WASHINGTON – With President Barack Obama’s controversial May commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame several months past, the president of the Indiana school has forged ahead with plans for a national discussion on abortion.
Holy Cross Father John I. Jenkins has announced the formation of a task force “on supporting the choice for life,” and he has pledged to lead a Mass for life in Washington this coming Jan. 22, the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion nationwide.
This Mass for life would also coincide with the annual March for Life in Washington.
Father Jenkins’ decision to invite Obama to deliver the commencement speech and present him with an honorary law degree set off a firestorm of criticism by at least 70 U.S. bishops, and ignited a national debate on the university’s status as a Catholic institution.
Critics of Obama said his support of legal abortion and embryonic stem-cell research made him an inappropriate choice to be commencement speaker at a Catholic university.
Father Jenkins’ supporters countered that Notre Dame was not condoning Obama’s support for legal abortion or embryonic stem-cell research, and that students at the university should be honored to have the first black U.S. president speak during their graduation.
Several Catholics who supported the Obama invitation said using a single issue as a litmus test to be honored at a Catholic university is a troubling concept.
“Coming out of the vigorous discussions surrounding President Obama’s visit last spring, I said we would look for ways to engage the Notre Dame community with issues raised in a prayerful and meaningful way,” Father Jenkins said in a September letter.
“As our nation continues to struggle with the morality and legality of abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and related issues, we must seek steps to witness to the sanctity of life,” he added.
The Task Force on Supporting the Choice for Life was formed to recommend ways that the university can support the sanctity of life, he said.
So far the panel has started looking at how to foster discussion about a reasonable conscience clause, the most effective ways to support pregnant women, and the best policies for facilitating adoptions, Father Jenkins said.
“Such initiatives are in addition to the dedication, hard work and leadership shown by so many in the Notre Dame family, both on the campus and beyond,” he said. “The task force may also be able to recommend ways we can support some of this work.”
Father Jenkins acknowledged that Obama’s presence on campus last spring generated divisions among Catholics and in the Notre Dame community.
“I hope that we can overcome divisions to foster constructive dialogue and work together for a cause that is at the heart of Notre Dame’s mission,” he said.