The president of the Association of Catholic Colleges & Universities (ACCU) has said there is a "degree of ambiguity" in bishops’ guidelines which say Catholic institutions shouldn’t honor individuals who act in defiance of fundamental Catholic moral principles.
The University of Notre Dame’s invitation to President Barack Obama to deliver a commencement speech and to receive an honorary degree has prompted significant protests from Catholics, in part because of the president’s extreme position on abortion policy.
Critics of the invitation have cited the document "Catholics in Public Life," issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in 2004, which says Catholic institutions should not honor individuals who defy fundamental Catholic moral principles, nor should they be given platforms that suggest support for their actions.
Speaking to the South Bend Tribune, ACCU President Richard Yanikoski said "It is clear to me that there is a degree of ambiguity in the bishop’s guidelines issued in 2004."
"There are people of good will who, based on the 2004 document, believe greater clarity is needed," he said, explaining that canon law attorneys disagree about whether the guidelines apply to Catholic colleges and universities who honor public figures who are not Catholic.
According to Yanikoski, the "Catholics in Public Life" document was based on an interim report from the USCCB Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians. The task force never produced a final report because the bishop in charge retired.
The responsibility was then passed on to a subcommittee that included four Catholic bishops, four Catholic university presidents and Yanikoski.
Yanikoski reported the subcommittee was dissolved to reduce expenses. Responsibility for the report has been transferred to the bishop’s committee on Catholic education, which has not yet produced a final report.
Yanikoski told the South Bend Tribune that he believes there are people of good will on both sides of the dispute over Notre Dame’s invitation to President Obama. He declined to offer his own opinion of the matter.
He added that it is undecided how the bishops’ final statement on the topic should apply to Catholic colleges and universities.
The ACCU has not taken an official position on the invitation. Notre Dame is a member of ACCU and its president Rev. John I. Jenkins, CSC, serves on the association’s board.
In an April 21 statement, Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend John M. D’Arcy responded to a claim made by Fr. Jenkins that "Catholics in Political Life" did not apply to the invitation to President Obama.
Bishop D’Arcy, whose diocese encompasses Notre Dame, said the document was "clear" and that doubts about its interpretation should have been referred to him, the local bishop.
"Proper consultation," he said, could have prevented the invitation of the U.S. president and the "painful division" it has caused between many bishops, the school, and a "large number" of the faithful. Bishop D’Arcy added that he considered the document’s interpretation to be "settled."