Archbishop is ‘disappointed,’ ‘bewildered’ by honor to Obama

Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien said he is “disappointed and bewildered” by the decision of University of Notre Dame officials to honor President Barack Obama with an honorary doctorate at this year’s graduation ceremony.

The university announced March 20 that the president would be the commencement speaker at its May 17 graduation.

In a March 26 letter, Archbishop O’Brien told Notre Dame President Holy Cross Father John I. Jenkins he “fully supports” the March 24 statement of Bishop John M. D’Arcy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., that raised concerns about the decision.

Bishop D’Arcy pledged not to attend this year’s graduation and cited a 2004 statement by the U.S. Catholic bishops that Catholic institutions “should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.”

President Obama supports legal abortion and embryonic stem-cell research.

“(I) regret that (Bishop D’Arcy) must bear this personal affront from a university which he has so consistently and ardently supported this last quarter century,” Archbishop O’Brien wrote.

Bishop D’Arcy has not missed a graduation at Notre Dame in the 25 years he has been bishop of the diocese.

In a separate letter to Bishop D’Arcy sent March 26, Archbishop O’Brien said he admired the bishop’s courage and was “proud and grateful to you as a brother bishop.”

“Thank you for your strong and noble stand in your effort to uphold the reputation of the University of Notre Dame as a thoroughly Catholic institution,” Archbishop O’Brien said.

As Notre Dame continued to hear from protestors over its decision to honor President Obama, the head of the Holy Cross religious order that founded the university wrote to the U.S. president and asked him to rethink his positions on abortion and other life issues.

U.S. Father Hugh W. Cleary, Holy Cross superior general in Rome, said that when President Obama receives an honorary degree from the Indiana university and delivers the commencement address, he should take to heart the objections of Catholics who have been scandalized by the invitation.

Father Cleary asked the president to use the occasion to “give your conscience a fresh opportunity to be formed anew in a holy awe and reverence before human life in every form at every stage – from conception to natural death.”

The 13-page letter, dated March 22, was made available to Catholic News Service in Rome. Father Cleary also prepared an abridged version of the text as an “open letter” to the president, which was expected to be published on the Web site of America magazine.

Father Cleary’s letter congratulated President Obama on being awarded an honorary doctorate from Notre Dame, and said the university was honored to have him deliver the commencement address.

The visit should be a “teachable moment” for all involved, Father Cleary said.

He asked the president to take advantage of the occasion to “rethink, through prayerful wrestling with your own conscience, your stated positions on the vital ‘life issues’ of our day, particularly in regard to abortion, embryonic forms of stem-cell research and your position on the Freedom of Choice Act.”

Father Cleary repeatedly quoted President Obama’s words at the National Prayer Breakfast in February: “There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being.” Sadly, the priest said, legalized abortion implies that a person’s choice for personal freedom supersedes this obligation to protect and nurture human life.

“An ‘unwanted’ child comes in many forms: an untimely presence; a disabled or deformed creature; an embryo of the wrong sex; a child conceived out of wedlock; a child conceived through a hideous crime,” he said.

Father Cleary said the United States has a history of defining the parameters of human life “when it suits our self-interest.” One example was slavery, justified by denying that a black human being of African descent was fully human, he said.

Catholic News Service contributed to this story.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.