Statutes and charter – two edged sword

I was chatting with a very insightful friend today who stuck this bug in my ear…

Has anyone read the statutes and charter of the University of Notre Dame?

Is there anything in those statutes and the charter which might shed light on their recent decisions?

I’m just askin’

For example:

(e) The essential character of the University as a Catholic institution of higher learning shall at all times be maintained, it being the stated intention and desire of the present Fellows of the University that the University shall retain in perpetuity its identity as such an institution.

Everyone is focused on the question of whether the University is fulfilling their charter by inviting President Obama.

Okay… but look at this from the other side.

Look at it from President Obama’s point of view.

By virtue of agreeing to appear in at a place… isn’t that a way of agreeing with what the University stands for?

Wasn’t there a dust up when someone, for example, appeared at … what was it… Bob Jones University?  Wasn’t there a dust up?  "How dare X appear at Bob Jones University?  That means X supports what the University stands for!"

The Catholic Church has settled the question about abortion.  The University embraces Catholic doctrine on abortion.  Pres. Obama is agreeing to go to Notre Dame….

The White House had to know there would be a dust-up.  So… they chose to take this on, right?

Perhaps people should start congratulating President Obama for embracing Catholic theology on abortion…

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Father Z,

    To my knowledge, from a civil law perspective, Notre Dame is controlled by its Board of Trustees, which is predominantly made up of lay persons, although some Holy Cross priests serve on the Board. However, in the governance documents controlled by civil law, the President of the University must be a
    Holy Cross priest of the Indiana province. I am not sure if the Order directly appoints the President or if the Board of Trustees appoints the
    President from a slate of candidates provided by the Order.

    I hope this bit of information helps you in some way.

    All the best,


  2. Chris says:

    That’s quite a stretch, Father.


  3. Wm. Christopher Hoag says:

    Fr. Z said: Perhaps people should start congratulating President Obama for embracing Catholic theology on abortion…

    That approach has a wonderfully Chestertonian flavour to it! ;-)

  4. Kevin L says:

    Father, I really don’t think that that will fly. Too much of his personal history says otherwise…. Nice try though !

  5. PaulJason says:

    “Perhaps people should start congratulating President Obama for embracing Catholic theology on abortion… ”

    I’ll put it on my on my calendar.

  6. Choirmaster says:

    Perhaps people should start congratulating President Obama for embracing Catholic theology on abortion…


    Put the words right into the President’s mouth! Twist the meaning and intention of his actions and editorialize on his conscience as if we know what’s in there for a fact. This is a tactic used by the liberal media all the time to malign its enemies. A taste of their own medicine is in order here.

    But seriously, their own tactics never work on them. They are the inventors (or refiners) of this type of sophistry, and, by virtue of their twisted sense of ideology, always seem to remain in the lead on spin and disinformation.

    Our best tactic should remain as it is: plainly stated logic, reason, fact, and faith.

    Fact: Notre Dame should never have been allowed to stray so far from its founding principles.

    Logic: Because they were allowed to stray so far for so long, it was easier for them to justify (in their own minds and the minds of their stake-holders) such scandalous policies and actions. None of us should be surprised.

    Reason: Don’t send your kid to Notre Dame thinking they will get some type of Catholic education.

    Faith: Pray for the Holy Cross priests that they rediscover their legitimate charisms.

  7. Lourdes says:

    I just went to the Notre Dame website to see who exactly is on the board of trustees. For someone who has more time on their hands, it might be a worthwhile enterprise to do some digging. Just from a quick survey…there are 55 members of the board of trustees. Of the 55, 7 are Holy Cross priests. Others seem to be some faculty members. And others seem to be corporate types. This doesn’t prove anything, but the few corporate types that I sampled show political contributions to McCain, not Obama. So, I am wondering exactly how the voting goes on the board. Surely, all 55 don’t gather in a room and chat about who would be an appropriate commencement speaker. Who selected Obama and how was the invitation presented? I really would like to know more of the details.

  8. Rancher says:

    I can usually figure out where you are headed with your comments, but not this time. [Then you should settle in and think on it for a while. Try to think outside the box.] For it to be a two edged sword requires first of all that Obama recognize and acknowledge a sword and then be objective, honest and fair enough to see that it has two sides. BO and his court jesters are masters of the double standard. The double standard negates the two edged sword concept. He is acknowledging nothing about what NDU stands for other than that it is another opportunity, handed to him on a platter by the Church that he views as the enemy, to throw it “in their face”. He knows that most people (including all non-Catholics and most borderline Catholics) will see this as a partial endorsement of his agenda or at least an acceptance of the anti-life components of his agenda. Even suggesting that there is some benefit (2 edged sword) is as mistaken as the head of the Holy Cross Fathers whitewash of Jenkins posted yesterday. No one should ever, ever be deceived into believing that the cunning, calculating Obama is accepting anything about NDU other than the selfish political benefit that will derieve from his appearance there.

  9. John V says:

    A nice turn of the tables.

  10. Tzard says:

    Next step is for someone (perhaps even Notre Dame U.) to publicly congratulate him for accepting Catholic principles in regard to Abortion by accepting the invitation. And announce we look forward to him keeping its inherent promise to dismantle Roe V. Wade.

  11. Tzard says:

    Clarification – I’m serious. It may even get a response out of him.

  12. Thomas Burk says:

    George Bush’s visit to Bob Jones U. was roundly criticized in the media. I doubt they would do the same for the current president. If I remember correctly, Bush’s visit to BJU was as candidate Bush, not President Bush.

  13. Kelly says:

    I really like this idea. Put the pressure on the President to justify why he is accepting an honorary degree from an institution affiliated with the Catholic Church. Afterall, this is the backwards Church that insists that children in their mothers’ wombs have the same inherent right to life as the rest of us. I heard Laura Ingraham saying on her radio show today that she really thinks something needs to be done. I don’t think this is what she meant but who better to get the ball rolling in the media, at least the Catholic media, on pressing the President on his conversion of heart and mind regarding abortion. Has he been talking to Newt Gingerich? Is he reading Benedict XVI or JP2? Has he been unduly influenced by Fr. Z’s blog? Is he going to convert to Catholicism too? Who else is next? Will he convince Kerry and Pelosi and Sebelius to put on sack cloth and ashes with him in reparation for the innocent blood on their hands? Planned Parenthood should be terrified at the prospect of the most pro-abortion President being converted to the Truth! It is the year of St. Paul…perhaps a novena to the most infamous killer of Christians would be in order for the conversion of the most powerful facilitator of the killing of the unborn?

  14. JohnE says:

    I suspect Obama is hoping to give greater legitimacy to anti-Catholic views among Catholics and make abortion, gay marriage, etc., merely issues that good Catholics can discuss, debate, and disagree on.

    As an interesting and somewhat related aside, I was just on this wikipedia page ( a day or two ago. This is what the page used to say (using Google cache):

    “The deliberate destruction of a viable human embryo is incompatible with some interpretations of Roman Catholic doctrine. Based upon these interpretations, some Catholics have suggested that human fetuses are inherently valuable and should not be voluntarily destroyed.”

    This is what it now says:
    The deliberate destruction of a viable human embryo is incompatible with Roman Catholic doctrine ( Based upon this teaching, Catholics insist that human fetuses are inherently valuable and should not be voluntarily destroyed.

    The old entry shows the attempt of some to water down Catholic doctrine and legitimize disagreements.

  15. Mark says:

    Ecco! Heaven knows that Mr. President will change his stance on abortion during his lifetime, but coming to a Catholic university to receive high honors would suggest that he does, in fact, constitute himself with Catholic teaching, including abortion. This is the LAST thing Mr. President and his disciples would want. Up next: letters to the President saying “Thank you!” for embracing Catholic doctrine. I can’t wait to see this story unfold…

    Bravo, Father!

  16. Houghton G. says:

    Certainly this is a good “thought experiment” for us to chew on. However, the conclusion I come to is that this would only parallel the George-Bush-went-BJU-therefore-he-accepts-BJU beliefs” pejorative if the college who’s invitation President Obama accepted were say, Christendom or Thomas Aquinas College. If he did that, the pro-aborts would indeed be on his case.

    But precisely those truly Catholic colleges would never invite Obama. And everyone, including the pro-aborts, knows Notre Dame is “not that kind of a Catholic school,” so they aren’t in the least worried about him speaking at Notre Dame. Indeed, they see it as a way for him to gain, not a real Catholic imprimatur, but a pseudo-Catholic imprimatur, the kind of imprimatur that they really want and need politically.

    So the thought experiment only underscores that Catholics and Notre Dame are the losers here; for the president, it’s a win-win all the way to the political piggy bank.

    And the fact that there cannot be a political price for Obama to pay by speaking at Notre Dame it simply makes utterly clear that Notre Dame is in fact no longer Catholic.

    But it’s a helpful, clarifying thought experiment, to be sure.

  17. Connie says:

    The White House will use the “conscience clause”, favored by dissidents: since the Catholic Church teaches the primacy of conscience, President Obama will honor UND’s Catholic character in his agreement with the doctrine that personal decisions of conscience must be considered sacred.

  18. Prof. Basto says:

    I disagree with your analysis on this one Father.

    1. – Relativists such as President Obama can go to a Catholic University, then to a Buddhist one, then to an Animist one, they can do this and that, and that does not mean that the relativist accepts the view of the visited institution. Your President is only going to Notre Dame to receive an award that he will be able to say is a “Catholic Award” that will add to his legitimacy vis a vis disinformed Catholic voters; and he is also doing it to please the liberal nominal Catholics who backed him.

    2. – What is more, President Obama is a politician. He wants to have a “photo opportunity” with a Catholic institution so that he can say to the Catholic electorate: hey, its ok to vote for me and still be a good Catholic, your conservative (he would use the word fundamentalist) pastor that says otherwise is wrong when he says otherwise; even Notre Dame, the Flagship of Catholic Universities in this country awarded me a Doctorate honoris causa.

    3. – Thirdly, your analisys includes the assumption that Notre Dame is still materially Catholic, and that by going, the President is endorsing the Catholic values of Notre Dame. But does Notre Dame still hold to Catholic values. Or is it just a formally but not materially Catholic institution? The second option seems to be the true one. An institution that is still Catholic only in a sense of formality, because the charter and statutes say that it is a Catholic institution, but that in practice has watered down that fact, and abandoned the Catholic magisterium. Thus, given that Notre Dame is not pro-life in reality, but only formally Catholic, President Obama’s presence will not be an endorsement of any actual Catholic values. At best, his presence will be an endorsement of what Notre Dame stands for: nominal Catholicism without effective adherence to the Magisterium .

    4. – President Obama is surely well aware of the liberal status of Notre Dame; of the positions of dissent and heterodoxy that find a home therein. That’s what he will be endorsing. And this whole debate has only served to highlight the fact that many Catholics (or what I call nominal Catholics) disagree with the magisterium. In the view of the liberals, that’s ok. So, when going to Notre Dame, the President will only be endorsing Nancy Pelosi’s peculiar brand of pick and choose Catholicism, because that is the same Catholicism as Notre Dame’s.

    5. – How can an univerity that claims to be Catholic grant an honoris causa degree to a supporter of the holocaust of the unborn?

    Respectfully submitted,

    [Obviously you worked hard on this… but you are not getting at all what I did here. You are stuck in the box.]

  19. Kelly says:

    I agree, this is outside of the box thinking. It is a sort of martial arts move, use the aggression of the enemy to your advantage. We all know what Obama thinks and does. We all know that many at ND including the powers that be, agree with him, at least implicitly. Currently, we are on the defensive, the president feels no heat and is probably looking forward to going to ND, thinking he will be able to do all of the things Prof. Basto mentions. What we need is to put him on the defensive for coming to a Catholic University to accept a Catholic award. We need to frame the debate. We need to control the spin. We need to not let all of our assumptions regarding Obama and ND handicap us in using this event to our advantage. Then we can say, look the President agrees with us, all human life is sacred, I even have a picture of him at our flagship university to prove it!

  20. Rancher says:

    OK Father I get it, but I disagree. Reverse psychology or using the tools/tricks of the liberals against them would, in this case, only work if NDU were truely a Catholic university which stuck to orthodox teaching. But it doesn’t. So making it look like Obama, by accepting the invitation, is accepting catholic teaching is nothing more than wishful thinking. If he had accepted an invitation from Steubenville or Wyoming Catholic maybe–but not NDU. [Okay… stay inside the box and thanks for helping others to stay there too.]

  21. I think I’ll close this combox for a little while so people can think a while and get their minds around this idea.

Comments are closed.