Notre Dame’s invitation to the militantly pro-abortion Barack Obama has more than a few Catholics up in arms. For the simple reason that Notre Dame, as an explicitly Roman Catholic university, should not honor those who dishonor a basic Church teaching on the sanctity of human life.
Notre Dame isn’t a public university, or a secular private university. But, to repeat, it claims to be Roman Catholic. The Catholic bishop who presides over South Bend, Indiana gets it, and won’t attend graduation.
So, one may ask, why doesn’t Pope Benedict weigh in? After all, here’s the premier Catholic university in America all set to honor a man who, were he Catholic, would be unfit to take communion. Doesn’t the Pope have an obligation to the faithful to set the moral tone for Catholics in public life? As in, “Hey, this is Benedict. You Catholics out there, stay away. President Obama is in grave moral error on his pro-abortion stand, and you should not help honor him.”
But the Holy Father isn’t weighing in. I’m sure he’s got his reasons, but I suggest that one important reason is that the Pope knows that he should not give the appearance of interfering in the domestic affairs of a sovereign nation. To wit, the United States of Protestant America. Yes, I know, not our official name, but we are a Protestant nation at heart. Meaning a nation of individuals, people whose highest virtue is freedom of conscience.
Historically, since the Reformation, that has meant rejection of clerical authority in secular affairs. This started with Henry VIII, who declared himself head of the new Church of England. Which in form and substance was Catholic. Just didn’t report to the Pope in Rome, but to the English head of state.
We Americans did old Harry one better: we separated church and state, so any interference in our internal affairs, perceived or real, is a double whammy. And, I’d wager, American Catholics every bit as much as American Protestants would agree: the Pope, nor any other foreign source, should dip into our political waters.
The question that remains unanswered, of course, is this: should the head of the Roman Catholic Church discipline a Roman Catholic university? Corollary: if he does not discipline Notre Dame for honoring Obama, has he lost a teaching opportunity to the faithful?