Over the last couple weeks, I’ve gotten into a few arguments with Catholics upset at President Obama’s upcoming commencement address at Notre Dame University (scheduled for Sunday). There’s a petition you can sign online to “stop the scandal,” and prevent the president from giving the address.

Their argument is basically that since Obama supports abortion rights, it is therefore evil for him to speak at a Catholic university.

My argument has been that it isn’t, and it’s in fact a positive overture for the president toward American Catholics, as well as a significant honor for the Notre Dame class of 2009.

E.J. Dionne Jr. sums things up well in this Washington Post column: The Stakes at Notre Dame (registration required). Dionne notes the rather optimistic tone toward the Obama White House taken by the Vatican, which seems to be frustrating right-wing Catholics:

The April 29 essay by Giuseppe Fiorentino, L’Osservatore’s frequent foreign affairs contributor, painted Obama as a moderate on many fronts. “Some have accused him of practicing excessive statism,” Fiorentino wrote, “if not even of making the country drift toward socialism.” But “a calmer analysis,” he said, suggests that Obama “has moved with caution.”

And he arrives, as do several others, at the same conclusion that I have: the Notre Dame “scandal” is simply a proxy for partisan politicking. This shrill group has been silent on the issue of Fr. Richard McBrien, the Crowley-O’Brien professor of theology at Notre Dame, whose pro-choice position (as well a numerous others that run afoul of the orthodox view) is well-published. One might be forgiven for thinking that a theology professor has more impact on the religious formation of Catholic university students than any commencement speaker, and yet the “Stop the Notre Dame Scandal” crowd has had remarkably little to say on this issue.

Now, I have no truck with McBrien — I only point him out to give lie to the “principled stance” taken by those hoping to see the president barred from the dias Sunday.

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