Exclusive: Notre Dame Alumni Launch Effort to Withhold Donations Over Obama Invitation

The effort is aimed at ousting university president John Jenkins.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

A group of Notre Dame alumni angry over the university's decision to feature President Obama as this year's commencement speaker is set to launch an online effort urging the school's financial backers to withhold donations until the university president is ousted. The group's website calls for current university president Rev. John Jenkins be replaced with "someone who will uphold fundamental Catholic moral principles."

The group launched its website, www.replacejenkins.com, yesterday and plans to begin promoting it with a press release tomorrow morning. "We feel strongly that the University should not honor President Barack Obama given his well known commitment to abortion in the broadest possible context," the website says. "Although we love Notre Dame, our conscience requires that we withhold all financial support from our University until such time as Father Jenkins is replaced as Notre Dame's President with someone who will be more loyal to the teaching of the Catholic Church."

The effort is being led by a coalition of seven university alumni and financial backers, mostly based in Michigan. "When the Obama invitation happened, some of us said we have to draw a line in the sand," says David DiFranco, a Notre Dame alum who is helping lead the campaign and who notes that conservative Catholics have been alarmed by some of Jenkins earlier decisions. "We don't feel justified in sending our dollars to the university and thought if we can quantify this effort we may raise some eyebrows."

The website asks Notre Dame boosters to sign a petition and state "the amount you will withhold from Notre Dame's General Fund." DiFranco, the CEO of a travel company based near Detroit, declined to give a goal for the amount of withheld donations. But he said he hopes the figure is large enough to publicize before Obama's May 17 graduation address.

The site asks petition signers to supply their contact information to help verify the legitimacy of large donations being withheld. It also advises donors to send donations to two campus antiabortion groups. Organizers say they currently have several dozen donors involved.

Dennis Brown, a Notre Dame spokesman, said in an E-mail message that while "the decision to invite President Obama to speak at commencement has engendered criticism among some alumni, it's important to recognize that there has been considerable support, too."

"We hope that those who disagree will, over time, look at the big picture," Brown continued," and decide that this incident - as distressing as it has been for some - isn't enough to end a long and strong relationship with their alma mater.

According the university's 2008 annual report, 47 percent of undergraduate alumni made donations tallying $119 million and parents of alumni gave another $34 million.

DiFranco says that even before president Obama was announced as this year's graduation speaker, conservative Catholics had been alarmed by what they saw as the school's liberal drift, including a school-sanctioned production of the Vagina Monologues and what he says is a shortage of orthodox professors in the theology department.

University president Jenkins has stood by his decision to invite president Obama to give the commencement address though it has been denounced by more than a dozen American bishops. "The invitation to President Obama to be our Commencement speaker should not be taken as condoning or endorsing his positions on specific issues regarding the protection of human life, including abortion and embryonic stem cell research," Jenkins said in an earlier statement. "Yet, we see his visit as a basis for further positive engagement."

According the school newspaper, most of Notre Dame's current students appear to support the Obama invitation.

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