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Leaders, organizations continue to speak out

Madeline Buckley | Friday, April 3, 2009

Nationwide, Catholic leaders – including various organizations, bishops and the superior general of the Congregation of the Holy Cross – continue to speak out about the University’s decision to host President Barack Obama as the 2009 Commencement speaker.

Cardinal Frances George, archbishop of Chicago and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), said the University’s decision is an “extreme embarrassment” to Catholics, according to a LifeSiteNews.com report.

Many opponents of the decision to invite Obama have referenced a 2004 document released by the USCCB titled “Catholics in Political Life,” which reads: “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.”

A March 24 article in The Observer reported George would not comment on behalf of the USCCB about Notre Dame’s decision because the University is out of the group’s jurisdiction.

But George questioned Notre Dame’s understanding of a Catholic university at a conference hosted by the Chicago archdiocese’s Respect Life office and Office for Evangelization Saturday, according to LifeSiteNews.

“So quite apart from the president’s own positions, which are well known, the problem is in that you have a Catholic university – the flagship Catholic University – do something that brought extreme embarrassment to many, many people who are Catholic,” he said. “So whatever else is clear, it is clear that Notre Dame didn’t understand what it means to be Catholic when they issued this invitation.”

Hugh Cleary, superior general of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, said he hopes Obama’s presence at Notre Dame will result in a “teachable moment” for everyone involved in a letter directed to Obama published in America Magazine.

“I am confident that you are likewise well versed in the Catholic faith conviction that human life begins at conception,” Cleary said to Obama. “Therefore, through this open letter, I would like to take advantage of your appearance at Notre Dame to ask you to rethink, through prayerful wrestling with your own conscience, your stated positions on the vital ‘life issues’ of our day, particularly in regard to abortion, embryonic stem cell research and your position on the Freedom of Choice Act before Congress.”

While many Catholic leaders and groups have criticized the University’s decision, one Catholic organization is now speaking out in support of the decision.

Catholics United, an online non-profit organization, created a petition in support of the University’s decision that currently claims over 28,000 signatures.

Chris Korzen, executive director of Catholics United, said the petition is a way to combat petitions condemning the University’s invitation to Obama, such as the petition put out by the Cardinal Newman Society, which has gathered over 200,000 signatures.

“We felt, given the media attention, that we needed to send a strong message that many Catholics and many Americans support [Jenkins’] decision,” he said.

The petition states that through his invitation to Obama, Jenkins “is honoring the best of our nation’s democratic and religious values.”

Numerous Catholic bishops nationwide have also weighed in on the decision.

Newark Archbishop John J. Myers said he was disappointed in the University’s decision in a press release Wednesday.

“It pained me to hear that one of the symbols of Catholic education in our nation, Notre Dame University, had extended an invitation to President Obama to speak at its commencement,” he said in the release.

Myers said extending honors to those in disagreement with Church teaching “create the perception that we endorse their public positions on these issues.”

Timothy Dolan, archbishop of Milwaukee, said Notre Dame made a “big mistake” by inviting Obama to speak at the graduation ceremony May 17, according to an Msnbc.com report.

“There’s a lot of things that President Obama does that we can find ourselves allied with and working with him on, and we have profound respect for him and pray with him and for him,” Dolan said. “But in an issue that is very close to the heart of Catholic world view, namely, the protection of innocent life in the womb, he has unfortunately taken a position very much at odds with the Church.”

Dolan is slated to take the position of archbishop of New York on April 15.

John Nienstedt, archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, called the University’s decision a “travesty” in a letter to Jenkins Tuesday, according to a Catholic News Agency report.

Nienstedt asked Jenkins to withdraw his invitation to Obama because of the president’s “deliberate disregard of the unborn.”

“If the decision is not reconsidered,” he said in the letter to Jenkins, “please do not expect me to support your University in the future.”

Archbishop Daniel Cardinal DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said he found the University’s invitation to Obama to be “very disappointing” in his weekly pastoral message.

“Though I can understand the desire by a university to have the prestige of a commencement address by the president of the United States, the fundamental moral issue of the inestimable worth of the human person from conception to natural death is a principle that soaks all our lives as Catholics,” he said. “Even given the dignity of Office of the President, this offer is still providing a platform and an award for a public figure who has been candid on his pro-abortion views.”

While the majority of bishops who have spoken out condemning the University’s invitation, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg criticized the “uncivil and vehement” outcries against Notre Dame in his blog.

“While Notre Dame may have acted way too early and too generously, I am more alarmed that the rhetoric being employed is so uncivil and venomous that it weakens the case we place  before our fellow citizens,” Lynch said.

John R. Quinn, archbishop emeritus of San Francisco, echoed Lynch’s concern, questioning the prudence of bishops commenting on public issues Monday in an editorial for AmericaMagazine.org.

“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,” Quinn said.  “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.”