Officials at the University of Notre Dame are standing firmly behind their decision to invite President Obama to deliver the university's commencement address, despite strong opposition from some vocal Catholics.
The university's invitation to the president to speak at the May 17 ceremony has prompted a northwest Indiana bishop to say he will boycott it and has sparked an online campaign from a Catholic advocacy group trying to get Obama uninvited.
The Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., the university's president, said in a statement that the invitation does not mean Notre Dame supports all of Obama's decisions and that it should not be taken as condoning or endorsing his positions on issues like abortion and embryonic stem cell research.
"Presidents from both parties have come to Notre Dame for decades to speak to our graduates -- and to our nation and world -- about a wide range of pressing issues -- from foreign policy to poverty, from societal transformation to social service. We are delighted that President Obama will follow in this long tradition of speaking from Notre Dame on issues of substance and significance," Jenkins said.
Earlier this month, Obama signed an executive order lifting a ban on the use of federal funding for research on new embryonic stem cell lines. He said that day he rejected the "false choice between sound science and moral values."
Three days after taking the oath of office, Obama lifted the Mexico City policy, allowing nongovernmental organizations that receive international family planning assistance through the U.S. government to provide or promote abortion as a method of family planning in other countries.
Dennis Brown, a spokesman for Notre Dame, told ABC News he doesn't foresee any circumstances where the university would rescind its invitation to Obama.
The White House said Tuesday that the president welcomes "the spirit of debate and healthy disagreement on important issues."
"Notre Dame is one of the first universities President Obama will visit as president and he is honored to address the graduating class, their families and faculty of a school with such a rich history of fostering the exchange of ideas," White House deputy press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. "While he is honored to have the support of millions of people of all faiths, including Catholics with their rich tradition of recognizing the dignity of people, he 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."
Bishop John D'Arcy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., where Notre Dame is located, said in a statement that he will not attend the commencement ceremony because of Obama's "long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred."
"While claiming to separate politics from science, he has in fact separated science from ethics and has brought the American government, for the first time in history, into supporting direct destruction of innocent human life," D'Arcy said. "My decision is not an attack on anyone, but is in defense of the truth about human life."
This will be the first commencement D'Arcy will miss in his 25 years as head of the diocese.