Tuesday April 28, 2009

Exclusive Interview: Cardinal Rigali Says Notre Dame Defence of Obama Honor “Evades Common Sense”

By Kathleen Gilbert

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, April 28, 2009 ( – Philadelphia’s Cardinal Justin Rigali, Chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, weighed in on the Notre Dame scandal in an exclusive interview with today. Rigali called the school’s decision to honor President Obama a “most unfortunate” decision that “must not happen again,” and criticized the school’s defense of the decision as one that “evades common sense.”

President Obama is due to give the commencement address and receive an honorary law degree at Notre Dame May 17.

“My reaction is that it is most unfortunate,” said Rigali. “It’s most unfortunate because of the confusion it causes; it’s most unfortunate because of the message that it gives with regard to the importance of human life; it’s most unfortunate in regard to the confusion that it causes also in the ordinary people – the students, the graduates, the families … but above all, it is most unfortunate because the value that is attributed to life through the recognition of an honorary degree in this regard is just not acceptable.”

Asked to give his opinion on the unprecedented backlash from U.S. bishops and thousands of Catholic laity over Notre Dame’s decision, Rigali said he believes that “something very positive is going on in our country along with all the negative things – that there is a greater and evolving understanding of the value of human life in many, many people.”

“The backlash is due to a great extent the reaction of people who through their intuition, through their common sense, they know that this is just not an acceptable way to take a position on something that is so important,” he said.

The cardinal referred to a speech by Pope John Paul II during his visit to St. Louis, MO in 1999, when the pope compared the legalization of abortion to St. Louis’ Dred Scott case. In that case the U.S. Supreme Court “declared an entire class of human beings, people of African descent, outside the boundaries of the national community and the Constitution’s protection,” in the pope’s words.

“How can we tolerate that today?” Rigali challenged. “This whole other category of human beings, the unborn – and the attitude of certain people permitting this, and saying that, for example, abortion should be safe, legal, and rare – or that it simply should be permitted at all times – to take this as a position, this is simply not acceptable in our day and age.” Thus a Catholic university, said Rigali, “has to be in the forefront of the defense of human life.”

“This is a stand in regard to something that is so vital, it is so important for the civilization of today … that we simply cannot be ambiguous,” he said. “To honor somebody [who is pro-abortion] … whatever his or her merits may be, whatever splendid things this person may do, whatever position he or she occupies … makes no sense whatsoever.”

The Philadelphia cardinal also addressed the U.S. Bishops Conference (USCCB) 2004 document “Catholics in Political Life”, which states: “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

The majority of U.S. bishops condemning the Obama invitation have said the move directly violates the document. However, Notre Dame president Fr. John Jenkins claimed the directive only applies to the invitation of politicians who are Catholic. (

In response, Cardinal Rigali said that while the document “may have well been in the context of Catholics,” the statement itself “says something quite clear which is a principle in itself.”

“It would make no sense whatsoever to say, ‘Well, we shouldn’t honor Catholics who present the antithesis of our Catholic doctrine, but … there’s really no problem whatsoever provided the person’s not a Catholic,'” he said. “That evades common sense.”

When asked whether he felt the invitation to Obama ought to be revoked, Rigali referred the question to Notre Dame’s own Bishop John D’Arcy. “I don’t think that everybody can come up with an answer to a specific problem in another diocese,” he said.

However, he continued: “It is evident that the invitation should not have been extended. It goes against the values that we hold. And it must not happen again.”

The bishop praised former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican Mary Ann Glendon for turning down Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal at the same ceremony in protest of the scandal.

Rigali said that “there has to be some form of explanation – explanation to all those who have been given this poor testimony of the value of life … on the part of the university, on the part of the president of the University, on the value of life.”

“He [Notre Dame president Fr. Jenkins] has to, because he has given an invitation that shows that this is not that important an issue,” said the cardinal. “And now, the whole world has to see that it is such an important issue: that, yes, it is a sign of contradiction … it is a division between life and death, and we cannot treat it as one issue among many.”


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