This has been big news among conservative Protestants and Catholic traditionalists. (Or at least they have chosen to make it big news, which amounts to the same thing). Since the president supports the Supreme Court's finding with regard to abortion, the anti-abortion team has argued that the invitation, along with a conventional honorary degree, violate the policy of US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Notre Dame and its supporters have counter-argued that the USCCB teaching precludes Roman Catholic institutions from honoring Roman Catholics -- but not others -- whose actions run counter to Catholic teaching.
We've been silent because this is a fight in which we have no dog. Our own church takes no firm position regarding abortion (falling somewhere near the Clintonian formula that it should be "safe, legal and rare"). We doubt that the president currently spends much time thinking about the matter, or that he will occupy himself with it when he speaks at Notre Dame. We certainly hope not. We do believe that honorary degrees are foolish and ought to be discontinued, but not for any of the reasons adverted in this instance.
Still, we are intrigued by Father Z.'s post, regarding some current polling data (click up top for the post, here for the press release). Simply put, just over half of all respondents agree that Notre Dame should have "followed the guidelines ... and refrained from awarding an honorary degree to President Obama." The other half are split between "award the degree" and "don't know or care."
We are concerned because the question seems unfairly phrased. If Notre Dame's argument is that they did follow the guidelines (in letter, if not in spirit), asking whether they should have is a bit like asking whether the Pope should stop beating his wife. It's not a question designed to get meaningful results.
Beyond that, though, we are mildly amused to see that among those who chose to oppose the degree (tip o' the biretta to the MMMS of yore, there), Evangelical Protestants (66%) are more opposed than Roman Catholics (60%) the awarding the degree. So -- hmm -- is Richard Land a running dog for the Papacy?
And "Evangelicals" feel even more strongly (87%, to 56% of Catholics) that a speaker should "share the university's views at schools with religious affiliations." Again, we'd like to see the actual poll questions. Because while that may well be a sustainable case for commencement speakers, it certainly is not for speakers in general. How else are students to encounter new ideas? Of course, that may be the whole idea....