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49 J. Cath. Leg. Stud. 233 (2010)


It has been more than two years since the announcement that our then-recently-elected President, Barack Obama, would be the featured speaker—and would receive an honorary degree—at the University of Notre Dame's graduation ceremony. No footnotes or citations are necessary for the report that the University's decision was controversial or the observation that the choice was both criticized and celebrated by students, faculty, alumni, political commentators, lay Catholics, and Church leaders.

In a USA Today opinion piece published a few days before the graduation ceremony, I suggested that the "angst at Notre Dame" was "not about what should be said at Catholic universities, but about what should be said by a Catholic university." In other words, I thought—and still believe—that a helpful way to think about a Catholic university's decision to "honor" someone is to ask what such a university is saying through that decision—a decision about itself, what it values, and what it holds out as good and worthy.

So, whom should a Catholic university honor? To answer this question, we need to carefully engage all three of its primary terms: "Catholic," "university," and "honor." The question's answer is what it is, in other words, because it is being asked about a "university," about a "Catholic" university, and about a particular sort of action taken by that university, namely, "honoring" someone.


Reprinted with permission of Journal of Catholic Legal Studies.



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