Sharia politics at Notre Dame

In the neo-Caths’ view, if Obama disagrees with Catholic doctrine, he must be condemned and silenced—even if he’s not a member of the church. This assertion of an almost limitless role for the church in public lif

Notre Dame’s decision to confer an honorary degree on President Obama has engendered resistance from a counter-reformation blessed by prominent members of the Catholic hierarchy. The fight against Obama is being advanced by a band of neo-Catholics who adhere to the radical notion that sectarian doctrine must be written into public policy. The former Archbishop of St. Louis, Raymond Burke, whose excoriation of John Kerry in 2004 was rewarded with a high Vatican post, has denounced the invitation to Obama as a “scandal.” Less prominently, but no less vociferously, the local bishop of South Bend, Ind., proclaimed that for the first time in 25 years he would not attend the university’s commencement—a boycott few would have noticed had he not announced it.

The bishops and their acolytes succeeded in battering pro-choice John Kerry in 2004, when a majority of Catholics joined the Rovian Republican base that narrowly delivered a second term to George W. Bush. Kerry, a faithful church attendee, declined to retract his support of the constitutional guarantee of a woman’s right to choose. His position was consistent with the view, articulated more than twenty years ago, by two of the nation’s most prominent Catholic political leaders—Edward Kennedy and Mario Cuomo. They had argued—at Notre Dame and elsewhere—that in a free and pluralistic society, political leaders cannot impose their religious beliefs on a majority of citizens who disagree. This is a view that has the additional benefit of conforming to political reality. After all, the church can’t even write its doctrine into the statutes of the two most Catholic states in the union, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, both of which are heavily pro-choice.

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Robert Shrum has been a senior adviser to the Gore 2000 presidential campaign, the campaign of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and the British Labour Party. In addition to being the chief strategist for the 2004 Kerry-Edwards campaign, Shrum has advised thirty winning U.S. Senate campaigns; eight winning campaigns for governor; mayors of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and other major cities; and the Democratic Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. Shrum's writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The New Republic, Slate, and other publications. The author of No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner (Simon and Schuster), he is currently a Senior Fellow at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service.