The pick of President Barack Obama to give Notre Dame’s commencement speech and receive an honorary Doctorate of Law degree in May has sparked controversy between Catholic groups, students, the university’s administration and the White House.
Though Notre Dame’s President John Jenkins said Obama’s invitation should not be seen as “condoning or endorsing his positions on specific issues regarding the protection of life,” Catholic groups locally and nationally have condemned the decision.
The Cardinal Newman Society, a group dedicated to strengthening Catholic identity at America’s Catholic colleges and universities, launched a Web site that includes an online petition against Obama’s speech. The petition had 197,000 signers, as of Saturday morning.
Joseph Scheidler, director of the Pro-Life Action League and a Notre Dame alumnus, told Notre Dame’s student newspaper and UWIRE affiliate, The Observer, the university’s decision is “an insult to all Notre Dame stands for.” The Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League issued a news release Friday asking Jenkins to withdraw his invitation to Obama.
Scheidler said he plans to protest during the months before Obama’s commencement speech and on graduation day outside Notre Dame’s Joyce Center, where the speech will take place.
While some students have formed Facebook groups in support of Jenkins’ decision, others joined a coalition of student groups that has used the Internet to denounce the university’s choice. The coalition includes Notre Dame Right to Life, Notre Dame College Republicans and the Irish Rover student newspaper, among others.
In response to the controversy, the White House released a statement that said Obama 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.
“We are not ignoring the critical issue of the protection of life. On the contrary, we invited him because we care so much about those issues, and we hope … for this to be the basis of an engagement with him,” Jenkins said.