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NATIONAL POLITICS & POLICY | Catholic, Antiabortion Groups Protest Obama's Plan To Speak at Notre Dame Graduation

NATIONAL POLITICS & POLICY | Catholic, Antiabortion Groups Protest Obama's Plan To Speak at Notre Dame Graduation
[March 25, 2009]

President Obama's plan to speak at the University of Notre Dame's spring commencement ceremony on May 17 is sparking backlash from some Roman Catholic and antiabortion-rights groups, the Los Angeles Times reports. According to the Los Angeles Times, the groups' objections focus on Obama's support for issues like abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research, particularly his recent decision to ease some restrictions on federal funding for the research. Bishop John D'Arcy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, which includes Notre Dame, said he would not attend the commencement ceremony because of the president's support for the research and his action to ease the restrictions. D'Arcy said in a statement, "While claiming to separate politics from science, he has in fact separated science from ethics and has brought the American government, for the first time in history, into supporting direct destruction of innocent human life." D'Arcy also said that while he "wish[es] no disrespect" to Obama, "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."

The Rev. John Jenkins, president of the university, released a statement saying that he has no intention of rescinding the invitation. Jenkins said that presidents from both political parties have spoken at Notre Dame graduations in the past "about a wide range of pressing issues." Jenkins noted that Notre Dame is honoring Obama for his leadership and that the invitation for him to speak "should in no way be taken as condoning or endorsing his positions" on abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research (McCormick, Los Angeles Times, 3/25). University spokesperson Dennis Brown said college officials were "not surprised" by D'Arcy's boycott of the ceremony but are "sorry he's not going to be in attendance." Brown said the school "fully anticipated criticism and support for the announcement, and we've received both" (Duin, Washington Times, 3/25).

In an attempt to generate opposition to the invitation, the Cardinal Newman Society, which works to promote orthodoxy on Catholic campuses, launched an online petition calling for Notre Dame to uninvite Obama. According to the Washington Post, more than 87,000 individuals have signed the petition, which calls the invitation "an outrage and a scandal." Obama's support for abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research "directly contradict[s] fundamental Catholic teachings on life and marriage," the petition reads (Fletcher, Washington Post, 3/25). Patrick Reilly, president of the society, said he believes Obama "has an interest in dividing the church," which "speaks well for the Democratic agenda for seeking a larger share of the Catholic vote" (Washington Times, 3/25).

White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said Obama is "honored" to speak at the commencement ceremony of a school "with such a rich history of fostering the exchange of ideas." Psaki added, "While he is honored to have the support of millions of people of all faiths, including Catholics with their rich tradition of recognizing the dignity of people, he does not govern with the expectation that everyone sees eye to eye with him on every position" (Los Angeles Times, 3/25).

The Washington Times reports that some campus student groups are considering boycotting the ceremony. However, there also are many students at Notre Dame who are supportive of the invitation. Spencer Howard, president of the campus' College Democrats club, said the majority of the student body wants Obama to speak and "[o]nly a few are passionate about him not coming" (Washington Times, 3/25).