Notre Dame, Obama and the Catholic Brand

Supporters of Notre Dame University’s decision to honor Barack Obama at its commencement employ elevated and even aspirational language in their attempt to characterize the meaning of the event. They invoke the language of “engagement” and “common ground” and “dialogue.” But no matter their intentions or even their hopes, the very contents and structures of their argumentation ultimately denigrate the Catholic “brand” of speaking in the public square. This “brand” involves relying upon empirically supportable assertions and rational argumentation, and respecting one’s listeners. But the arguments deployed by supporters of Notre Dame’s decision do not exhibit these qualities. If Catholics are persuaded to adopt or accept them, our “brand” will be diluted and the Church will be a less effective advocate on all issues and in every arena where it operates. This should concern all Catholics who toil in public arenas — before legal bodies, academic critics, the media, or the public generally — no matter what issues are on the table.