  72. Patrick says:

    What does Kmeic mean by “unprecedented numbers” (54%) of Catholics voted for Obama. JFK got roughly 80%. Does he mean unprecedentedly low?

    I seem to find his commentary more and more disingenuous, if that is possible. Kind of like his hero.

    Chris, only in a “what is the meaning of ‘is,’ is” kind of world does the word “honor” – at least when used after the word “bestow,” or “confer” – not mean elevate.

  73. Corleone says:

    Patrick – maybe he means unprecedented numbers of Catholics voting for an openly pro-abortion president.

  74. Rev.d and Dear Fr. Zuhlsdorf,

    I am very sorry to see I misspelled your surname. Please know it was entirely unintentional.

    You know the high esteem in which I hold you, and the high regard in which I hold men such as Ralph McInerny and George Weigel.

    You know also of my devotion to Catholic Tradition and Magisterium, and to the intellectual life in the service of Holy Mother Church. Sentire cum ecclesia is practically the air I breathe.

    So you understand how difficult it must be for me when I find myself unable to see my way to you and them in this matter – you can well imagine the pause I take.

    Please consider the following questions as part of my search to understand the consequences of the condemnation of ND. I ask them in all sincerity; they are utterly without polemical intent.

    1. Suppose ND’s actions truly merit the worst condemnation they have received, and that ND’s standing to claim the title of Catholic university really impeached; would not bishop D’Arcy then be woefully mistaken in encouraging Ambassador Glendon to attend and accept the Laetare medal? Would not her attendance imply some compromise? Were not the medal tainted?

    2. Suppose ND’s actions truly merit the worst condemnation they have received, and that ND’s standing to claim the title of Catholic university really impeached; how is the kind of respectful witness for which we have both called (at mine, in my own treatment of Bishop D’Arcy’s statement, I called for a large, reverent and mostly silent candlelight vigil), an appropriate or an adequate response?

    In Dño,


  75. RBrown says:

    Chris Altieri,

    Interesting that you, a PhD candidate in philosophy, aren’t inclined to defend your own assertions. By definition, the intellectual life is “back and forth”, cf. the Medieval Disputations, which became the basic structure for the Summa.

    You make two comparisons, both of which are equivocal rather than analogical, then you expect everyone to genuflect before your opinions.

    One other point: Obama does indeed represent legitimate civil authority, but his position on abortion violates natural law. This situation means that it is questionable whether his authority on abortion can be said to be legitimate.

  76. Dear RBrown,

    I expect no one to genuflect before my positions.

    If you see equivocation rather than analogy, then I am not sure I have expressed my comparisons with sufficient clarity.

    The President’s positions on abortion are indeed contrary to natural law.

    I am uncomfortable with the idea of sharing my understanding of the possible implications of this last under the natural law, at least in this forum.

    A final point: please understand that I am not averse to engagement; I would not, without explicit and specific permission, argue a point with which my host clearly does not agree. It were too much like fighting with my wife in my neighbor’s living room.

    I would enjoy continuing the conversation with you privately.

    Feel free to e-mail me at


  77. RBrown says:

    There is no reason to continue this via email.

    1. I am not a Notre Dame grad, nor have I ever visited the school. I am an alum of KU and of the Angelicum.

    2. I have very little objection to Obama being invited to speak–he is the POTUS. I do, however, have great objection to the honorary degree, which spits in the face of all those who have done the heavy lifting in the anti-abortion crusade.

    3. What we are seeing are the consequences of the election of Papa Ratzinger. The theological syncretism that began to flourish in the papacy of Paul VI is now coming to an end. Deo gratias.

  78. Kiet Tran says:

    Just say NO to Kmiec.
    Kmiec is Kerry.
    Kmiec is Kennedy.
    Kmiec is Pelosi.
    Kmiec is Casey Jr.
    Kmiec is deceiving.
    Kmiec is politically motivated.
    Kmiec is Pro-abortionist.
    Kmiec loves Obama.
    Obama is Pro-abortionist.
    Obama has forgotten his root (from oppressed people).

    Is this accusation? Nope. Just state the fact.

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