Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
March 30, 2009
Outrage greets Notre Dame invitation to Obama
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON - University of Notre Dame officials were standing firm on their choice of 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.
"Yet, we see his visit as a basis for further positive engagement," he said in a March 23 statement.
The announcement on Obama was 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 Catholic college watchdog group - was collecting signatures 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 Notre Dame spokesman. "I can't foresee us rescinding the invitation."
Brown told Catholic News Service March 23 that he has heard anecdotally that most students are pleased with this year's choice of Obama as the commencement speaker and feel honoured the first black U.S. president would accept Notre Dame's invitation from among the many he has received.
The 44th president also will deliver the commencement addresses at Arizona State University May 13 and the U.S. Naval Academy May 22.
Obama will be the ninth U.S. president to receive an honorary degree from Notre Dame and the sixth to be a commencement speaker. In 2001, President George W. Bush addressed the graduating class about the importance of faith-based organizations.
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."
By the morning of March 25, the website www.notredamescandal.com reported having received more than 120,000 signatures on the petition.
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.
It will, he said, be the first time he will be absent from the ceremony in the 25 years he has been bishop of the diocese.
"I wish no disrespect to our president, I pray for him and wish him well," D'Arcy said. "But a bishop must teach the Catholic faith 'in season and out of season,' and he teaches not only by his words - but by his actions."
PRESTIGE OVER TRUTH
The bishop also said he was disappointed with Notre Dame's choice of Obama as its commencement speaker, a pick he called "prestige over truth."
"By inviting Barack Obama as commencement speaker, Notre Dame is telling the nation that the teaching of the Catholic Church on this fundamental matter (of abortion) can be ignored," Ralph McInerny, a philosophy professor at Notre Dame, said in a March 23 column on his website, The Catholic Thing.
Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Jesuit-run Georgetown University in Washington, said he found it curious that Notre Dame would receive so much flak about its choice of commencement speaker, given that no such outrage occurred when the archbishop of New York invited Obama to speak at the 2008 Al Smith dinner.
"This is absurd," Reese said in a statement. "If Cardinal Edward Egan of New York can invite Obama to speak at the Al Smith dinner in October of 2008 when he was only a presidential candidate, then there is certainly nothing wrong with Notre Dame having the president speak at a commencement.
"Other pro-choice speakers at Al Smith dinners included Al Gore and Tony Blair, a Catholic," he continued. "What is OK for a cardinal archbishop is certainly OK for a university."