In May 1995, his first year as Pennsylvania governor, Tom Ridge was invited by Gannon University, a Catholic college in Erie, Pa., to give the commencement address and receive an honorary degree. But the distinguished Republican and native son had a problem: he was a pro-choice Catholic.
Erie Bishop Donald Trautman expressed his "concerns." Governor Ridge declined the degree.
"The last thing I would want is for those differences to distract in any way from this wonderful day of recognition for Gannon's class of 1995," said Ridge. His spokesman explained that the decision "came from the governor."
Ridge did the right thing. He did the character thing.
That wasn't the only case. As far back as June 1974, shortly after Roe v. Wade became law, the famous Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty refused an invitation and honorary degree from the University of Santa Clara because of an abortion controversy involving the university. Mindszenty did the character thing.
Obviously, this is relevant because of the situation with President Barack Obama and Notre Dame. On Saturday, Obama will deliver the commencement address and receive an honorary degree from Notre Dame, courtesy of the invitation and insistence of Notre Dame President John Jenkins.
This has caused a tremendous scandal. In fact, Church officials are using precisely that word-"scandal"-which has loaded, pejorative meaning in today's Catholic Church, reserved for the worst offenses. One Vatican official calls the Notre Dame situation "the greatest scandal."
Countless letters and 350,000 signatures from Catholics all over America have flowed into Notre Dame, demanding Jenkins rescind the invitation or resign. Millions of dollars from alumni are in jeopardy. Arrests of protestors have already taken place , with more sure to follow.
Notre Dame's bishop, John D'Arcy, carefully instructed Father Jenkins that his invitation stands in "clear" violation of the American bishops' guidelines, openly articulated in their statement, Catholics in Political Life . Jenkins has rebuffed D'Arcy, who, in turn, will not be attending graduation for the first time in 25 years as bishop.
Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College, executive director of The Center for Vision & Values, and author of the book, “The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor.” His other books include "The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism" and "Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century."