Since the University of Notre Dame announced on March 20 that President Barack Obama would be the speaker at their 2009 commencement and would receive an honorary degree from the university, Catholic communities across the country—as well as many of their bishops—have voiced their opposition, citing the president’s virulently pro-abortion views and actions. An online petition to Notre Dame president Father John Jenkins, C.S.C. was quickly drafted and touted across the Internet on Catholic blogs and websites; two weeks after the university’s announcement that Obama would speak, the petition decrying that decision had been signed by more than 230,000 individuals.
In addition to those signing the petition—which was initiated by the Cardinal Newman Society and is hosted on a website set up specifically to protest the Obama invitation—many US bishops have also criticized the university’s decision. Most of these critiques, while made available to the public, have been addressed directly to Father Jenkins, and many take issue with the university president’s assertion that Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame would be “the basis of an engagement” with Obama on issues such as abortion and embryonic stem-cell research.
Bishop John D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana—the diocese in which Notre Dame is located—on March 24 issued a statement expressing his disappointment in the university’s decision and announcing his decision not to attend the commencement ceremonies. “I wish no disrespect to our president, I pray for him and wish him well,” D’Arcy said in his statement. “But a bishop must teach the Catholic faith ‘in season and out of season,’ and he teaches not only by his words—but by his actions.” D’Arcy also called into question the university’s motives in honoring Obama: “As a Catholic university, Notre Dame must ask itself, if by this decision it has chosen prestige over truth.”
After D’Arcy’s statement, those of Cardinal Francis George—president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and shepherd of the neighboring Chicago archdiocese—have been the most significant rebuke of Notre Dame’s commencement decision. Speaking at a conference hosted by the archdiocese’s Respect Life and Evangelization offices, George brought the university’s Catholic identity and its related responsibilities to the forefront: “Whatever else is clear, it is clear that Notre Dame didn’t understand what it means to be Catholic when they issued this invitation…. 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.” George also called concerned Catholics to action, encouraging them “to do what you are supposed to be doing: to call, to email, to write letters, to express what’s in your heart about this: the embarrassment, the difficulties.”
In addition to the US bishops who have criticized the university’s move, prominent Notre Dame faculty members Ralph McInerny and Charles Rice have also done so, as have leading scholars James V. Shall of Georgetown University, Hadley Arkes of Amherst College, George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and Francis Beckwith, professor at Baylor University and visiting fellow at the Center for Ethics and Culture at Notre Dame.
Bishops’ statements on Notre Dame’s invitation to Barack Obama:
– Bishop John D’Arcy, Fort Wayne-South Bend
– Cardinal Francis George, Chicago
– Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Galveston-Houston
– Archbishop Timothy Dolan, New York
– Archbishop John Nienstedt, St. Paul-Minneapolis
– Archbishop Eusebius Beltran, Oklahoma City
– Bishop Edward Slattery, Tulsa
– Archbishop John Myers, Newark
– Archbishop Alfred Hughs, New Orleans
– Bishop Joseph Martino and Auxiliary Bishop John Dougherty, Scranton
– Bishop Thomas Doran, Rockford, Ill.
– Bishop Thomas Olmsted, Phoenix
– Bishop Gregory Aymond, Austin
– Bishop Robert Lynch, St. Petersburg
– Bishop R. Walker Nickless, Sioux City
– (Paul Schenck, on behalf of) Bishop Kevin Rhoades, Harrisburg, Pa.
– Bishop William Lori, Bridgeport, Conn.
– Bishop George Murry, S.J., Youngstown, Ohio
– Bishop Anthony Basil Taylor, Little Rock
– Archbishop Jose Gomez and Auxiliary Bishop Oscar Cantu, San Antonio
– Bishop Alexander Sample, Marquette, Mich.
– Bishop Jerome Listecki, LaCrosse, Wis.
– Bishop William Higi, Lafayette, Ind.
– Bishop Samuel Aquila, Fargo, ND
– Archbishop Edwin O’Brien, Baltimore
– Archbishop Daniel Buechlein, Indianapolis
– Bishop Robert Baker, Birmingham, Ala.
– Bishop Gerald Barbarito, Palm Beach, Fla.
– Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, Lincoln, Neb.
– Bishop Richard Stika, Knoxville, Tenn.
– Bishop Robert Finn, Kansas City-St. Joseph
– Bishop Thomas Wenski, Orlando
– (Dan Andriacco, on behalf of) Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, Cincinnati
– Bishop George Lucas, Springfield, Ill.
– Bishop Leonard Blair, Toledo
– Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger, Evansville, Ind.
– Bishop Joseph Latino, Jackson, Miss.
– Bishop Paul Coakley, Salina, Kan.
– Bishop Robert Vasa, Baker, Ore.
– Bishop Victor Galeone, St. Augustine, Fla.
– Bishop David Zubik, Pittsburgh
– Bishop Paul Loverde, Arlington, Va.
– Bishop John LeVoir, New Ulm, Minn.
– Bishop Joseph Naumann, Kansas City, Kansas
– Cardinal Justin Rigali, Philadelphia
– Bishop Joseph Galante, Camden, N.J.
– Bishop Peter Jugis, Charlotte, N.C.
– Bishop Glen John Provost, Lake Charles, La.
– Archbishiop Charles Chaput, Denver
– Bishop James V. Johnston, Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Mo.
– Bishop John McCormack, Manchester, N.H.
– Bishop Bernard Harrington, Winona, Minn.
– Bishop Michael Warfel, Great Falls-Billings, Mont.
– Bishop Robert Morlino, Madison, Wisc.
– (Susan Gibbs, on behalf of) Archbishop Donald Wuerl, Washington, D.C.
– Bishop Michael Jackels, Wichita, Kan.
– Bishop William Murphy, Rockville Centre, N.Y
– Bishop Raymundo Pena, Brownsville, Texas
– Bishop Edward Cullen, Allentown, Pa.
– Bishop Robert Hermann, St. Louis, Mo.
– Bishop George Thomas, Helena, Mont.
– Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, Philadelphia (emeritus)
– Bishop Lawrence Brandt, Greensburg, Pa.
– Bishop David Ricken, Green Bay, Wisc.
– Bishop Sam Jacobs, Houma-Thibodaux
– Bishop John Smith, Trenton, N.J.
– Bishop Roger Gries, Cleveland, Ohio
– Bishop John Gaydos, Jefferson City, Mo.
– Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, Brooklyn, N.Y.
– Bishop Joseph Adamec, Altoona-Johnstown, Pa.
– Bishop Frank Dewane, Venice, Fla.
– Bishop John Yanta, Amarillo, Texas (emeritus)
– Auxiliary Bishop James Conley, Denver
– Bishop Donald Trautman, Erie, Pa.
– Archbishop-elect Robert Carlson, St. Louis, Mo.
– Bishop Michael Sheridan, Colorado Springs, Colo.
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