Instead of performing as an anchor, MSNBC’s Norah O’Donnell became a liberal sparring partner to the Cardinal Newman Society’s Patrick Reilly on the network’s Thursday afternoon programming over President Obama’s upcoming commencement address at the University of Notre Dame. Invoking her Catholic upbringing, she used the common left-wing tactic to equate the Church’s unequivocal teaching against abortion with its skepticism of the death penalty, and asked if former presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan shouldn’t have addressed prior commencements for their support of capital punishment. O’Donnell also inquired as to why Reilly was “advocating a Catholic Church that advocates division” [audio clips from the segment available here].
Before introducing Reilly, the MSNBC anchor began the segment, which started 20 minutes into the 3 pm Eastern hour, by reading recent poll numbers from Quinnipiac University which found that 60% of Catholic voters answered negatively when asked if Notre Dame should disinvite President Obama. She then turned to her guest and asked, “What’s your point? Why are you organizing this protest?” Reilly answered, “The protest has nothing to do with the president in particular. This is a concern that Catholics have had for decades now, that many of our Catholic institutions have lost a sense of Catholic identity, and Catholics are drawing a line in the sand, saying that the Catholic University of Notre Dame ought to be choosing those who it honors based on its Catholic principles and values.”
O’Donnell followed up by asking her abortion/death penalty question: “So would you agree that -- that President George W. Bush and President Ronald Reagan, because they supported the death penalty, should not have been honored at Notre Dame?” The Catholic leader replied, “No, I wouldn’t have a problem with a Catholic university that -- that made that judgment.”
The anchor responded with some astonishment: “Whoa, whoa, whoa -- so it’s okay to give presidents who support the death penalty a degree, but it’s not okay to give a president who support abortion rights” When Reilly answered yes, O’Donnell asked for an explanation: “Why? What’s the difference?...I grew up Catholic. The death penalty is death and abortion is death. What’s the difference?”
Reilly clarified what the Catholic Church’s teaching on the two issues were: “There’s -- there’s a distinction between intrinsic evil, which is always and everywhere wrong [as in the case of abortion] -- in case of the death penalty, in the case of the war, there are certain principles that need to be applied to decisions, but there can be some disagreement on when those are applied and it becomes much more difficult.”
O’Donnell continued by inquiring if Reilly’s view was a “minority view” among American Catholics, given the poll numbers on the topic of President Obama’s commencement address, and throwing the “division” card about the Church’s moral teachings:
O’DONNELL: Is it possible, given the poll numbers that are out, that show that 60% of Catholics in this country think that President Obama should -- be out there, that your view is a minority view?
REILLY: It’s possible. There are a minority of Catholics who are faithful practicing Catholics who attend Mass regularly. However, there are other polls. There was the Rasmussen poll that showed that Catholics, 60% to 25% opposed the honor and the reason is --
O’DONNELL: You know, we don’t use the Rasmussen poll at NBC.
REILLY: Well, that’s a shame. But the reason is, because they ask the question in the context of explaining to respondents that the bishops had instituted a policy banning this type of honor under that -- in that context.
O’DONNELL: Let must just ask you a general question, because you care about the Catholic Church --
REILLY: Right --
O’DONNELL: That’s clear. That’s why you spend a lot of your time doing this. The Catholic Church is shrinking -- it’s shrinking in America. There are less people who feel like they can be part of the Catholic Church. Why then continue -- advocating a Catholic Church that advocates division, and saying --
O’DONNELL: No, you’re not part of us, we shouldn’t honor some types of people, and preaching sort of an exclusion [sic] rather than an inclusionary method?
REILLY: That’s absolutely not what happening.
O’DONNELL: Or encouraging debate?
REILLY: In fact, we’re encouraging unity --
O’DONNELL: I mean, we’re not making President Obama a priest --
O’DONNELL: He’s speaking at a university.
REILLY: That’s right. He’s speaking and he’s receiving an honor from the university. He’s being honored by a major Catholic university.
O’DONNELL: So why should Notre Dame even allow --
REILLY: Can I answer the question?
O’DONNELL: If you’re a student and you’re pro-choice --
O’DONNELL: Should you even go to Notre Dame? Should Notre Dame accept pro-choice students?
REILLY: I think, under the current circumstances, they would be quite welcome at Notre Dame. However -- and any student should be able to attend a Catholic university. But the university, as Catholic, and its official policies and actions ought to be compliant with Catholic teaching.
O’DONNELL: All right. Well, Patrick Reilly, thank you. I should point out that we have heard from, of course, the president of Notre Dame, who says that they generally give this award to presidents -- a honorary degree. They’ve invited all presidents to speak there. It’s not a political statement, in their words -- it is -- or endorsement.
REILLY: It’s not a political issue at all --
REILLY: It’s a Catholic issue.
O’DONNELL: Patrick Reilly, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.
The question that comes to mind in the aftermath of this segment: is Norah O’Donnell a journalist or a liberal pundit?