I am aghast that the so called “catholic Democrats” are dismissing Professor Glendon as a conservative.

Actually, she is not a conservative. Even the New York Times noted that she is considered one of the founders of the Communitarian movement, a group that has long been associated with the Democratic party.

So, what is a communitarian?

Well, in her book “Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse”, she outlines the problem of Judicial activism that is based on a radical understanding of human beings as isolated individuals.

Tracing back the philosophical basis of these decisions to the “Free man” of Rousseau and others, she summarizes the problem thus: The idea of the “free man” evolved from the Enlightenment idea that man, without society, was free.
Ah, she writes, but this legal philosophy don’t discuss how women and children lived in such theoretical societies.

Communitarians echo Catholic social teaching because they don’t see people as isolated individuals, but as members of families, communities, and neighborhoods.

Communitarianism is echoed in the Catholic idea that human beings can only find true freedom and happiness when they live in a society: yet any society requires laws and responsibility for one’s neighbors that restrict “freedom”. In other words, freedom is not hedonism, nor is it the cabin of a Ted Kaczynski, relying on no one.

In abortion, this means that a just society won’t shrug and say “it’s the woman’s choice”. A truly just society will encourage those around her to help (including the father of the child to be pressured to take financial responsibility), while providing financial support and medical care for the mother, to enable her to carry her child to term.

Glendon notes that European laws, unlike American law, do not dismiss the legal and ethical status of the child as no one’s business, because they recognize a just society has an interest in the protection of life, and that means helping a mother to carry a pregnancy to term is in society’s interest, even though they might allow early abortion if the mother decides she has no other choice.

Another book by Professor Glendon is A World Made New: the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

The heroine of this book is Eleanor Roosevelt, and it describes the attempt to make a secular but international proclamation of what human rights are inherent in being a human being.

The last time I looked, Glendon’s approach was indeed comparable to the Democratic party: at least the Democratic party before their leaders decided that only those who passed a “pro abortion” litmus test need apply. (Yes, there are “pro life Democrats”…like Senator Casey who voted to use tax payer money to pressure foreign governments to legalize abortion. He has passed the litmus test, no matter how much he pretends to claim his father’s legacy).

In contrast to Professor Glendon’s nuanced response, the so called “catholic Democrats”, shoot back by dismissing her as a “conservative” (as if that charge makes her anathema, and not worthy of respect). Indeed, they imply that she is racist, becvause she ignores that President Obama’s

  … leadership in moving the nation past the deep wounds of racial prejudice and advancing a spectrum of social and economic justice issues at the heart of our faith – including a new focus on strategies to reduce abortion.”

Uh, fellahs, you mean those who voted for a man because he was Black isn’t the flip side of racial prejudice that votes against a man because of his skin colour?

As for that “new focus on strategies to reduce abortion”, I’ve seen none.

We docs now face being fired for not prescribing pills for abortion (and in the near future, euthanasia), while the Philippines is being pressured (read bribed) by rich NGO’s to legalize abortion and forcing Catholic doctors to prescribe artificial birth control in our government clinics.

That, my friend, is not a strategy to “reduce” abortion, but a strategy to promote abortion, and to chip away the respect for marginal life at both ends of the lifespan. This, despite public and professional opposition, not only in the US but abroad in Catholic and Muslim countries that see abortion as murder.

Such is the “legacy” so far of the Obama administration.

So what is missing from the discussion?

Professor Glendon’s reasons for declining the invitation to Notre Dame.

One: Glendon’s invitation was being promoted in talking points as a “counterbalance” to stop criticism that Notre Dame University was honoring President Obama.

In other words, her “award” was not to honor her own substantial work in human rights, but a cynical political manipulation.

Her five minute “thank you” speech, of course,  is not an equal time reply to the President’s longer speech, but it was being touted as such by Father Jenkins of Notre Dame.

Two: There is a difference between a University’s invitation to a person to give a speech, even though that speaker’s policies oppose Catholic teachings in some areas, and the University honoring such a speaker with an honorary doctorate. Glendon does not want to be part of such an action that would imply her approval of honoring someone whose policies go against Catholic morality.

This is not necessarily political.

For example, if Notre Dame granted President Bush a platform for a speech on terrorism, there would be no problem. But if Notre Dame gave him a doctorate, it would be wrong, since it would imply their support for his approval of torturing terrorist suspects, and Catholic morality abhors torture even when it is successful in stopping terrorist attacks.

Similarly, giving President Obama a platform to discuss foreign policy, as Georgetown University recently die, is fine. But giving a doctorate implies institutional  support for his position on abortion, partial birth abortion, infanticide, forcing physicians to do abortions, and pressuring other countries to change their laws against the desires of their own people.

Three: As Glendon points out:

A commencement, however, is supposed to be a joyous day for the graduates and their families. It is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame’s decision—in disregard of the settled position of the U.S. bishops—to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church’s position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice.

What Notre Dame University needs to do is consider that the commencement is for the students.

We are told 70% of students defend asking President Obama to the graduation. This isn’t true: that figure is based on the observation that 70% of letters to the editor of the school paper supported President Obama.

But if that number is correct, then one might ask if Notre Dame is honoring it’s commitment on teaching Catholic morality.

One dos not have to force students to believe what the Church teaches, but one would expect that they should at least understand what the church teaches, and why.

But of course, if Father Jenkins, the head of the University, either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care what the church teaches, why should the students?


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She writes on human rights at MakaipaBlog.

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