Students, employees and alumni of the University of Notre Dame are circulating a petition claiming that President-elect Donald Trump’s values are at odds with those of the Roman Catholic university.
Given that Trump's policy positions -- particularly when it comes to the sanctity of life -- are more in harmony with Catholic teaching than other recent speakers at the South Bend, Indiana, school, many desire clarification about where “Catholic values” end and “university values” begin.
The petition effort, led by Notre Dame College Democrats and signed by over 1,800 people, urges Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, not to invite Trump to speak at the school’s 2017 commencement ceremony, claiming such an invitation would be in conflict with its Catholic values.
According to the petition, Trump’s presence on campus presents a “unique and immediate danger” to the college community.
All recent sitting presidents -- with the exception of Bill Clinton -- have delivered commencement addresses at Notre Dame, from Jimmy Carter in 1977 to President Barack Obama in 2009, but the petition claims that Trump’s values are at odds with those of the university.
“There are many values which we hold dear at Notre Dame; the development of mind, body, and spirit in accordance with our values as Catholics; a willingness to embrace opposing viewpoints; and the pursuit of a common good,” according to the statement.
The letter specifically cites Trump’s characterization of Mexican immigrants and his behavior toward women as disqualifying behaviors.
A thrice-wed, self-proclaimed serial adulterer, Trump was at one time a supporter of legalized abortion and even gave Planned Parenthood financial support.
On the campaign trail, he focused his rhetoric on the violent criminal population of illegal immigrants from Mexico, an emphasis that many in the Hispanic community find objectionable. In contrast, the College Democrats support Notre Dame as a “sanctuary campus” free from immigration enforcement.
However, while the president-elect’s private behavior may be in conflict with Catholic guidance, his public policy positions are much closer to church doctrine than other recent speakers. Since announcing his run for the presidency, Trump has been a vocal pro-life advocate and a supporter of school choice -- which includes parochial schools.
In recent years, Notre Dame indeed has shown “a willingness to embrace opposing viewpoints,” as the petition demands, in extending invitations to prominent speakers who, while sharing the university’s values, professed their opposition to Catholic ones.
In 2009, the university invited Obama to speak to graduates. This invitation to the president -- who as an Illinois state senator opposed legislation to protect the lives of infants who survived abortion procedures -- appalled many Catholics.
Not a single U.S. senator opposed the federal version of the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, but Obama has been steadfast in his support of the measure and of taxpayer support for abortion in general. At the time, Bishop John Michael D’Arcy of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese described this as “so antithetical to everything we believe in ... It’s a deep wound for Notre Dame.”
Recently, another supporter of federal support for abortion providers, Vice President Joe Biden, received a prestigious award from Notre Dame. The 2016 Laetare Medal, which Notre Dame describes as “the most prestigious award given to American Catholics,” was bestowed upon Biden, a man who recently presided over a same-sex marriage ceremony in his home.
While some abortion proponents cloak their support for abortion behind the language of “choice,” perhaps the most egregious affront to Catholic values came from another Notre Dame commencement speaker, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsburg.
“Frankly, I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of,” Ginsburg is quoted as saying.
The public policy positions of these invitees and others like them clearly break from the values of the Roman Catholic Church, but they are in lockstep with contemporary left-liberal political thought.
In their 1967 “Land O’Lakes Statement,” the nation’s 26 leading Catholic universities claimed autonomy over their curriculum and “freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.”
Nearly half a century later, it is no longer clear what makes these leading universities Catholic and whose values they are trying to defend.
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