WASHINGTON (CNS): University of Notre Dame officials were standing firm on their choice of US 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 on March 20 that President Obama would be Notre Dame’s 2009 commencement speaker and confirmed he would 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,” University of Notre Dame president Holy Cross Father John Jenkins said.
“Yet, we see his visit as a basis for further positive engagement,” he said in a March 23 statement.
The announcement on Mr 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 made him an inappropriate choice to be the commencement speaker at a Catholic university.
The Cardinal Newman Society announced on March 23 it had collected more than 54,000 signatures in an online petition that called for Notre Dame to rescind its invitation to Mr Obama to be this year’s commencement speaker.
The petition drive initiated by the Cardinal Newman Society called it “an outrage and a scandal” for the university to honour Mr Obama and asked Fr Jenkins to “halt this travesty immediately”.
Bishop John M. D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend – the diocese where Notre Dame is located – issued a statement on March 24 saying he would not attend the 2009 Notre Dame commencement as a silent protest of Mr Obama’s policies regarding life issues.
He said it would be the first time he would 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,” Bishop 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.
“My decision is not an attack on anyone, but is in defence of the truth about human life.”