Jerry's Letter to Fr. Jenkins
As you will see, I took a somewhat different approach than you may have expected:
Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.
President of the University of Notre Dame
400 Main Building
Notre Dame, IN 46556
Dear Father Jenkins,
While it is my opinion that Notre Dame’s invitation to President Obama to deliver the commencement address is inappropriate, and its bestowal of an honorary law degree to him - in light of his policies and actions - is completely antithetical to an institution that is devoted to the intrinsic value of human life at all stages, I shall not bore you with arguments in support of my opinion. I’m sure they have been made repeatedly by those far more educated, articulate, and persuasive than myself.
You have stated that your intent in extending the invitation and honor to the President is to “to engage in conversation.” As Hadley Arkes, the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College, noted in an article this week,
President Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, noted that the president had met recently with Francis Cardinal George to discuss matters of interest to the Church. And with that background, he said, the president "looks forward to continuing that dialogue in the lead-up to the commencement" at Notre Dame.
While Professor Arkes continues on in his article to propose a debate between the President and a member of the Notre Dame faculty, I would highly doubt that President Obama would agree to such an event, even if held in private. I am also aware that many demonstrations are being planned by Notre Dame students and alumni; while I appreciate their conviction and passion, I do not think that any such direct confrontation will make much of an impression on the President.
However, Alan Hunt, a former Protestant minister now a Catholic convert, offered a suggestion in an article this week, which I have reworked somewhat to be more practical and applicable. I would humbly suggest the following:
You could invite Obama to a reception hosted by ND students and alumni who were the result of unplanned and/or unwanted pregnancies. As my biological mother was an unwed high-schooler in 1966 Chicago, and I was in an orphanage until after my 1st birthday, I would be happy to attend and/or participate in the organization of the event. The hosts would act as waiters and bussing staff, serving drinks and food to the attendees, and clearing dirty glasses and dishes. However, only a few of the staff would actually be visible and working. After a period of refreshment, I would suggest:
• You thank the President for attending, and reiterate your wish to engage him on issues concerning the dignity of each human person from conception to natural death.
• You thank the wait staff for their service, and mention that each member of the wait staff is a student or alum who was an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy.
• The leader of the wait staff could accept your thanks, and say a few words to reiterate the dignity of each human person from conception to natural death, regardless of whether they are "wanted" or not.
• The leader could then state "Unfortunately, since 1973, over half of unwanted pregnancies have been terminated by abortion**. Had the intrinsic value of each human life not been denied them, here is what our wait staff would be capable of."
• The remaining wait staff, which would slightly outnumber those already visible, would then enter the room. The reception would continue, with the full wait staff clearing dirty glasses and dishes.
**-The best data I could find in my preliminary search was that an average of 2 million pregnancies annually are "unplanned or unwanted", and an average of 1.3 million abortions are performed annually, hence the "more than half" claim. I can find more complete statistics, complete with citations, if you would like me to.
In this way, President Obama would neither be insulted nor be directly confronted, but would be offered a glimpse of void incurred by the failure to recognize and protect the intrinsic dignity of each human person from conception to natural death. As Mr. Hunt wrote of his similar proposal:
This simple reception humanizes the case. The conversation moves beyond theory into reality. What better way to open the eyes of Obama than by greeting him with the joyful smiles of live humans who fortunately were not seen by their mothers as "punishment"....This experience is the embodiment of showing grace to a misguided, sitting president. Confront moral error with the very real presence of children. In accomplishing only this much, Notre Dame will have demonstrated its own faith and also pioneered a new tack in changing the heart of our pro-abortion president.
Imagine the experience George Wallace or Bull Connor might have had if they had been welcomed by the administration and graduates of Morehouse College, say in 1963…..Might that not have been a new humanizing arrow in the non-violent quiver of the civil rights movement?
Whatever course of action you pursue in "engaging" the President on his views on the protection of the intrinsic dignity of each human person, I will be praying for the success of your efforts.
"...And our hearts forever love thee Notre Dame"
In Christ and His Blessed Mother,
John Gerard Beckett
Class of 1995
I'm sure that there are those that are surprised I did not pursue the "condemn and threaten" route. I'm sure that there are those that think me a fool - or, at the very least, quixotic - for thinking that a) Fr. Jenkins actually intends to engage Obama, b) Obama actually would listen, c) that the suggestion I outlined in my letter will ever reach Jenkins' eyes, and/or d) that he would actually ever consider it. I can already think of a few such people.
It is very likely that you are right. It is also certain that I don't give a damn.
I've already contacted Notre Dame's Center for Ethics and Culture outlining the proposal in my letter to Jenkins. Although I was told that the Center is already considering various methods of "engaging" President Obama, they were intrigued enough to refer me to Professor Elizabeth Kirk, the faculty sponsor for ND's Right To Life group. I can think of a few other groups that might be interested. I will continue my support of and work with the Sycamore Trust. And, of course, my nightly rosary, undertaken with a renewed vigor as Notre Dame's Catholic identity gains a prominent spot in my intentions. As EWTN's Raymond Arroyo remarked in his interview with the Trust's president, William Dempsey, on Friday's World Over program, the breadth and volume of the reaction by Notre Dame students and alumni to Obama's invitation/honor indicates that, as far as Notre Dame's Catholic identity, "there's still a lot of sap in the tree."
Damn right there is.
When it comes to preserving and enhancing Notre Dame's Catholic identity, I am a loyal son of Notre Dame, a Fighting Irishman, and I have only yet begun to fight.