The Catholic Thing
«Notre Dame Commencement, 2010» Print E-mail
By Mary Eberstadt   
Tuesday, 31 March 2009

To: The Rev. John I. Jenkins, President
From: 2010 Commencement Speaker Search Committee
Subject: Next Year’s Honoree

First, sir, our warmest congratulations! As you are aware, Notre Dame Commencement 2009 set a dauntingly high bar to match at next year’s ceremonies.

It’s hard to imagine a speaker with more headline appeal than the president – let alone this president! Or any speaker more inimical to certain of what Rome calls our “fundamental moral principles.” Even so, after careful and prayerful consideration, we respectfully submit a candidate – perhaps the one and only candidate! – who can take our 2010 Commencement to the next level.

To get there, however, we must prepare ourselves for a certain amount of misguided public opposition. In the hope of containing that opposition more successfully than in 2009, we submit this memo in advance of contacting our prospective Speaker.


We offer the following preliminary suggestions for heading potential adversaries off at the pass; more systematic briefing books can be drawn up by the theology and philosophy departments.

Emphasize that those dissenting from our choice do not know Scripture.

Stress what opponents conveniently forget – Our Lord himself engaged in dialogue with our prospective Speaker.

Opponents will doubtless observe that this engagement consisted mainly of commands such as “Get thee hence!”, “Come out of the man!” and similar injunctions ostensibly at odds with the development of a sustainable and continuing respectful conversation. But such failure to dialogue, we submit, was typical of relations between our prospective Speaker and religious believers two thousand years ago. As a historical artifact, it should no more constrain us in 2010 than any other practice historically specific to the time, such as fasting or prayer.

Second, we should use public venues to continue casting doubt on our opponents’ simplistic understanding of the Bible.

When they point to “Thou shalt not kill,” for example, we should not let them leave matters there. After all, the Bible is a living document. Future scholarly exegesis may turn up important qualifiers that translators have missed, such as “unless thou art somewhat black, charismatic, and capable of the name recognition guaranteed to keep donor dollars flowing in during a difficult economic time,” to name just one possibility.

In sum and properly understood, the Scriptures are full of rhetorical opportunities to dispel any suggestion that our opponents have a monopoly on textual truth.

Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.

It is also imperative to emphasize that those protesters fail to understand the many benefits to date of our university’s previous engagements and outreach to those with whom we may not fully agree.

We dialogued, for example, with Mario Cuomo via his famous 1984 lecture, in which he explained that “the Catholic Church's actions with respect to the interplay of religious values and public policy make clear that there is no inflexible moral principle which determines what our political conduct should be.” Following that lecture and thanks to our efforts to engage him, Mr. Cuomo experienced a radical public transformation and went on to become one of the global leaders of the pro-life movement – “Mother Teresa on the Hudson,” as he is fondly known. Okay, maybe not. But at least he did not become any more pro-abortion than he already was!

Similarly, the university’s courageous decision last year to allow “The Vagina Monologues” to be staged on campus despite student protests may yet bear lasting fruit. Certain of its scenes, particularly those of lesbian seduction and child rape, concentrated our students’ minds wonderfully on “Vita, Dulcedo, Spes,” our university motto. As we know, learning through such conversation is a two-way street; you will be pleased to know that the standing speech committee continues its efforts behind the scenes at changing the title someday to “The Vagina Dialogues.”

Finally, there are the extraordinarily beneficial consequences of our engagement with President Obama.

It is true, as opponents point out, that he lifted the ban on stem-cell experimentation, ensured that U.S. dollars would again flow to support abortion around the world, appointed as number two in the Justice Department a lawyer known for defending pornographers, appointed as head of HHS the most pro-abortion governor in America, declared his willingness to sign the Freedom of Choice Act, effectively implementing abortion on demand, and otherwise acted in ways perhaps not perfectly congruent with Christian moral teaching.

Then again, critics should be asked, how much worse might President Obama be if he weren’t in dialogue with us? (We have no immediate answer and have delegated the question to our Subcommittee on Sophistry for further study – but the rhetorical question is effective in and of itself.)

In sum, the cynics who argue that Notre Dame can only squander its moral capital by honoring those who fundamentally disagree with the Church are gravely ignorant of the extraordinary spiritual effects of our dialoguing with critics to date.


On the logistical side, there is some confusion about the best snail mail address for our prospective Speaker. We know that he has residences in New York, San Francisco, Pyongyang, Amsterdam, and other major cities, as well as dilatory domiciles from Darfur to the Khyber Pass. He also uses a variety of names from the familiar (“Old Scratch,” “Baal,” “Lord of the Flies”) to the obscure. Thus, we recommend that you contact him via the Internet, where he is apparently ubiquitous.

One final note: we are also pleased to report that our Speaker’s unique dietary needs need not inhibit dialogue either. As is explained in the welcome packet we are preparing, South Bend has a Planned Parenthood just a short walk from campus.

In all, the stars seem wonderfully aligned for this ultimate engagement across the bridge of ideas. It will also make for an especially interesting event among our faculty – particularly those who don’t yet believe our prospective Speaker even exists!

Respectfully submitted, your 2010 CSSC Chairperson

Mary Eberstadt is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and monthly columnist for The Catholic Thing.

(c) 2008 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: info at thecatholicthing dot org

The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Rules for Commenting

The Catholic Thing welcomes comments, which should reflect a sense of brevity and a spirit of Christian civility, and which, as discretion indicates, we reserve the right to publish or not. And, please, do not include links to other websites; we simply haven't time to check them all.

Comments (28)Add Comment
written by Charlie, April 01, 2009
YES. A little levity mixed with a pointed message.
written by Donald P.Stevens, April 01, 2009
Extraordinarily well done! If there is any humor in this you have found it.
written by Ruth Schiavone, April 01, 2009
Thank you to Mary Eberstadt....what an encouragement to us out here in the world of the Internet! I do wish that someone who knows how to do this could get this on Facebook or Twitter so that the young people could not only read excellent satire but open their minds to the reality that Satan Never Sleeps... Thank you, Editors, for puttingb The Catholic Thing on the web. [Ed. note: We are on Facebook.]
written by Michael Runatz, April 01, 2009
I respect your opinion but I am 62 years old and I have seen the lack of convictions expressed by "Catholic" leaders for the last twenty years.
Our president is first and foremost a politican. If you you think that a dialog with any politican will accomplish anything I have some swampland you may be interested in. Only if they are backed in a corner and fighting for their own personal interests will they listen. Giving honors for beliefs that are non-Christian is like giving an added sword.
Guy Looking For Work
written by Jeff, April 01, 2009
Funny, yet sad because it's true. Catholics are sometimes better off at non-Catholic schools these days. Agnostic universities are better than heretical ones.
written by Snookums2, April 01, 2009
It is my opinion that the individual giving a commencement address should not promote a climate of unrest and be a travesty to the graduates, alumni and benefactors of the university. Furthermore, the idea of dialog with a commencement speaker is absurd as well as impossible. I've attended college and university graduations in the past and I can't recall any times the commencement speaker had dialogue with anyone. Excuse me while I hit my funnybone, Mary Eberstadt LOL;)
written by William H. Phelan, April 01, 2009
Thank you Mary Eberstadt for an extraordinary piece! Not to worry though. The Boss, i.e., Pope Benedict XVI, is going to be very busy in Israel and therefore he will not be able to intervene in this matter.
written by Philomena, April 01, 2009
The only flaw in the article is that they already invited the Prince of Darkness to be the 2009 Commencement Speaker. Can't have the same speaker 2 years in a row.
written by Robert Hurley, April 01, 2009
Catholic moral teaching is not confined to the issue of abortion. Mr Obama has supported many policies in concert with teaching on Catholic Social Justice. As a Catholic I fully support the decision to honor him.
written by Jerry Becan, April 01, 2009
This carries sarcasm and irony to levels never before achieved! I'm afraid that's all (besides prayer) that we have left. I feel like I am an alien from outer space here. I can't believe that the discussion is even happening, that Fr Jenkins and I, both Catholics, can have such divergent opinions about something so obvious.

One point that can be made is the collateral damage the the Infamous Invite has caused. Look at all the wasted energy being generated by the protests.
written by Jerry Becan, April 01, 2009
(continued) Energy is being expended and donations are being made which could be directed to more positive causes. The protest is necessary; the wasted energy is part of the damage caused by Father Jenkins.
written by Michael Whitty, April 01, 2009
At the 2009 Commencement, will we hear the chant:

"O-Bam-A, You Can't Hide,
You Support Infanticide!"

You know the other side would make such a chant, if the situation were reversed.
written by Eoghan McGill, April 01, 2009
I cannot express the depth of the sense of betrayal I feel from Notre Dame's decision to honor Obama with a degree of law. I have loved Notre Dame since the first day I set foot on Campus in August, 1984. Last week I took my diploma off the wall of my office, cut it out of the frame, and mailed it back to Rev. Jenkins. If a man can earn a Notre Dame diploma by zealously pursuing the destruction of the innocent, my diploma has no meaning to me anymore. (ND Class of 1988).
written by LInda Wolpert Smith, April 01, 2009
I fear that this could easily be misunderstood and misused. This is too serious a matter for such extreme sarcasm. We must not allow ourselves to be caricatured as unreasonable and uncivil.
written by William Dennis, April 01, 2009
Fantastic and humorous. It is even believable. "He so flatters himself in his mind that he knows not his guilt." ( Ps 36 )
written by ND alum, April 01, 2009
Congratulations, Mary Eberstadt, on your satire/sarcasm and how fitting that it be printed today!
ps. to Mr Robert Hurley: You are a CINO, along with ND President Fr. John Jenkins. If you were truly a Catholic, in more than name only, then you would support the USCCB which said in 2004, that no Catholic university should honor any politician who supports abortion.
written by ZZMike, April 01, 2009
This is a great follow-on to your "Loser Letters". Old Screwtape must be chuckling merrily.
written by MCR, April 01, 2009
Hasn't been done so well since the Rolling Stones! ("Sympathy for the Devil")
Positively Swiftian
written by Keith Toepfer, April 01, 2009
Dear Ms. Eberstadt,

Your article approaches the heights, seldom attained, of 'A Modest Proposal.' Very well done--my only wish is that it might be seen and understood by Fr. Jenkins.
So what, Mr. Hurley?
written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., April 01, 2009
Dear Mr. Hurley, so what if a man promotes some things that are consistent with Catholic teaching? Even if the slaughter of the unborn is the not the ONLY issue, it must out weigh all others. We're talking about mass murder, Mr. Bob! This common, trendy abuse of "Chairty covereth a multitude of sins" is insidious. Both suicide and unemployment went down under the Third Reich, but gassing the retarded and deformed, which the Nazis did, is no different from abortion.
written by John Sylvester, April 02, 2009
Robert Hurley who also offered a comment today (4/1/2009) identifies himself as being "Catholic" ... to which I can only say-based on the rest of his remarks-that he is quite delusional! As to the article by Ms goodness, she must realize that given the ignorance displayed by Fr Jenkins in his inviation of BHO and also his new law school dean appointment at ND, the man is totally unable to follow and digest such commentary...he is a true example of the "Peter Principle"!
written by debby, April 02, 2009
To Eoghan McGill, THANK YOU. i dont know you but i love you! you know Truth and therefore, you are FREE. Our Lady must sing Her Fiat & Magnificat very often in your heart!
To Mary Eberstadt, i love your work. where can i read more of your material? i heard it said that the enemy hates to be laughed at, it wounds him. to that i say, HAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHA! thank you Mary, for helping me out with that one.
Sick, Shameful
written by Stephen, April 02, 2009
Are you really equating the invitation of Obama to an invitation to Satan?

This is mentality is NOT Christian. We cannot allow ourselves to demonize the other side, to allow a caricaturization of them as evil. They are human beings. Barack Obama deserves to be treated with the same dignity and respect that we treat the unborn, even when he's unwilling to give the unborn this respect.

This is the triumph of politics over Christianity. This is shameful! Examine your conscience!
written by Gerald, April 05, 2009
Surely, by inviting Obama, you are not telling us that that the university will be engaging with him?

Tolerance can be very misleading, my darling.

For instance, dirt, what right minded person tolerates a dirty bathroom or kitchen? Similarly, engagement with dirt--a murderer--is just simply obnoxious! I gues your "Catholic" logic may be rather misleading, to say the least!
written by Dawn Parkot, April 06, 2009
I believe it is deceitful to classify President Obama's principles, excusing his actions on life issues, while extolling his leadership in other areas. I don't expect every commencement speaker to have a seamless record on Catholic issues. Though, sanctity of life is undoubtedly essential, critical, and central to the Catholic Church. In addition to an honorary degree is, well, honoring its recipient - the whole package. Not just choosing the individual’s traits that you like.
written by Jim O'G, April 06, 2009
Democrats and liberals have got to understand that they can be a Democrat and a liberal or they can be a Catholic. But there is no such creature as a Catholic Democrat. It is an oxymoron.
written by Fiona Crowley, April 08, 2009
To Eoghan mcGill on returning his Diploma... Respectfully sir, you were obviously not deserving of such a Diploma in the first place. One would hope that attending a third level institution, albeit a Catholic one, would, at the very least, instill a certain degree of broad mindedness and even a tiny bit of common sense! Not in your case I see...
written by Steve, April 10, 2009
Wow. What a remarkably stupid memo. I mean, couldn't you at least have tried to be clever? I knew exactly where you were headed from the second sentence.

If Notre Dame invited a commencement speaker who favored the death penalty (i.e., almost any Republican) would you be outraged? Would you equate it to inviting the Devil himself? I think not.

ND doesn't endorse the anti-life argument by inviting the President of the United States to speak. These protests are foolish.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters