As everybody knows the degree “honoris causa” given on May 17 to President Barack Obama by the Catholic university of Notre Dame, in South Bend, Indiana, has produced many protests. In particular, the most drastic have been Michael Novak (see here) and George Weigel (see here), namely the standard-bearers of neoconservative Catholic thought.
Yet, amid the storm of controversy, Obama’s speech has been little read and analyzed. With few exceptions, among them, here in Italy, that of Giuliano Ferrara, the editor of Il Foglio newspaper and “a commentator beyond suspicion” (the most “Ratzingerian” of the secular defenders of unborn life), as Vaticanist Sandro Magister puts it. In fact, Ferrara published in his newspaper the full speech in Italian translation, “seeing in it common ground on which the “pro-life” and “pro-choice” can work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortion.”
Even less read and analyzed was another important speech: the one by Judge John T. Noonan, decorated in 1984 with the highest honor of this Catholic university, the medal “Laetare.” To fill this void Robert Imbelli, a priest of the diocese of New York who teaches theology at Boston College, wrote this article, published yesterday by Sandro Magister in his website. It analyzes both speeches, by Obama and Noonan. “It highlights their elements of conflict,” says Magister, “but above all of hope. With incisive, surprising observations.”
[T]hough on one level the President appeared primarily focused on respectful dialogue and “fair-minded words;” on a deeper level he seemed to be in search of binding principles that were, perhaps, at variance with his own stated positions. Indeed, these principles, if given full scope, might even lead the President (not without personal cost) to reconsider some of the practices he currently endorses.
Significantly, Noonan chose a striking example as illustration: the dispute between President Abraham Lincoln and the former slave, Frederick Douglass. It was Douglass’ moral clarity and conviction that helped guide Lincoln’s own moral compass to the point where he issued the “Emancipation Proclamation,” freeing the slaves in the secessionist states. The implication, subtly but unmistakably put forward, was that, like Lincoln, whom he reveres, President Obama may also come to greater clarity regarding the pressing moral issue of abortion.