(CNSNews.com) – More than a quarter-million people have signed a petition sponsored by the Cardinal Newman Society calling on Notre Dame to withdraw its invitation to President Obama to speak at the May 17 commencement.
As of April 7, the petition--found at notredamescandal.com--had gathered more than 250,000 signatures calling on Notre Dame’s president, the Rev. John Jenkins to withdraw the invitation, which includes the conferring of an honorary law degree on Obama.
Nineteen Roman Catholic bishops, including Cardinal Francis George who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, have also spoken out in opposition to Obama speaking at Notre Dame.
“The tremendous response of faithful Catholics and Catholic leaders to the petition is an indication that Notre Dame has betrayed the values of Catholics worldwide,” Patrick Reilly, the Cardinal Newman Society’s president, told CNSNews.com.
The society, which is not an official organ of the Church, says that Obama should not receive an honorary award from the university in light of his advocacy for abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and the recognition of same-sex relationships--all of which are contrary to Catholic moral teachings.
Catholic leaders from all across the U.S. have taken a public stance against the Indiana university’s invitation to Obama.
“Bishops across the country have publicly insisted that Notre Dame is in violation of the bishops’ policy, and therefore Fr. Jenkins has no leg to stand on,” Reilly told CNSNews.com. In 2004, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops published a document saying that Catholic institutions should not honor or provide a platform to politicians who stand in opposition to Catholic moral teachings. The document specifically cited support for legalized abortion as a position that should disqualify a public figure from being granted a platform by a Catholic institution.
Bishop John D’Arcy, who presides over the Roman Catholic diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., that includes Notre Dame, was one of the first to speak out, saying he would boycott the May 17 commencement ceremony-- the first time he has not attended a Notre Dame graduation in his 25 years as the local bishops.
“Even as I continue to ponder in prayer these events, which many have found shocking, so must Notre Dame,” he said. “Indeed, as a Catholic university, Notre Dame must ask itself, if by this decision it has chosen prestige over truth.”
Bishop Thomas Doran of the Rockford, Ill., diocese, suggested that if Notre Dame does not retract its invitation, the university should change its name.
“I would ask that you rescind this unfortunate decision,” Doran said. “Failing that, please have the decency to change the name of the university to something like, ‘The Fighting Irish College’, or ‘Northwestern Indiana Humanist University.’”
Cardinal George, who is archbishop of Chicago, questioned Notre Dame’s understanding of the Catholic faith.
“Whatever else is clear, it is clear that Notre Dame didn't understand what it means to be Catholic when they issued this invitation,” he said in a statement.
Cardinal George and the bishops speaking out against Notre Dame's invitation to Obama point out that it is a violation the bishops' 2004 document “Catholics in Political Life” that says Catholic institutions must not provide a platform to public figures who “act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.”
“They should not be given awards, honors, or platforms, which would suggest support of their actions,” the document states.
Almost immediately after he took office, the new president issued an executive order allowing federal funding for research that kills human embryos and reversed the pro-life Mexico City Policy, thus allowing federal funding to go to international organizations that fund abortions.
During the campaign, then-candidate Obama told Planned Parenthood that he would sign the Freedom of Choice Act, a proposal to make abortion a federally protected civil right.
Though he does not officially endorse same-sex marriage, Obama does not oppose state's recognizing same-sex marriage. Also, he opposed California's Proposition 8 that defined marriage as between a man and a woman and reversed a state Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, and he supports repealing the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which protects states from having to recognize same-sex marriages contracted in other states.
In comments that he posted, one bishop said that Notre Dame had “overlooked the belief of the Catholic Church” when it decided to honor Obama.
“Notre Dame extended this invitation unilaterally, seemingly without regard for the consequences for the mission of the Catholic Church in the United States,” said Bishop William Lori of the Bridgeport, Conn., diocese.
(Lori, by the way, has decided to boycott an Apr. 22 dinner at the Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., where he is chairman of the board of trustees, because the dinner will honor pro-abortion advocate Kerry Kennedy, a dissenting Catholic who also reportedly supports embryonic stem cell research and homosexual marriage.)
The protest, meanwhile, isn’t limited to bishops and others who have signed the Web site’s petition. Members of Notre Dame’s academic community have also denounced Fr. Jenkins' invitation to Obama.
On Apr. 5, Palm Sunday, a coalition of about 400 students and faculty dubbed the “Notre Dame Response” held a first of a kind public-prayer rally in front of the university’s “golden dome” Main Building.
The "ND Response" announced it will lead a 40-day campaign of praying the Rosary for “the conversion of President Obama’s heart” that is to start on April 8, which is exactly 40 days before ND’s commencement on May 17. They will be praying for Obama to convert to the pro-life cause.
Jenkins defended his invitation to Obama on Mar. 23 in the Notre Dame campus newspaper, The Observer, saying, the invitation “should not be taken as condoning or endorsing his (Obama’s) positions” on abortion and embryonic stem-cells.
Having Obama at the university would provide a “basis for further positive engagement,” Jenkins said.
Critics point out that there will be no room for engagement given that Obama will be a speaker, not part of a discussion panel.
Not every American bishop is calling on Notre Dame to rescind the invitation to Obama now that it has been extended.
In a Mar. 30 commentary in the Jesuit magazine America, retired San Francisco Archbishop John R. Quinn suggested the negative aspects of retracting the invitation would outweigh the benefits.
“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,” wrote Quinn..
“It is in the interest 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 said.
Quinn stepped down as archbishop of the San Francisco diocese in 1995 at the age of 66 and went into retirement, nine years before the mandatory retirement age of 75. During Quinn's tenure in San Francisco, which began in 1977, there were controversies over sexual abuse and embezzlement by several priests, and the archbishop's decision to close 12 historic churches, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.
Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., who opposes Notre Dame's invitation to Obama said in a March 27 blog entry on his diocesan Web site, that Catholics should be careful in the “rhetoric” they use in protesting the invitation.
Lynch, who supports the Cardinal Newman Society petition calling for the Obama invitation to be rescinded, said he was “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.”
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