The University of Notre Dame is sticking with its invitation to President Obama to speak at its May 17 commencement despite criticism from some Roman Catholics that his views on abortion and stem cell research run counter to Catholic teachings.
Catholic Notre Dame sticks with Obama
“I don’t foresee a circumstance in which we would rescind the invitation,” said Notre Dame spokesman Dennis Brown.
The Cardinal Newman Society, an advocacy group for greater orthodoxy on Catholic college and university campuses, calls Obama’s commencement appearance “an outrage and a scandal.” It has set up a Web site seeking donations and said it received more than 40,000 signatures for a petition to protest the invitation.
Bishop John D’Arcy of the Diocese of Ft. Wayne-South Bend pledged to not attend the commencement.
Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, issued a statement Monday saying the invitation did not mean the university supports all of Obama’s positions.
“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,” Jenkins said.
Theologically conservative Catholics were upset by his decision earlier this month to reverse Bush-era restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Obama had said that “as a person of faith” he felt a duty to work to ease human suffering.
Obama has also said his Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships would make it a priority to help reduce the abortion rate. But shortly after taking office, the president lifted restrictions on federal funding of international family planning groups that perform abortions or provide information about the procedure.
It’s a thorny issue for the schools, which have long struggled to balance their Catholic identity with academic freedom and a desire to place themselves at the center of American life.
But Rev. Thomas Reese, a Washington Jesuit, said “controversy over speakers at Catholic universities pops up every spring along with the tulips.”
He called the uproar over the visit “absurd.”
Obama will be the ninth U.S. president to receive an honorary degree from Notre Dame.