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Catholics petition Notre Dame to rescind Obama speaking invitation

March 25, 2009 |  9:31 am

Hesburgh Library at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana

Empowered by Tuesday's announcement by Fort Wayne, Ind., Bishop John D’Arcy that he plans to boycott President Obama's upcoming commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, some Catholics are gathering signatures on a protest petition.

Furious over Obama's decision to lift restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, conservatives have already collected more than 120,000 signatures on an online petition urging Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins to rescind his invitation.

"Notre Dame has chosen prestige over principles, popularity over morality," says the petition at notredamescandal.com sponsored by the Cardinal Newman Society. "It is an outrage and a scandal that Our Lady’s University, one of the premier Catholic universities in the United States, would bestow such an honor on President Obama given his clear support for policies and laws that directly contradict fundamental Catholic teachings on life and marriage."

Jenkins said he will not rescind the invitation for Obama to speak and receive an honorary law degree (the president already has a real one, from Harvard). Obama would be the ninth president to receive Notre Dame's honorary degree and the sixth to serve as commencement speaker.

Obama was invited, said Jenkins, despite his positions on abortion and embryonic stem cell research, because he is "an inspiring leader." In a statement, the university president said:

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. Yet, we see his visit as a basis for further positive engagement.

At the White House, White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage said that the president, who won the support of millions of Catholics during the campaign, "does not govern with the expectation that everyone sees eye to eye with him on every position, and the spirit of debate and healthy disagreement on important issues is part of what he loves about this country."

Still, opinion is inflamed among some Catholics.

“I’m just heartbroken; I’m insulted,” Terri Rohr, class of 1984, told the Philadelphia Bulletin. “I was shocked when I heard it. I always thought of Notre Dame as a place where a person’s worth was not determined by their position or power, but who they were in the eyes of God. It’s not only a slap in the face to the students and the alumni, but to Catholics everywhere.”

The Fighting Irish are expected to welcome Obama May 17. Look for protests too.

-- Johanna Neuman

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Photo: University of Notre Dame's Hesburgh Library. Credit: University of Notre Dame.

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