Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
May 25, 2009
Obama calls for respect, dialogue on abortion
University of Notre Dame grads hear U.S. president tell of a search for possibility of 'common ground'
CNS PHOTO | CHRISTOPHER SMITH
Holy Cross Father John I. Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, and U.S. President Barack Obama applaud during the university's commencement ceremony.
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
NOTRE DAME, IND. — President Barack Obama took on the controversy swirling around his commencement address May 17 at the University of Notre Dame, urging those bitterly divided over abortion and other issues to adopt an approach of mutual respect and dialogue.
Welcomed to the ceremony and frequently interrupted with boisterous applause, Obama invoked then-Notre Dame president Holy Cross Father Theodore Hesburgh’s winning an agreement in the 1960s from deeply divided U.S. Civil Rights Commission members during a fishing trip in Wisconsin as a model of persevering dialogue.
“Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words. It’s a way of life that has always been the Notre Dame tradition,” Obama said, positioning dialogue as the hope for solutions to enormous modern problems.
“We must find a way to live together as one human family. Moreover, no one person, or religion, or nation can meet these challenges alone. Our very survival has never required greater cooperation and understanding among all people from all places than at this moment in history.”
Obama listed war, gay rights and embryonic stem-cell research among difficult issues that demand dialogue, but he spent the bulk of his talk on the abortion issue.
Critics of Notre Dame’s decision to invite Obama, including more than 50 bishops, said the president’s support of legal abortion and embryonic stem-cell research made him an inappropriate choice to be a commencement speaker at a Catholic university and to receive an honorary degree from Notre Dame.
The local bishop, Bishop John D’Arcy, announced weeks before he would not attend the ceremony, and a student group, Notre Dame Response, and other protesters held daily demonstrations.
During the main commencement ceremony, a handful of hecklers were escorted out during Obama’s talk.
PRO-LIFE DOCTOR SPEAKS OUT
Obama said he had learned to choose careful language on the issue during his race for the Senate in Illinois, when a pro-life doctor complained that his website referred to abortion opponents as “right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman’s right to choose.” Obama had the words removed.
“And I said a prayer that night that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me,” Obama told the graduates and their families.
“Because when we do that — when we open our hearts and our minds to those who may not think like we do or believe what we do — that’s when we discover at least the possibility of common ground,” he said.
Acknowledging that positions on abortion are in some ways irreconcilable, he urged respect for conscience and recognition of the “heart-wrenching decision for any woman to make, with both spiritual and moral dimensions.”
“Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction.
“But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature,” he said.