Fr. Jenkins defends his decision to honor President Obama by saying that we should “engage” those who disagree with us. And yet, strangely, Fr. Jenkins has conspicuously failed to engage in a serious way the arguments of his own critics. Strong arguments against Fr. Jenkins’s course of action have been put forward in the public square by Bishop D’Arcy, George Weigel, Patrick Lee, Ralph McInerny, and many others, and Fr. Jenkins has made no effort to answer them, except in the most perfunctory way.
Here are some of the arguments that Fr. Jenkins has so far not engaged:
- Fr. Jenkins’s critics say that they would have no objection to Notre Dame’s “engaging” Pres. Obama’s ideas by inviting him to participate in a debate on abortion, but that he is being invited, rather, to give a speech and receive an honorary degree at a ceremony where debate is clearly out of the question.
- Jenkins’s critics (such as Prof. Patrick Lee) say that inviting President Obama is analogous to inviting a segregationist politician to give a commencement speech back in the 1960s. Can Jenkins explain why these critics are wrong? Would he have invited a segregationist to give a commencement address? If not, wouldn’t that be inconsistent of him? Shouldn’t the segregationists have been engaged? Or are some immoral ideas to be engaged and others not? And, if so, what distinguishes those one should engage from those one shouldn’t? If Jenkins would have invited a segregationist in the 1960s in order to engage him, would he also have awarded him an honorary degree?
- Bishop D’Arcy points out that the Catholic bishops of this country have stated that, “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.” Does Fr. Jenkins agree or disagree with the Catholic bishops on this? Or does he think that President Obama’s recent actions on abortion policy were not in defiance of our fundamental moral principles? Or does he believe that a degree awarded honoris causa is not an honor? Does he have any answer to Bishop D’Arcy’s argument?
- What about those who say that it is callous and cruel for a Catholic university to put its own graduating students and their parents in the position of having either to participate in something they deem objectionable (according to the bishops collectively and Bishop D’Arcy in particular) or to miss their own commencement ceremony?
If Fr. Jenkins means what he says about engaging intellectual opponents, let him show it by engaging his very numerous Catholic critics.