That’s “tear” as in “rend,” as in “rending garments.” Or in this instance, episcopal robes. I was alerted late last night to the closed session called for the U.S. bishops meeting in Baltimore to work out a plan to reassert control over the nation’s Catholic colleges and universities in the wake, so to speak, of some bishops’ fury over Notre Dame’s invitation to the President of the United States and now Nobel Peace Laureate, to speak on campus last May.
Mr. Obama was the sixth sitting president to speak at a Notre Dame commencement ceremony and the ninth to receive an honorary degree. Before him, George W. Bush spoke and received an honorary doctor of laws degree in the fateful year 2001. He was the seventh such president to be so honored and the fifth to be the commencement speaker. Other presidents to be honored included Franklin Roosevelt in 1935, Dwight Eisenhower in 1960, John F. Kennedy in 1961, Gerald Ford in 1975, Jimmy Carter in 1977, Ronald Reagan in 1981, and George H. W. Bush in 1992. Later that year Bill Clinton also spoke at Notre Dame during the presidential campaign.
Of recent presidents, only Harry Truman and Richard M. Nixon did not make the trip to South Bend. And, so far as I know, the U.S. bishops were not upset until the current president followed hallowed tradition. It makes one wonder if the NCCB really has become the chaplain corps of the Republican party as several observers have suggested.
Other notable and sometimes controversial commencement speakers at Notre Dame have included Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, Dr. William Mayo, J. Edgar Hoover, Chief Justice Earl Warren, Henry Cabot Lodge, Eugene McCarthy, Canadian Prime Ministers Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau, former Yale University President Kingman Brewster, Vernon Jordan, the president of El Salvador, Jose Napoleon Duarte, Andrew Young, Elizabeth Dole, the Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Bill Cosby, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, William F. Buckley, Jr., Tom Brokaw, “mildly pro-choice” Condoleezza Rice, and Mark Shields. A few bishops even spoke now and then, mainly in the late nineteenth century.
It is not recorded how many honorees were vetted by the NCCB. But I noticed that shortly before the bishops gathered for their annual meeting, the diocese of Wilmington, MD, went into bankruptcy because of clerical abuse of children, the seventh to do so. That was after the bishops acceded to a secret Vatican investigation of women’s religious communities in the U.S. We live in interesting times.