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Bishop, White House issue responses

Jenn Metz | Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Fort Wayne-South Bend Bishop John D’Arcy and the White House released statements Tuesday regarding the controversy over the announcement that President Barack Obama will be the 2009 Commencement speaker.

D’Arcy, who has been openly critical of the University in the past, announced in his statement he will not attend the 2009 Commencement.

D’Arcy wrote in the statement, which is posted on the diocese’s Web site, that he was made aware the president accepted the invitation to speak to the class of 2009 and receive an honorary degree by University President Fr. John Jenkins on March 20, shortly before news was made public at a White House press briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

D’Arcy challenged the University, as a Catholic institution, to question whether or not “by this decision it has chosen prestige over truth.”

The bishop’s statement is reflective of the response of some members of the national Catholic community, citing Obama’s stance on issues relating to the protection of life as a reason for his decision to not attend the 2009 graduation, which will be the 25th Commencement held during his time as bishop.

“President Obama has recently reaffirmed, and has now placed in public policy, his long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred,” D’Arcy wrote in the 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.”

A White House statement released Tuesday said the president welcomes the “spirit of debate and healthy disagreement on important issues.”

“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,” the White House statement said.

Nationally, 54 percent of Catholics voted for the pro-choice Obama, with 45 percent voting for Arizona Sen. John McCain in the 2008 presidential election, according to CNN exit polls.

D’Arcy wrote his decision to not attend Commencement “is not an attack on anyone, but is in defense of the truth about human life.”

University Assistant Vice President for News and Information Dennis Brown told The Observer that “Bishop D’Arcy has been a long-time friend and supporter of Notre Dame, and we’re sorry he will not be there,” in response to D’Arcy’s statement.

Brown said D’Arcy is usually a member of the platform party at Commencement, but has, in the past, decided to not attend the exercises when the University has chosen to honor pro-choice politicians.

The last time this occurred, Brown said, was the 1992 Commencement exercises, when President George H.W. Bush was the principal speaker. That year, the Laetare Medal recipient was U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. D’Arcy was one of many American bishops to express opposition to the University’s choice of the Senator to receive the honor – the highest award given to American Catholics – because of his pro-choice voting record on the issues regarding abortion.

The bishop was quoted in a May 1992 Observer article stating he decided to not attend that year’s Commencement exercises because Moynihan’s “stated position on the question of human life in the womb is totally unacceptable.”

He said in the 1992 article his presence at the ceremonies “could be interpreted as an approval of [Moynihan’s] position relative to the issue of pre-born life.”

He did, however, preside over the 1992 Baccalaureate Mass.

D’Arcy wrote in the statement Tuesday he was keeping the 2004 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) document titled “Catholics in Political Life” in mind when making this decision.

The document states: “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.”

The Observer reported Monday Jenkins said the critical lines in this statement by the USCCB are that politicians “should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

Jenkins said in his interview with The Observer the invitation of Obama to be the 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.”

D’Arcy wrote: “[T]he measure of any Catholic institution is not only what it stands for, but also what it will not stand for.

“I wish no disrespect to our President, I pray for him and wish him well. I have always revered the Office of the Presidency. But a bishop much teach the Catholic faith ‘in season and out of season,’ and he teaches not only by his words – but by his actions,” D’Arcy said.

D’Arcy’s office did not provide The Observer with additional information after inquiries were made Monday.

In his statement, D’Arcy wrote he has spoken with Mary Ann Glendon, former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican and the announced 2009 recipient of the Laetare Medal.

“I have known her for many years and hold her in high esteem,” he wrote. ‘We are both teachers, but in different ways. I have encouraged her to accept this award and take the opportunity such an award gives her to teach.”

D’Arcy has released statements in the past related to controversial University decisions, including “The Vagina Monologues” and the Queer Film Festival events on campus. On March 9 he also released a statement regarding Obama’s decision to allow federal funding for stem-cell research.