Notre Dame Defends Obama Invitation as Antiabortion Protests Mount

University's president says Obama has "honored us" by agreeing to give the 2009 commencement address.

By + More

By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

The University of Notre Dame's president is defending his invitation to President Barack Obama to deliver this year's commencement address in the face of mounting protests from antiabortion Roman Catholics. From the campus newspaper, the Observer :

University President Fr. John Jenkins responded to criticism regarding the announcement of President Barack Obama as the 2009 Commencement speaker by clearly making a distinction between honoring the president and supporting his political views.

Jenkins made it clear in an interview with The Observer Sunday the University does not "foresee circumstances" that would cause Notre Dame to rescind the president's invitation.

"We have invited the president and he's honored us by accepting," he said.

. . . Some members of the Notre Dame community, and the larger national Catholic community have negatively responded to the announcement, launching campaigns to stop the president from visiting the University because of his stances on issues regarding the protection of life.

Jenkins made clear the University is not honoring the president for his stances on these issues, but for his leadership.

"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," Jenkins said.

These "crucial differences" in positions on the protection of life are not being ignored in extending the invitation to the president, Jenkins said, but rather can be used 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," Jenkins said.

"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," he said.

President Obama is "an inspiring leader who 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," Jenkins said.

Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry has joined the opposition to Obama at Notre Dame, with a new website and vows to organize commencement day protests, but I'm not sure his involvement adds credibility to the anti-Obama forces or saps it. The Cardinal Newman Society has collected more than 50,000 signatures calling for Notre Dame to disinvite Obama, but a detail in today's Observer adds important perspective to the furor:

The Observer reported in an Oct. 8, 2008 article that Obama led the student body with 52.6 percent of the vote in a mock election held by student government, in which 2,692 undergraduates and graduate students voted.