Proving that they’ve learned absolutely nothing from the scandal when they honored President Barack Obama in 2009, the University of Notre Dame recently honored former Indiana Gov. Joseph Kernan with one of its highest honors despite his public advocacy for the legalization of abortion.
The university honored Kernan with its 2018 Rev. Edward F. Sorin, C.S.C., Award, “in recognition of his significant contributions to the University of Notre Dame and his country,” according to a press release from the university. While a politician, Kernan famously insisted that as a Catholic he was “personally opposed” to abortion but remained an advocate for keeping it legal. This line of thinking, of course, is absurd and immoral.
The honor for Kernan is at least partly fitting, because it was on the campus of Notre Dame that New York Governor Mario Cuomo established his indelible print on American politics and Catholicism by infamously promulgating the argument that a Catholic politician can, in good conscience, personally oppose abortion while politically fighting to establish its legality. The past three decades have borne the terrible fruit of that speech.
In a watershed moment for American Catholics, Cuomo didn’t just attempt to create a space for Catholics to vote in favor of legalized abortion, but he went even further by accusing pro-life Catholics of “seeking to force our beliefs on others.” He said that forcing our views on abortion on others would be like forcing our views of premarital sex on others. Of course, this leaves out the victim of abortion, the unborn child.
On top of this, he also said Catholics’ diversity of opinion on abortion policy is essentially equivalent to Catholic diversity on issues such as military expenditures and education policy. So, Cuomo essentially laid out the enduring playbook for Catholic social justice warriors for the next few decades.
Of course, the university named for Our Lady also honored the newly elected President Barack Obama in 2009, despite his history of radically pro-abortion votes and his pledge to support abortion as president—a promise he upheld with gruesome distinction. It then honored Vice President Joe Biden, another defender of legal abortion, with its Laetare Medal. Kernan himself was the commencement speaker at Notre Dame back in 1998.
Moreover, Notre Dame seems to have exempted itself from Humanae Vitae. Just this year, the university announced that it would offer insurance coverage for contraception and abortifacients to employees, a policy it said was “based on Catholic principles.” The same excuse of not “forcing our belief” on non-Catholic employees—employees of a Catholic institution—has been used by Notre Dame to justify its harmful policy.
Amid that darkness, the honoring of Kernan who followed Cuomo’s lead shouldn’t be surprising in the least. It isn’t, but it’s still disappointing that Notre Dame hasn’t realized its mistake thirty-plus years after the Cuomo debacle and nine years after the Obama spectacle.In 2004, Kernan’s high school alma mater, St. Joseph High School in South Bend, was forced by then-Bishop John M. D’Arcy to withdraw its invitation to Kernan to deliver a graduation speech, based on his policy statements on abortion. Bishop D’Arcy made clear at the time that Kernan’s appearance contradicted the moral truths the school expected students to embrace.
Kernan, a Notre Dame graduate, served as mayor of South Bend and as lieutenant governor and governor of Indiana and consistently and publicly pronounced himself to support the legalization of abortion, despite realizing its immorality.
“We’re so proud to present this year’s Sorin Award to Joe Kernan,” said Dolly Duffy ’84, the executive director of the Notre Dame Alumni Association in a release. “Joe has been a loyal and devoted son of Notre Dame, and his dedication to serving others is a testament to the values the University strives to instill in its students and alumni.”
“Others” would presumably not include the unborn, their parents, the pro-life movement, and the Catholic Church.
While much of Kernan’s life has been spent in creditable and even heroic activities—including time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, his work with the St. Joseph County Red Cross, and the Special Olympics—this honor sends a message to students, alumni, and Catholics around the country that the killing of the unborn is an issue of secondary importance that can be offset by other accomplishments.
There is something terribly amiss at Notre Dame which has caused it to obfuscate, violate, and ignore fundamental Catholic teaching on the dignity of human life, time and again. Please say a prayer for the university and its leaders that they will realize the error of their ways.
Matt Archbold is a fellow of The Cardinal Newman Society. This article was cross-posted at The National Catholic Register.