President Obama has agreed to deliver three graduation addresses this year: Arizona State University on May 13, the U.S. Naval Academy on May 22,...and Notre Dame on May 17!
Conservative Catholic fur is already flying. Randall Terry's Operation Rescue has announced their intent to stop the commencement address and they've set up a Web site to do it. The Cardinal Newman Society has another Web site, complete with petition, aimed at stopping the Obama address. And Bishop John M. D'Arcy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend has announced his intention to boycott the Notre Dame graduation ceremony this year. The conservatives are also rallying Notre Dame alumni to their cause.
In the middle of all this fuss, Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins, CSC shines like a beacon of academic freedom and reasonable discourse. He has pointed out that Notre Dame has always invited the current president of the United States, regardless of political party, and he cannot imagine rescinding the invitation at this time.
Jenkins called President Obama "an inspiring leader" and added that he "has taken leadership of the country facing many challenges: two wars, a really troubled economy, he has issues with health care, immigration, education reform, and he has addressed those with intelligence, courage and honesty."
"I would say that it's a special feature for us that we will hear from the first African American president here at Notre Dame, a person who has spoken eloquently and powerfully about race," Fr. Jenkins said. "Racial prejudice is a deep wound in America and President Obama has been a healer, so we honor him for those reasons."
He cautioned that "the invitation of President Obama to be our Commencement speaker should in no way be taken as condoning or endorsing his positions on specific issues regarding the protection of life, such as abortion and embryonic stem cell research." These "crucial differences" in positions on the protection of life are not being ignored in extending the invitation to the president, in Jenkins' view, who hopes to use them as a catalyst for dialogue. "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 said.
Reflecting on the USCCB's admonition in Catholics in Political Life (2004) that "the Catholic community and 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", Fr. Jenkins said that he had considered those words and concluded that Notre Dame was not in violation of that principle. The honorary Doctor of Laws degree that President Obama will receive when he comes in May "does not, it is not intended to condone or endorse his position on specific issues regarding life," he said. "That's not what we're honoring. "
"You cannot change the world if you shun the people you want to persuade, and if you cannot persuade them ...show respect for them and listen to them," Fr. Jenkins concluded.
Meanwhile, the ND Irish basketball team are hoping they can persuade the President to join them for a pickup game. "This is typically a conservative place but, hey, he's the President now and regardless of what your political views are, he's the President and he's the man," said Kyle McAlarney, a senior guard. "I think he's done an incredible job. For him to come to Notre Dame and speak, it's great."
Photo: University of Notre Dame President John Jenkins, CSC