I must express my dismay at the fact that Notre Dame University would confer an honorary degree upon a commencement speaker who publicly, in theory and in action, espouses a position on such a fundamental issue as the life of the unborn that is in direct opposition to Catholic Church teaching. With all due respect to the person and the office of the President of the United States, at issue is a far more fundamental principle. Such an action on the part of the University displays a total disregard for an instruction by the Bishops of this country on the consistency between the actions of Catholic institutions and what the Catholic Church teaches. “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” (Catholics in Political Life, USCCB, 2004). In this matter, I share the consternation of my brother bishops and of many Notre Dame alumni who have already voiced their objections. I am in complete agreement with them.
Appeals to “academic freedom” or engagement should not prompt an indifference to what our actions imply. In reflecting on the need to voice my objection, I am reminded of a statement in the letters of Madame de Sévigné that I read many years ago. Expressing her regret at the death of a dear friend, which could have been prevented by decisive action, she writes: “By saying, ‘I don’t want to take responsibility for anything,’ people become responsible for everything.” For both the individual Catholic living in this climate of moral relativism and for the Catholic institution bestowing an honor, this observation is particularly applicable. Honos habet onus* applies as well to the one who bestows the honor.
* "Honor has responsibility", an old Latin motto.