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BOB ABERNETHY: Should a Catholic university honor a president whose views on abortion differ from the teachings of the Catholic Church? All week, outside the Notre Dame campus, protesters condemned the university’s invitation to President Obama to give its commencement address this weekend (May 17) and receive an honorary degree. Earlier, in Washington, at last week’s National Catholic Prayer breakfast (May 8), former Archbishop of St. Louis Raymond Burke, a strong abortion opponent and now a Vatican official, sharply criticized Notre Dame.

Archbishop Raymond Burke

Archbishop RAYMOND BURKE (Former Archbishop of St. Louis, at National Catholic Prayer Breakfast): The proposed granting of an honorary doctorate at Notre Dame University to our president, who has been so aggressively advancing an anti-life and anti-family agenda, is rightly the source of the greatest scandal.

ABERNETHY: While Archbishop Burke received a standing ovation, many other Catholics noted that Notre Dame has been inviting presidents to its campus since the days of Dwight Eisenhower. Father Thomas Reese of Georgetown University says that’s part of academic freedom.

Father THOMAS REESE (Senior Fellow, Woodstock Theological Center, Georgetown University): I don’t think it’s a scandal. Universities should be places where we have discussion, debate, where people of different views come together to argue, and when the bishops get involved in trying to censure people, ban speakers — I think it’s not helpful.

Archbishop BURKE: This is a Catholic institution which is bound by — its title is Catholic, its identity is Catholic — to uphold the moral law, and that’s the source of the scandal.

Fr. REESE: You can’t be afraid to discuss these issues, to debate these issues. If you ban people from your campus, if you censor people, it comes across as an acknowledgment that you really don’t have good arguments that are convincing to either your students or that can win in a debate over these issues.

Barack Obama

ABERNETHY: For his part, at a news conference last month Obama sought common ground.

President BARACK OBAMA: I believe that women should have the right to choose. But I think that the most important thing we can do to tamp down some of the anger surrounding this issue is to focus on those areas that we could agree on.

ABERNETHY: Back at Notre Dame, Professor Scott Appleby saw a bright side.

Dr. SCOTT APPLEBY (History Professor, University of Notre Dame): If one result of the president coming to commencement is that there’s a vigorous public debate and discussion about the issues, well, that’s a victory really for a university.

ABERNETHY: Many of the protesters at Notre Dame were well known anti-abortion activists from around the country, but their views do not represent the opinions of most Catholics. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 50 percent of American Catholics approve of Notre Dame’s invitation; 28 percent do not.

Obama Notre Dame Controversy

Is it appropriate for a Catholic university to honor a president whose views on abortion differ from the teachings of the Catholic Church?

  • Mary A. Krol

    1. Unfortunately, President Obama didn’t seek any discussion or points of view before using his presidential powers to reverse the ban on funding abortions here and internationally. His claim to discuss the issue is therefore bogus.

  • John Manning

    We are not going to convert/convince those who disagree with pro life positions by uttering maledictions against them. Jesus socialized with prostitutes and bag men for the Roman occupation, because he came to heal the world, not condemn it.

  • Tim Mulherin

    I suppose what we forget is that Christ was drawn to the sinners; the New Testament documents this time and again. If President Obama is deemed a sinner for his upholding of Roe vs. Wade, then in visiting the University of Notre Dame, he has come to the right place. If you are truly Christian, let alone Catholic, surely you understand that Christ is capable of transforming the human heart in ways, and in His timing, that we cannot fathom. But my how we do tend to politicize faith. How sad. And this intrudes upon the mystery of God in ways that are so simple minded. Give God credit for His ability to work beyond human comprehension. Please. And let the president speak at a higher learning institution for the sake of respect for the pursuit of intellectual freedom. Remember, according to the Bible, Christ even spent time in conversation with Satan. So why are we so ridiculously sectarian when it comes to the exchange of ideas in a university setting? When we hold hostage freedom of thought in this great republic, we risk losing the very greatness that upholds who we are supposed to be as a people and as a nation.

  • Marshall Zaharas

    Agree w/ Fr. Reese that Catholic universities must be places where issues are debated. But he is dodging the point that a graduation ceremony is not a forum for debate.

  • Gerry

    Mr. Obama’s idea of exchange and debate is substantially incorrect. His Notre Dame speech was a crafty piece of divide and conquer that went over old ground. This was a single lane manifesto. You cannot “reduce” the number of abortions when you’re funding them at home and offshore. As for the unborn being a “clump of cells” why are scientists so eager to work with this supposed non-entity in another area called stem cell research?

  • Eutychus

    It is my understanding that when a university has someone give a commencement address at their graduation ceremony it is a reelection of their core values to essentially send them off in the right direction. Although all universities are a place for debate and a diversity of opinion. The core values of this university should be the RC faith. (I am not a RC, by the way.) Having President Obama says to the student body (as well as the nation) that it is okay to compromise your core values to be popular. It is being reasonable to blow with the prevailing wind, and it is not reasonable to stick to your deep, historic, biblical, religious convictions. I think Notre Dame needs to learn what it is to be a RC university.

  • Terry

    why dont you ever see a conservative religious leader speak at a liberal college?you wont.for the same reason obama should not speak at Notre Dame.he is pro gay pro obortion pro gov.

  • Dolores Grier

    It is one issue to invite someone to speak at your
    University that does not agree with your policy
    and principles, but to give him an award ia a stamp of approval of his policies and beliefs.

  • Evelyn Ronell

    It is the lesser evil to abort an unborn than to bring it into life and torture/mistreat it.

  • flomen

    It really annoys me that Fr. Reese used his name and title to pan Notre Dame as frightened of debate. This is not what is in error here. This was a graduation and our president was to speak AND be honored with an honorary degree from N.B.I am glad the latter did not take place. Yet, I do think that a Catholic university should invite exemplary models that personify its morals and principles for such an event. ( AND yes, do invite those with contrary views to discussions on hot topics.)

  • Leanora Marie Regan

    If God wanted abortion to be upheld He would have made it clear and one of the ten commandments would be,”You can have abortion!”

  • Nancy Ciarleglio

    What bothers me as a Catholic, is the selective value of life: an aborted fetus is a life lost; yet capital punishment is rampant in this country (Texas being the worst offender; did Notre Dame give George W, his father George H.W. & Lyndon Johnson honorary degrees?)- wars – how many since the War to end all Wars – killlings by gun-toting youths in our cities & towns – where is the Catholic Church & other denominations when it comes to organizing an effort that gets media attention, and more importantly, speaks out and stops the carnage? Abortion is a seriously considered decision by a woman, and it seems to many of us, the more prudent approach would be to focus in on preventing abortions, and abondoning abstinence only programs which don’t work; refer: Gov.Palin’s daughter