It's Easter, so let's marvel at the ever so subtle Scholastic reasoning of some Catholic, former Republican public servant and Notre Dame alumnus regarding whether Barack O'Bama should be given an honorary degree by Our Lady of the Lake. Writing on the op-ed page of the New York Times, he says:
What’s more, it’s important to remember that Notre Dame is a Catholic institution. The school openly flouts the guidelines of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops when it bestows an honorary degree upon a president who supports something anathema to the faith: abortion. Catholic doctrine holds that life begins at conception; as a candidate, Mr. Obama said that determining when life begins “is above my pay grade,” not an answer at all. There is every sign that his administration has a pro-abortion orientation.
The moral conflict could not be clearer. But here’s a solution: Notre Dame should welcome President Obama as its principal commencement speaker but should not give him an honorary degree. You see, policy positions do matter when it comes to honorary degrees, because the degrees honor something.
Now just for fun, and because the Vatican has a neat internet site, here's a Papal Encyclical (Evangelium Vitae 1995):
The Second Vatican Council, in a passage which retains all its relevance today, forcefully condemned a number of crimes and attacks against human life. Thirty years later, taking up the words of the Council and with the same forcefulness I repeat that condemnation in the name of the whole Church, certain that I am interpreting the genuine sentiment of every upright conscience: "Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practise them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator".5
That's a lot of condemned things. The inclusion of "arbitrary imprisonment" and "torments inflicted on the body or mind" are particulary interesting, given the cheeks puffed out moral posturing a lot (but obviously not all) of conservative Catholics. Here's the more specific point:
56. This is the context in which to place the problem of the death penalty. On this matter there is a growing tendency, both in the Church and in civil society, to demand that it be applied in a very limited way or even that it be abolished completely. The problem must be viewed in the context of a system of penal justice ever more in line with human dignity and thus, in the end, with God's plan for man and society. The primary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is "to redress the disorder caused by the offence".46 Public authority must redress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition for the offender to regain the exercise of his or her freedom. In this way authority also fulfils the purpose of defending public order and ensuring people's safety, while at the same time offering the offender an incentive and help to change his or her behaviour and be rehabilitated. 47
It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.
In any event, the principle set forth in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church remains valid: "If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person".48
With all of this (who could have known about the torments at this point?) in 2001 Notre Dame gave an honorary degree to this guy, who personally presided over 155 executions as Governor of Texas. Not even then, thankfully, was everyone pleased with the degree conferral.