Obama to address Notre Dame grads

By  Chaz Muth, Catholic News Service
  • March 30, 2009
{mosimage}WASHINGTON - University of Notre Dame officials were standing firm on their choice of U.S. President Barack Obama as commencement speaker at the institution’s May 17 graduation, in spite of a large number of Catholics calling on them to rescind the invitation.

The Indiana university, run by the Congregation of Holy Cross, and the White House announced March 20 that Obama would be Notre Dame’s 2009 commencement speaker and confirmed he will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree at the graduation.

“The invitation to President Obama to be our commencement speaker should not be taken as condoning or endorsing his positions on specific issues regarding the protection of human life, including abortion and embryonic stem-cell research,” said Holy Cross Father John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, in a March 23 statement.

“Yet, we see his visit as a basis for further positive engagement.”

The announcement on Obama was promptly followed by a flurry of criticism from Catholics, who said the president’s support of legal abortion and embryonic stem-cell research makes him an inappropriate choice to be the commencement speaker at a Catholic university.

The Cardinal Newman Society
, a Manassas, Va.-based Catholic college watchdog group, had collected more than 73,000 signatures by March 24 in an online petition that calls for Notre Dame to rescind its invitation to Obama.

“We fully expected some criticism and have received it, though nothing more than we anticipated,” said Dennis Brown, a spokesman for Notre Dame. “I can’t foresee us rescinding the invitation.”

Obama will be the ninth U.S. president to receive an honorary degree from Notre Dame and the sixth to be a commencement speaker.

The petition drive initiated by the Cardinal Newman Society called it “an outrage and a scandal” for the university to honour Obama and asked Jenkins to “halt this travesty immediately.”

“This nation has many thousands of accomplished leaders in the Catholic Church, in business, in law, in education, in politics, in medicine, in social services and in many other fields who would be far more appropriate choices to receive such an honour,” the petition says.

Bishop John D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend — the diocese where Notre Dame is located — issued a statement March 24 saying he will not attend the 2009 Notre Dame commencement as a silent protest of Obama’s policies regarding life issues. He said it will be the first time he will be absent from the ceremony in the 25 years he has been bishop of the diocese.

The bishop said he was disappointed with Notre Dame’s choice of Obama as its commencement speaker, a pick he called “prestige over truth,” and cited a 2004 statement by the U.S. Catholic bishops: “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honour those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honours or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

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