It's another example of moral confusion and relativism infecting the thinking of Christians. Or maybe more accurately, the existence of individuals who are not Christian, in this instance Roman Catholics, running a Catholic higher education institution.
A great analysis of the situation is written by Professor Francis Beckwith who writes in First Things about the invitation. After discussing Obama's stridently pro-abortion positions and actions, Beckwith notes:
So, this is the man on whom the University of Notre Dame wants to bestow an honorary doctorate of laws? But, as we have clearly seen, Obama, in spite of all his personal talents and accomplishments, explicitly and unapologetically rejects the intrinsic dignity of the human person, the proper subject of the natural and canonical laws on which the university’s jurisprudential patrimony rests. It is a jurisprudential patrimony that the university not only claims to believe, it claims both to believe that it is true and that it knows that it is true.
I have no doubt that Notre Dame would never bestow an honorary doctorate in science to an astronomer who vigorously advances the agenda of geocentricity or a chemist who refuses to teach his students the periodic table, or award an honorary doctorate in divinity to a theologian who is an unrepentant apologist for racial apartheid and white supremacy, regardless of what these three individuals may have accomplished or how well their celebrity may be received by the wider culture and its influential institutions.
Why then would the University of Notre Dame bestow an honorary doctorate of laws on someone who for his entire public life has enthusiastically fought for a segment of the human population, the unborn, to remain permanently outside the protections of the law? Not only that, he has also demanded that our legal regime require that his fellow citizens, including Catholics, underwrite the destruction of these prenatal human beings. And not only that, he is right now preparing to remove by executive order protections that were put in place so that pro-life physicians, nurses, medical students, and others in the health care field may not be forced to participate in abortions or be discriminated against for refusing to do so or even harboring such beliefs.
Unless the university does not believe that the Church’s understanding of the moral law is true and knowable, it can no more in good conscience award an honorary doctorate of laws to a lawyer who rejects the humanity of the proper subjects of law than it could in good conscience award an honorary doctorate in science to a geocentric astronomer who rejects the deliverances of the discipline he claims to practice.
At some point, a Christian university must recognize that the truth it claims to know matters, even if the truth is unpopular, and even if the propagation and celebration of that truth may put one’s community at odds with those persons and centers of influence and power that dispense prestige and authority in our culture.
We should defer again to the words of Martin Luther King Jr.:
There was a time when the church was very powerful—in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent—and often even vocal—sanction of things as they are.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth [and twenty-first] century.
As the Martin Luther King quote points out, one of the things at sake is relevancy of the church in society. When the church fails to speak and stand for truth, it's good for nothing but to be cast out and trappled by men, to paraphrase Jesus' words. I don't think this will ever be true of the entire church but merely those segments which have lost their saltiness.