Notre Dame’s commencement invitation to President Barack Obama has become more controversial with the university's president, Fr. John Jenkins CSC, saying that he doesn't plan to withdraw the invite.
On Sunday, Jenkins told The Observer he did not “foresee circumstances” in which the University would withdraw President Obama’s invitation.
Referring to Notre Dame’s decades-old tradition of inviting presidents, Fr. Jenkins said, “Presidents from both parties have come to Notre Dame.” They’ve spoken on important issues like “international affairs, human rights, service, and we’re delighted that President Obama is continuing that tradition.”
On the issue of President Obama’s extreme pro-abortion stance, Jenkins 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.” He argued that you “cannot change the world” if you ostracize people you want to influence.
As of press time, Notre Dame had not returned a request for comment, and it remained unclear as to how they plan to engage Obama on abortion.
In 2004, the US Catholic Bishops spoke clearly on this issue in “Catholics in Political Life,” “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”
Controversy around giving pro-abortion Catholic politicians a platform is nothing new to Notre Dame. In1984, Notre Dame was also the site for the now famous speech, “Religious Belief and Public Morality: A Catholic Governor’s Perspective,” given by then New York Governor Mario Cuomo. In his speech, Cuomo laid out an argument now used by Catholic politicians to rationalize their support for abortion based upon living in a pluralist society.
It is unclear how Notre Dame engaged Governor Cuomo on the issue of abortion after his speech.
Some Catholics, however, have expressed support for Notre Dame’s decision to honor Obama. America Magazine’s Michael Sean Winters, discussed his support in his blog post, “Three Cheers for Notre Dame.”
He expressed frustrations with the “right wing” of the Church and wonders why Catholics are so upset about this invitation, “What is it about President Obama that makes the right wing so crazy, so uncharitable, so frothing-at-the-mouth unreasonable?”
Winters also celebrated that the “crowd of conservatives” and “Pharisees,” who want to uphold the Bishop’s teaching, “[do] not own the Catholic Church. They certainly do not own Notre Dame.”
When approached for a phone interview, Winters declined and asked to converse over email. He reluctantly agreed to answer questions, noting CNA’s Under the Glass column, Lessons from Michael Sean Winters on how NOT to blog, which he called “a nasty thing” that “included a falsehood among many idiocies.”
On the topic of Notre Dame, Winters cited a report that Denver’s Archbishop Charles Chaput had “urged a letter writing campaign to the university’s president.” Winters dismissed the suggestion, saying that the archbishop “has no ecclesiastical jurisdiction in the matter.”
CNA was able to acquire an audio recording of the event in question and found that rather than calling for a letter writing campaign, the archbishop suggested it as a response to the situation.
Responding to a question about how “faithful Catholics should respond to [general] situations like [Notre Dame’s invitation to Obama], Chaput suggested, “Protest, write letters, express your concern, do it charitably.” He further reminded the audience that “Jesus said we need to be like sheep among wolves” and to “act like Christians when we disagree: to be bold, courageous, and clear, but charitable.”
When presented with this information and asked if he believes that a bishop is stepping outside his “ecclesiastical jurisdiction” by asking people to be engaged in the public sphere by writing letters, Winters responded by saying he would reply when CNA drops its accusatory tone.
After the email interview Winters updated his blog, stating, “Archbishop Chaput has my email and if he objects to the characterization on the blog referenced above, I will be happy to change it.”