Paul  Kengor

The other speaker scheduled for the day, the renowned Catholic stateswoman, former ambassador to the Vatican, and Harvard law professor, Mary Ann Glendon, is also staying home, refusing the school's Laetare Medal, which she would have received alongside President Obama. Additional priests and church officials, plus students, are boycotting. Voices condemning Notre Dame range from Norma McCorvey-"Jane Roe" herself, who is now a pro-life Catholic-to Archbishop Raymond Burke, head of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican's highest court. (Burke calls Obama "an agent of death.")

I literally cannot think of a single episode in American history where a Catholic university has found itself in such an uproar with a president. Indeed, the previous pro-choice president, Bill Clinton, was not invited by Jenkins' predecessor.

Thus, President Obama should do the right thing-the character thing-and let Jenkins off the hook by not attending. He should take the high road, "No, Father Jenkins, I insist. This is hurting you and your university."

Apparently, Obama will not do that. Why not?

I'm not a mind reader, but I can report on the speculation, and it isn't pretty. I've spoken to Catholics ranging from laity and priests to journalists, scholars, and even university presidents. I can report to Obama and his advisers, sincerely, that the target has shifted to not merely Notre Dame, but to both Notre Dame and Obama.

Previously, the view had been that Obama was Obama, and it was Notre Dame, not Obama, who was at fault. That has changed. I'm encountering a lot of hostility at Obama personally for not withdrawing, especially as the controversy has mushroomed. He is being accused of everything from "no integrity" to narcissism to sheer political expediency.

Now, to be sure, I'm hearing these things largely from orthodox Catholics, meaning those who attend Mass consistently and follow the Church and its moral teachings; they are loyal to the Magisterium (the teaching body) of the Church. These are Catholics that liberals will dismissively dub "conservative Catholics," even though many of them, especially those over 60 years old, are longtime registered Democrats. Liberals don't care if these particular Catholics are angry.

That would be a mistake. Consider:

Sure, a majority (54 percent) of Catholics voted for Obama. Amazingly, a Pew poll shows an astounding fact sure to embarrass orthodox Catholics: 50 percent of Catholics favor Notre Dame's invitation to Obama. (A Rasmussen poll shows otherwise.)

But if you break down the data, the numbers are illuminating. First off, actual churchgoing Catholics voted for John McCain over Barack Obama ; likewise, the Pew poll shows that churchgoing Catholics disagree with Notre Dame's invitation. (Similar splits exist among churchgoing vs. non-churchgoing Protestants, and evangelicals vs. mainline Protestants.)

What does this mean? It means Obama gains no ground, politically, by going to Notre Dame. He preaches to the choir that supports him regardless. On the other hand, he loses big time-and, frankly, infuriates-tens of millions of faithful Catholics.

If I were a Republican Party political strategist, the Machiavellian in me would urge Obama to go to Notre Dame-to permanently divorce himself from faithful Catholic voters, especially in 2012. I wouldn't want him to withdraw.

But it looks like Obama's decision is set. He won't do what Tom Ridge did, or what Cardinal Mindszenty did. And, ultimately, Barack Obama will only hurt Notre Dame and himself.