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OBAMA-REACTION (UPDATED) Apr-7-2009 (1,080 words) With photos posted April 6. xxxn

Reaction to Notre Dame's choice of Obama for commencement continues

By Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Bishops from across the country continued to express their disapproval of the University of Notre Dame's choice of President Barack Obama as the May 17 commencement speaker.

Their comments, in publicly released letters to Holy Cross Father John I. Jenkins, president of the Indiana university, have used words such as "travesty," "disappointment" and "scandal" that Obama would not only address graduates but would also be given an honorary degree.

Critics of Obama said his support of legal abortion and embryonic stem-cell research make him an inappropriate choice to be commencement speaker at a Catholic university.

In criticizing Notre Dame's decision, announced March 20, most of the bishops referred to their 2004 document, "Catholics in Political Life," which states in part that "the Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."

Bishop John M. D'Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend -- the diocese where Notre Dame is located -- said he would not attend the graduation in protest of Obama's policies regarding life issues.

Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted called the university's decision "a public act of disobedience to the bishops of the United States."

Some U.S. bishops have urged Father Jenkins to rescind the offer to Obama. Among them are Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Bishop Edward J. Slattery of Tulsa, Okla., and Bishop Thomas G. Doran of Rockford, Ill.

Father Jenkins has not issued any statements beyond what he said March 23, when he said the invitation to Obama "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."

He also said the university community sees "his visit as a basis for further positive engagement."

Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said April 3 that he has had private discussions with the university, but that "unfortunately those discussions are now complicated because of the publicity" on the issue.

He made the comments at Vincentian-run DePaul University where he was delivering an address about education and the Latino community. Before he began his formal talk, he discussed the Notre Dame situation. A video of those remarks was posted on YouTube.com.

In the video, he said that, at a recent family and pro-life conference, he was asked what he was doing about Notre Dame and Obama, and his reply was: "What are you doing? The bishops don't control the University of Notre Dame and if it is doing something that you don't like, it's not enough to put the responsibility on the bishops to say something. ... Take your responsibilities in hand and you write to them."

However, in the Catholic community what one person does affects everybody, he added. "No university, no bishop, no parish can (make) a decision unilaterally and then be surprised by the reaction ... particularly around a profoundly, deeply divisive issue such as the protection of human life in mothers' wombs."

No one questions the good faith of Father Jenkins or Obama, Cardinal George said, adding that he has great respect for the U.S. president and his office, and "he knows that." They agree on other issues, but on abortion they profoundly disagree, he said in the video.

"I and many others, not only because of Catholic teaching but for other reasons as well, even outside the Catholic community ... think it is a crime to kill an innocent human being even though he or she is not yet born," he said, but added that he hoped discussion on the issue can return to one of mutual respect.

Retired Archbishop John R. Quinn of San Francisco questioned whether a rescinded invitation would do more harm than good.

In a March 30 editorial in Jesuit-run America magazine, he said: "We must weigh very seriously the consequences if the American bishops are seen as the agents of the public embarrassment of the newly elected president by forcing him to withdraw from an appearance at a distinguished Catholic university."

"It is in the interests of both the church and the nation if both work together in civility, honesty and friendship for the common good, even where there are grave divisions, as there are on abortion," he added.

Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., said in a March 27 blog entry on the diocesan Web site that the university "may have acted way too early and too generously" in its invitation to Obama.

However, he said he was "more alarmed that the rhetoric being employed is so uncivil and venomous that it weakens the case we place before our fellow citizens, alienates young college-age students who believe the older generation is behaving like an angry child and they do not wish to be any part of that, and ill-serves the cause of life."

A March 27 editorial in the Catholic magazine Commonweal said that for many the issue was about giving an honorary degree to Obama, seen as "tantamount to an imprimatur."

The magazine's editors disagreed with that view, saying: "Honorary degrees signify an institution's admiration for the accomplishments of the recipient. They do not signify blanket moral approbation."

As of April 6, the Cardinal Newman Society -- a Manassas, Va.-based Catholic college watchdog group -- had received more than 245,000 signatures for an online petition calling for Notre Dame to rescind its invitation to Obama.

On campus, about a dozen student groups formed a coalition called Notre Dame Response to express their opposition and held a prayer rally April 5.

Charles Rice, professor emeritus of law who is on the law school faculty, wrote in the March 31 issue of Notre Dame's student newspaper, The Observer, that "on-site demonstrations would be counterproductive" and urged those against Obama's presence at the school to pray the rosary at the campus Grotto during the commencement.

The Associated Press reported that less than a week after the university announced its commencement speaker Notre Dame's student newspaper received more than 600 letters -- almost equally divided among alumni and current students -- about it.

Seventy percent of the alumni letters said they opposed the invitation to Obama and 73 percent of students supported it. Of the 95 seniors who wrote to the paper, 97 percent supported the school's decision.


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