Notre Dame Graduation Features President Obama, Protests

"I think the feeling overwhelming[ly] is one of excitement and enthusiasm," she said. "[That] is just the general pulse on campus, that the president is coming to speak to us."

McBrien reiterated that point and said that the reaction on campus has been "overwhelmingly supportive."

"The campus cannot be more tranquil," he said. "Almost all of the opposition has been generated from groups outside the university, not internally."

The White House has pointed to a group of 23 campus organizations, including the African Student Association, the College Democrats and Notre Dame Peace Fellowship, that have written a letter to Jenkins expressing their concern with the singular focus on the president's views on abortion.

"We are concerned that in narrowing the focus to one aspect of life that has often proven polarizing and divisive, many have lost the ability to recognize the other aspects of President Obama's work that continue to uphold the principles of justice and solidarity," the coalition stated.

Bollman said she and many students share the view of university president Jenkins, that giving the president an honorary degree does not mean the university backs every position he holds.

"We're simply saying he is in an office that deserves a great deal of respect, whoever is in the office as president," she said. "As an individual, President Obama has in his short time in office pushed forth policies that are very strongly in line with policies [the] university holds dear."

According to a recent poll by Quinnipiac University, 56 percent of Americans said Notre Dame should not rescind its invitation to Obama and even more Catholics, 60 percent, hold the same view.

Opposition Began Immediately After Announcement

Opponents of Notre Dame's decision point to a 2004 statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as justification for their protest.

That year, the conference approved a policy statement called "Catholics in Political Life," which would prohibit awards or honors to individuals who "act in defiance" of the Catholic Church's "fundamental moral principles."

"They should not be given awards, honors or platforms, which would suggest support for their actions," the paper said.

Controlling the Focus on Graduation Day

In March, the Cardinal Newman Society, an organization whose stated purpose is "renewing and strengthening Catholic identity" at the nation's 224 Catholic universities and colleges, created a Web site and an online petition to try to push Notre Dame into rescinding the invitation.

More than 300,000 signatures have been added to the online petition, which calls the invitation "an outrage and a scandal" and charges Notre Dame with choosing "prestige over principles, popularity over morality."

The Cardinal Newman Society has repeatedly stressed that the organization was not protesting or attacking Obama, but rather was directing its criticisms at Notre Dame.

"This is not a referendum on President Obama, this is a referendum on Notre Dame," said Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society. "And that's why 360,000 Catholics have spoken out publicly. They're outraged at Notre Dame's betrayal of its own accepted Catholic values that it claims is the basis for what they do."

Yet the society's online petition decried Obama's recent policy decisions as "some of the most anti-life actions of any American president."

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