NOTRE DAME, Indiana (CNS): President Barack Obama took on the controversy swirling around his commencement address on 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, Mr Obama invoked then-Notre Dame president Holy Cross Father Theodore Hesburgh’s winning an agreement in the 1960s from deeply divided United States 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,” Mr 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,” he said.
Mr 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 Mr 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.
A student group, Notre Dame Response, and other protesters held daily demonstrations. On commencement day, the student group also received permission to hold a vigil for life at the grotto on campus as an alternative graduation ceremony.
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”.
Meanwhile, the Vatican newspaper said Mr Obama sought common ground on abortion in his Notre Dame address.
The newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, said the President also confirmed that pushing for a more liberal abortion law would not be a priority of his administration.
“The search for a common ground: This seems to be the path chosen by the president of the United States, Barack Obama, in facing the delicate question of abortion,” the newspaper said.
“Obama confirmed what he expressed at his 100-day press conference at the White House, when he said that enacting a new law on abortion was not a priority of his administration.”