Center for Ethics and Leadership

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Rabble-Rousing and Abortion II

There he goes again. Patrick Reilly's self-proclaimed Catholic university watchdog, the Cardinal Newman Society, having failed in an attempt to embarrass Reilly's alma mater, Fordham University, last October (see my October 27, 2008 post), now moves up to Division 1 with a foray against the University of Notre Dame.

The president of the United States will give the commencement speech to the Fighting Irish class of 2009 in keeping with Notre Dame's tradition of having the president address a graduating class.

Reilly's complaint is his usual one-note tune, abortion. I will leave to others the problems with his moral calculus as applied politically. I would rather turn to his agenda and to the thinly veiled threats of right-wing politico and Catholic George Weigel.

To repeat what I wrote last October (slightly edited): Reilly has made a career of hunting down colleges that are not truly Catholic according to his lights. His litmus test is quick and sure. Unfortunately, it is as narrow as it is incomplete. A look at the Cardinal Newman Society's website does not readily show any concerns other than abortion. Reilly is a Senior Fellow at the Capital Research Center, a conservative think-tank that targets non-profits. A university, including a Catholic university, is not tasked to forward the blatantly political agendas of these groups, whether hounded by self-proclaimed defenders of the faith like Reilly or zealots like David Horowitz pursuing leftists hiding in the ivory tower. Ralph Reed eventually came clean and left the Christian Coalition to become the political operative he always wanted to be. Patrick Reilly is well advised to do the same. The University of Notre Dame is a model of concern for a just society. Reilly and his allies would do better to support, even in disagreement, this great school.

As for Weigel, the Fox News website quoted him as saying that donors have the strongest leverage in these matters and expressed his wish that they will notice. In others words, he called for a boycott.

Those who find this appearance offensive have a right to complain and even not attend. The bishop of Ft. Wayne/South Bend, Bishop John D'Arcy, will not go, and Notre Dame's conservative and well-published philosophy professor, Ralph McInerny, has expressed displeasure. If he walks out in protest, all the better. It will draw the president's attention to this very thorny issue.

But this simplistic crusade? No.

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