Obama at Notre Dame: Continuing a Tradition of Dialogue

By Jim Wallis 3-30-2009

Barack Obama will be the ninth president awarded an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame and the sixth president to address its graduates during commencement services. The announcement last week that Obama would accept the invitation has, according to the Chicago Tribune, "triggered a national debate over whether such a prominent supporter of abortion rights should be welcomed at one of America's premier Catholic universities." Far Right Catholic organizations such as the Newman Society and Catholic League have teamed up, launching an online petition demanding that Obama be "uninvited" and threatening to disrupt the day. To his credit, university president Rev. John Jenkins is standing behind the invitation.

Thousands of other Catholics, Notre Dame students, and alumni have responded in support of the president and the university's decision to invite him. A statement released by Catholics United said:

Catholic institutions of higher learning enjoy a long tradition of promoting open and honest dialogue about contemporary political and theological issues. Catholics United applauds Notre Dame for its fidelity to this tradition and welcomes its decision to host President Obama.

This attack on the president and threatened disruption of student ceremonies is disappointing and shows that while most in America are ready to find common ground on difficult issues, there are still others who are looking not for answers but a fight. Notre Dame has a long history of inviting prominent and respected public figures to its commencements who have agreed and disagreed with Catholic doctrine. Jimmy Carter, another pro-choice president who expressed his own moral opposition to the practice, gave the commencement address in 1977. And, although it was not commencement, then-New York Governor Mario Cuomo delivered a now-famous speech at Notre Dame in 1984 where he argued that as a Catholic he shared the belief that life begins at conception, but as an elected official he could not impose that view on a pluralistic society.

That spirit of vigorous debate and diversity of opinion is one of the things that has made the university great. If you would like to join the growing number of students, alumni, Catholics, and concerned citizens who want to preserve the great traditions of Notre Dame, click here.

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