University of Notre Dame

Many Roman Catholics are outraged by last week’s announcement that the University of Notre Dame will be issuing Barack Obama an honorary degree and welcoming the pro-abortion president to deliver its commencement address.

Notre Dame alumnus Joe Scheidler, the national director of the Pro-Life Action League, issued a statement calling on Father Father John Jenkins, the president of Notre Dame, to withdraw the invitation to Obama.

“My alma mater should not be providing a platform for this president,” said Scheidler. “Starting from his first week in office, President Obama has enacted a string of executive orders, appointments and policy decisions that contradict Catholic teaching on the sanctity of life – a teaching that Notre Dame is supposed to uphold.”

Scheidler added, “Father Jenkins cannot expect pro-life Catholics to stand back and allow the most pro-abortion president in U.S. history to make a mockery of Notre Dame’s Catholic identity.”

White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs announced during his regular press briefing on Friday that Obama would deliver the commencement addresses at three universities: Arizona State, the U.S. Naval Academy and Notre Dame.

On the same day, the Notre Dame website announced, “President Barack Obama will be the principal speaker and the recipient of an honorary doctor of laws degree at the University of Notre Dame’s 164th University Commencement Ceremony at 2 p.m. May 17.”

The announcement drew mixed reactions on the Notre Dame campus.

Senior Emily Toates told The Observer, an online campus newspaper, that she cannot reconcile Obama’s position on abortion with Notre Dame’s Catholic teaching.

“I don’t think he belongs as a speaker at Notre Dame,” she said. “I understand that he’s the president, but at the same time, his views and his policy-making are completely out of line with the mission of the university.”

Senior Spencer Howard, president of the College Democrats at Notre Dame, however, said everyone he has talked to, regardless of party affiliation, is excited about the choice.

“I think we all are still stunned about it,” he told the Observer. “I don’t think anyone really expected to have the president of the United States speak at our commencement.”

At press time, all five of the spots in the Observer’s “Most Popular Stories” section were taken by articles or opinion pieces on the commencement speaker controversy, and campus representatives are well aware of the attention the debate is generating.

“Though Barack Obama’s lofty political position and worldwide celebrity status will certainly garner significant publicity for the university,” writes Notre Dame student Ben Linskey in the Observer, “the Notre Dame administration has made a serious error.”

Linskey, co-president of the university’s College Libertarians, criticizes Obama for his positions on abortion, stem cell research, foreign policy, civil liberties and economic policies.

“By inviting Mr. Obama to speak at commencement,” Linskey writes, “the university administration is betraying Notre Dame’s great mission and doing a disservice to its students.”

Criticism of the university’s choice for commencement speaker also prompted response from Notre Dame’s president.

“We have invited the president, and he’s honored us by accepting,” Jenkins said in an Observer interview. “Presidents from both parties have come to Notre Dame for decades to speak to graduates about our nation and our world. They’ve given important addresses on international affairs, human rights, service, and we’re delighted that President Obama is continuing that tradition.”

Jenkins continued, “The invitation of President Obama to be our commencement speaker should in no way be taken as condoning or endorsing his positions on specific issues regarding the protection of life, such as abortion and embryonic stem cell research.

“We are not ignoring the critical issue of the protection of life. On the contrary, we invited him because we care so much about those issues, and we hope for this to be the basis of an engagement with him,” Jenkins said. “You cannot change the world if you shun the people you want to persuade; and if you cannot persuade them, show respect for them and listen to them.”

Organized protests

Jenkins also stated that he does not foresee circumstances that would lead to rescinding the invitation to Obama, though groups are organizing in protest of the university’s decision.

The Cardinal Newman Society, a group that describes itself in its mission statement as “dedicated to renewing and strengthening Catholic identity at America’s 224 Catholic colleges and universities,” has launched a website hoping to pressure Jenkins into reconsidering.

The site includes an online petition that at press time had generated over 20,000 signatures.

“It is an outrage and a scandal that ‘Our Lady’s University,’ one of the premier Catholic universities in the United States, would bestow such an honor on President Obama given his clear support for policies and laws that directly contradict fundamental Catholic teachings on life and marriage,” states the petition. “We prayerfully implore you to halt this travesty immediately.”

“Notre Dame has chosen a man to hold up as a role model who advocates the legal right to murder the most defenseless in society,” writes Kevin Keane, who describes himself as a 1988 alumnus of Notre Dame in the Observer. “I will be in attendance on commencement day with several thousand others to show my distaste for this decision.”

Keane continues, “We will bring with us the graphic photos of what abortion does to its victims, so there can be no doubt about the hatefulness of the man chosen to instruct Notre Dame graduates in how to be a success in life. I would suggest that if the administration does not want to suffer the embarrassment of pictures of dismembered children lining Notre Dame Ave. on what should be the happiest day of our newest graduates’ lives, they withdraw this invitation immediately.”

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.