The President’s Commencement Controversy

Mar 24, 2009 2:47pm

ABC News’ Barry Freeman reports:

President Barack Obama, it was announced Friday, will deliver the 164th commencement address at the University of Notre Dame.   

Soon after the announcement, controversy arose from some Catholics who believe that Obama’s views on abortion and embryonic stem cell research contradict the Catholic institution’s beliefs and teachings.

In a campaign organized by The Cardinal Newman Society, a conservative Roman Catholic group, a website has been set up to encourage Catholics to protest President Obama’s visit by signing an online petition to Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins. 

"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," the petition states.

The website and petition have amassed over 66,000 signatures, some 270 per hour.

In response, Rev. Jenkins issued a statement yesterday saying, "Of course, this does not mean we support all of his positions. 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." 

In addition, Dennis Brown, a spokesman for Notre Dame, told the Associated Press, "I don’t foresee a circumstance in which we would rescind the invitation."

The University is located in South Bend, Indiana near the town of Elkhart where Obama took his first trip outside of Washington after becoming president. Obama went there to sell his economic stimulus package, which Congress later approved.

In addition to the commencement address, Obama will be awarded an honorary doctor of law degree.

– Barry Freeman

Update:

A statement late Tuesday from the White House.

From Deputy White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki — "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. 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."

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