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The Confederate Lawyer
June 3, 2009

Notre Dame’s Honorary Degrees
by Charles G. Mills

GLEN COVE, NY — Some of President Obama’s supporters have attempted to justify the honorary degree given him by Notre Dame by comparing it to an honorary degree given by the same university to the newly elected President George W. Bush. The cases are in no way equivalent.

The objection to giving a degree to Bush is that he was Governor of Texas when more than 100 murderers were executed, despite Papal and Catholic pleas for clemency.

The objections to giving a degree to Obama are that he voted in favor of legalizing the killing of babies born live as the result of unsuccessful abortions, he has consistently spoken in favor of legal abortion, he favors the expansion of federally funded embryonic stem cell research, and he has taken other positions that favor abortion.

Serious Catholics across the board agree that abortion is always wrong. The same is true of killing babies who have survived attempted abortions. This is a matter of natural law. Men everywhere and throughout time have known that murder is evil. Cain instinctively knew that his killing of Abel deserved the death penalty, although that was not the punishment God chose. Popes have consistently taught that abortion is intrinsically evil. This teaching is supported by Scripture and by the tradition received from the Apostles. Since the dawn of modern understanding of reproduction, the Church has consistently taught that this teaching applies without distinction at all stages of pregnancy. The evils of abortion and the killing of newborn babies are simply not open to negotiation for Catholics.

Catholic teaching on capital punishment is not comparable to that on abortion and infanticide. Some Church teaching holds that capital punishment is almost never appropriate in contemporary society. The principle underlying this teaching seems to be that capital punishment can be just, but it is to be resorted to only when necessary for public safety. This is not dogmatic, however, and is not a teaching for all places and all times; it is advice based on contemporary society and not derived from natural law. The Church does not teach infallibly when it teaches only for the present time. While such teaching has authority, it does not require complete assent under all circumstances. Popes and saintly kings and princes have sometimes imposed capital punishment.

Bush dissented from the advice of the Church as to the appropriate punishment of criminals in a system with modern prisons. Obama dissents from the natural law binding on all men in all lands from the time of Cain to the present day. Bush dissents from the Church’s particular advice. Obama defends an intrinsic evil. No Catholic may believe that Obama is right. To a limited extent, a Catholic may believe that Bush is right.

Bush was faced with murderers whose crime was aggravated by factors defined by the representatives of the people of Texas. Their death penalty was decided by a jury and a judge, and confirmed by appellate courts. It might well have been worse to overrule the ordinary decision makers over a hundred times than to allow the executions to go forward. It is hard to imagine a justification for voting to authorize the killing of newborn babies on the ground that their abortion failed.

The two situations are also completely different from the perspective of Notre Dame. Nobody suggested that awarding the degree to Bush was inappropriate. In contrast, awarding the degree to Obama directly violated a policy of the American bishops. Many dozens of American bishops expressly asked that the invitation to Obama be withdrawn. The local bishop even refused to attend the ceremony.

Apart from Notre Dame’s insult to Catholic doctrine is the matter of loyalty. A Catholic institution may not defy its bishop unless morally compelled, which is rarely the case. Notre Dame’s defiance was a great scandal.

In insisting on honoring Obama, the administration of Notre Dame acted in an arrogant and unchristian manner. It went forward stubbornly without considering the possibility that the bishops, including the Prefect of the Sacred Signatura, were right and the Notre Dame administration was wrong. This can be seen by the heavy-handed use of campus police to arrest peaceful protestors who did nothing more serious than try to walk around the campus sidewalks praying. The arrest on national television of an elderly priest for praying the rosary is an act of fanatics — the kind of thing those who hate the Church do.

The degree given to Bush was a routine matter. The degree given to Obama was a defiant act of those who want to re-make the Catholic Church without its doctrine, traditions, and authority. The true purpose of the Obama degree is to free the Catholic-in-name-only universities from their duties to the Church and the Truth.

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The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2009 by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved.

Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles about the law.

See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.

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