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Culture Wars

Notre Dame Obama Commencement Speech Stirs Catholic Opposition

By Michael A. Fletcher
More than 87,000 names have been added to an online petition launched by a conservative Catholic group calling for the University of Notre Dame to rescind its invitation to President Obama to speak at its May 17 commencement ceremony.

The petition calls it "an outrage and a scandal" that Notre Dame, one of the nation's leading Catholic universities, would honor Obama. The petition says the president's pro-choice views and support for embryonic stem cell research "directly contradict fundamental Catholic teachings on life and marriage."

The petition drive was started by the Cardinal Newman Society, a Virginia-based group that promotes orthodoxy at Catholic colleges and universities. The group launched a website with the petition on Friday, shortly after the White House and Notre Dame announced that the president would be speaking at the graduation, where he also will be given an honorary degree.

"His abortion stance, his views on stem cell research, his threat to remove conscience protections for Catholic health care workers and his support of the Freedom of Choice Act (proposed legislation that would prevent local governments from interfering with a woman's right to choose) would essentially nullify pro-life protections that have been legislated" across the country, said Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society.

The petition drive has been joined by several Notre Dame campus organizations, as well as other groups, including, a group that promotes "a culture of life."

Notre Dame President the Rev. John I. Jenkins, seemed unmoved by the burgeoning protest. He issued a statement calling Obama "an inspiring leader" who is courageously grappling with the huge challenges confronting the country. Further, he called Obama and a "healer" who has "spoken eloquently and movingly about race in this nation."

"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 added. " Yet, we see his visit as a basis for further positive engagement."

Posted at 7:12 PM ET on Mar 24, 2009  | Category:  Culture Wars
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

I love that bumper sticker:
"If you promise not to pray in my school, I'll promise not to think in your church"*.
Here is an example of the incongruity of the pre and post ______** thinking,
and it's getting boring.
And, as equally boring and predictable, organized religion's determination to return to the dominant position in our otherwise cluttered collective psyche.
* author unknown
** you name it

Posted by: jeandeau | March 29, 2009 11:49 AM

chrissyks or 2007hello:

I take it you are pro-choice as well?

Posted by: JakeD | March 27, 2009 1:21 PM

As a graduating senior of this great institution, I must express how honored I am that President Obama has accepted our invitation. This outrageous scandal that has come about this wonderful news is nothing but politics. In fact it has nothing to do with religion. I am not Catholic and yet I don’t see anyone protesting because I will be receiving a degree from Notre Dame.
The truth is the majority of the student body who is graduating is deeply honored and happy to have our President speak at this year’s commencement ceremony. My family, my fellow classmates, and I are looking forward to May 17th.
(Please check out and

Posted by: 2007hello | March 26, 2009 9:12 PM

I am a Catholic alumna of the University of Notre Dame. While some Catholics believe that abortion needs to be solely addressed through legislation, other Catholics believe that it can be significantly reduced through financial help to the poor (a position taken by our President). I think it is completely disrespectful for any United States majority-elected president to be not welcomed at any American university (regardless of religious affiliation). By disrespecting our president, we disrespect democracy. Whether you are alumni, Catholic or just a concerned citizen, if you agree and support our president giving the commencement address at Notre Dame, please sign my petition.
Thank you.

Posted by: chrissyks | March 26, 2009 10:37 AM

You cafeteria Catholics don't prefer
St. Augustine today, one Bishop who really knew about sex:

"In his works, Augustine did consider that the gravity of participation in an abortion depended whether or not the fetus had yet received a soul at the time of abortion.[60] He held that this ensoulment occurred at 40 days for males, and 90 for females.[59]"es
See Wiki

BTW, where do the souls of dead babies
go now that the Vatican closed down Limbo?

Posted by: Sanabitur | March 26, 2009 2:38 AM

This protest comes off as hyprocritical. With all the scandal in the Catholic Church, no need to name them here, Catholics are upset because President Obama supports a women's choice to have an abortion and stem cell research?

I have friends who went to Notre Dame, and have the same beliefs as the President. Their tuition and fees were accepted they are now alumni of this university.

This is such nonsense -- and an insult to the president. He was invited. Did the university administration take the time to do their homework (check with their private funders) before extending the invitation?

Apparently not. But at this stage of the game a few people are embarrassing the University president, among others, and all this leaves a very bad taste behind to those of us looking on. The reaction is shameful.. laughable!

Posted by: Victoria5 | March 26, 2009 1:34 AM


The Law School (at least) has a Catholic bent.

Posted by: JakeD | March 25, 2009 4:17 PM

Notre Dame is not a symbol of Catholicism. Yes, it was founded as a Catholic school, but beyond the seminary on campus and the grove and the many chapels, it is entirely secular because it is a university of education, not religion.
I'm a liberal, pro-choice Jew, that didn't stop Notre Dame from accepting me as a student and giving me a degree, and over my 4 years I was never pressured or expected or even encouraged to practice the Catholic religion or principles.
Those who believe that Notre Dame is supposed to reflect these things and give degrees, honorary or otherwise, based on them are completely out of touch.

Posted by: missdk | March 25, 2009 3:57 PM


Obama unfortunately gained four points among white Catholics. Similar to 2004's election results, white Catholics favored the Republican candidate, but by a smaller margin (five-point Republican advantage in 2008 compared with a 13-point advantage in 2004). There's hope yet -- all things are possible for those who love God and are called to His Purposes -- hang in there!

Posted by: JakeD | March 25, 2009 1:06 PM

Most of your readers are liberals. Most of them do not understand Catholicism.

Notre Dame is the symbol to Americans of Catholicism. It is dedicated to Our Lady (Notre Dame). It was built by the contributions of poor and middle class Catholics who were faithful to the teachings of the Church and wanted a Catholic University to grow and prosper.

Notre Dame willingly accepted these contributions while asserting its Catholicity. Then it decided to seek greater acceptance by secularists and proceeded to assert its need for "Academic Freedom" while subordinating its Catholicity.

Last Friday, it dumped the Virgin Mary in favor of the "prestige" of offering Obama a honorary degree knowing full well that Obama is the most pro-abort politician in the USA.

Catholics who are faithful know the culture of death is now storming the doors of decency. Notre Dame's decision to compromise on this fundamental natural law truth -- killing an innocent human being is intrinsically evil -- sends out a message to all Americans -- we are Catholic in name only.

Posted by: Tomor | March 25, 2009 11:29 AM

Show your support for Notre Dame's decision.

Sign the petition:

Posted by: irish_93 | March 25, 2009 9:16 AM

It is so sad there is such silly and hateful comments about Catholics. I would expect more among readers of the Washington Post. Regardless, I support the invitation of a sitting US president to deliver the commencement address at Notre Dame, or anywhere else for that matter. What an honor for the graduates and their families - pro-life and pro-choice alike. The life debate is exactly that ... a debate. Our country needs civil discourse on the matter... and perhaps Notre Dame is helping set a stage for dialogue. As the say in South Bend... Go Irish!

Posted by: eastl | March 25, 2009 1:14 AM

This is why we have had one Catholic president: Catholics are seen as potentially treasonous. What is this group's position on child molestation? Did they start a website about that scandal? Of course not.

Every day, a new reason to be ashamed of being Catholic.

Posted by: Chicago1 | March 24, 2009 11:00 PM

I think Notre Dame has taken exactly the right stance by awarding an honorary law degree to our pro-choice president. He is in the highest sense of the term our nation's lawmaker. Would Notre Dame refuse to award a student a doctorate for any of the reasons given to deny Obama his honorary degree?

Posted by: falasifa | March 24, 2009 9:25 PM

While I don't necessarily agree with the Bishop's positions, I wholeheartedly support anyone who stands up for their principles. Ours used to be a nation of principles, the pragmatists who most often seek public office diminish us all by immediately abandoning any pretense of principle the moment they get elected.

This man gets my support for no reason other than he has proven to be a man of unbending principle who will not compromise that which he believes is right. He is an example more people should follow.

Posted by: AmericanSharecropper | March 24, 2009 9:05 PM

The Cardinal Newman Society & have more than 93,226 petition signers now.

Posted by: JakeD | March 24, 2009 7:34 PM

This is the whole "Doug Kmiec" fiasco again. Luckily, some Catholics will draw the line right. I doubt that most cadets (from military families at least) approve of Obama speaking at the U.S. Naval Academy either.

Posted by: JakeD | March 24, 2009 7:15 PM

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