Besides the official doctorate of laws honor, they gave him the stage. For more than rhetorical flourish.

George Weigel calls it.

The principal themes of President Obama’s Notre Dame
commencement address were entirely predictable; indeed, in some offices
I know, betting pools were forming last week on how many of the
Catholic Left hot buttons Obama would hit. In the event, he hit for the
cycle several times over, mentioning “common ground”; tolerance and
reconciliation amid diversity; Father Hesburgh; respect for those with
whose moral judgments we disagree; problem-solving over ideology;
Father Hesburgh; saving God’s creation from climate change; pulling
together; Father Hesburgh; open hearts; open minds; fair-minded words;
Father Hesburgh. None of this was surprising, and most of it was said
with the president’s usual smooth eloquence.

What was surprising, and ought to be disturbing to anyone who cares
about religious freedom in these United States, was the president’s
decision to insert himself into the ongoing Catholic debate over the
boundaries of Catholic identity and the applicability of settled
Catholic conviction in the public square. Obama did this by suggesting,
not altogether subtly, who the real Catholics in America are. The real
Catholics, you see, are those like the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin,
who are “congenial and gentle” in persuasion, men and women who are
“always trying to bring people together,” Catholics who are “always
trying to find the common ground.”

This is the incisive analysis most others missed. That Catholics are
already divided was self-evident, in Obama’s election by slightly over
half of them, and his elevation by this prestigious university. But
what he did by inserting himself into the fray in this precise way,
Weigel explains, was to conquer the divided.

In his introduction, Fr. Jenkins said everyone was talking about why
Notre Dame extended the invitation, but no one was talking about why
Obama accepted. As much as anything, this is why.

Whether or not President Obama knew precisely what he
was doing — and I’m inclined to think that this politically savvy White
House and its allies among Catholic progressive intellectuals knew
exactly what they were doing — is irrelevant. In order to secure the
political advantage Obama had gained among Catholic voters last
November, the president of the United States decided that he would
define what it means to be a real Catholic in 21st-century America —
not the bishop of Fort Wayne–South Bend, who in sorrow declined to
attend Notre Dame’s commencement; not the 80-some bishops who publicly
criticized Notre Dame’s decision to invite the president to receive an
honorary degree; not the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which
explicitly and unambiguously instructed Catholic institutions not to do
what Notre Dame did. He, President Obama, would settle the decades-long
intra-Catholic culture war in favor of one faction — the faction that
had supported his candidacy and that had spent the first months of his
administration defending his policies…

Rather like Napoleon taking the diadem out of the hands of Pope Pius
VII and crowning himself emperor, President Obama has, wittingly or
not, declared himself the Primate of American Catholicism.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....