In a May 26 posting on National Review Online, leading Catholic neo-conservative Michael Novak wrote a blistering critique of L'Osservatore Romano, widely regarded as the editorial voice of the Vatican.
"One. In 2004, the American Catholic bishops formally declared that Catholic educational and other institutions in the U.S. ought not to give honors to any public leader who speaks against (defies) our fundamental moral principles. This was a solemn declaration, an explicit part of the bishops' teaching magisterium. In the case of Obama, two fundamental principles were at stake: the right to life and freedom of conscience."
That first point, however, seems to rewrite the document. The 2004 document is titled "Catholics in Political Life", not "Public Leaders," and it is widely assumed that the hastily cobbled together and somewhat confusing document is indeed referring to Catholics in political life.
Dr. Richard Yanikoski, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, discussed that very point of confusion and a few others in an interview earlier regarding a story about Ave Maria University, which was trying to make money off those disgruntled by the Notre Dame invitation to President Obama.
Referring to the bishops' document as a reason a Catholic university should not invite Obama raises a fundamental question about the document: How can a university be held to standards outlined in a document aimed at Catholics when the politician is of another denomination or faith? How can someone who isn't Catholic defy Catholic teaching? And if the standard is applied to anyone in public office, won't Catholic campuses become rather isolated and silent places?
Yanikoski, whose association took no position on the controversy at Notre Dame, said that a large part of the problem stemmed from the "inherent deficiencies" of Catholics in Political Life. "It is an inherently flawed document" over which "genuine disagreements" exist, he said, about what the document means and how it should be applied in particular circumstances.