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D’Arcy to shun Obama, skip Notre Dame speech

D’Arcy

Bishop John M. D’Arcy said Tuesday he will not attend the University of Notre Dame’s graduation ceremony, where President Obama is scheduled to deliver the commencement speech and receive an honorary degree.

“President Obama has recently reaffirmed, and has now placed in public policy, his long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred,” said D’Arcy, head of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, in a written statement.

Entering a growing controversy over whether the president’s presence at the university’s graduation ceremony May 17 is an affront to Catholic teachings and values, D’Arcy said he could not, in good conscience, attend.

“I wish no disrespect to the president, I pray for him and I wish him well. I have always revered the office of the presidency. But a bishop must teach the Catholic faith ‘in season and out of season,’ and he teaches not only by his words – but by his actions,” D’Arcy said.

His statement came after national Catholic groups condemned the university for Obama’s selection, which was announced by the White House on Friday.

On Monday, the American Life League, which calls itself “the nation’s largest” grass-roots Catholic organization opposed to abortion, denounced the choice.

By noon Tuesday, the Cardinal Newman Society, a group that supports closer control by the Catholic church of teaching at Catholic universities, reported gathering nearly 65,000 signatures in an online petition to express its outrage. The group called the selection “an outrage and a scandal.”

Brian Burch, president of advocacy group CatholicVote.org, said last week that Notre Dame’s invitation should be rescinded.

“For a prominent Catholic institution to give President Obama the benefit of their platform is shocking and disappointing,” he said.

A commencement speaker, Burch said, is held out as “someone students ought to emulate and admire. There’s a clear contradiction between his policies and that which a Catholic institution is presumably bound to promote.”

Notre Dame spokesman Dennis Brown said Tuesday that taking back the invitation is unlikely and criticism “was anticipated.”

On Monday, the Rev. John I. Jenkins, university president, issued a statement that the invitation to Obama “should not be taken as condoning or endorsing his positions on specific issues … including abortion and embryonic stem-cell research.”

Instead, Notre Dame sees the visit “as a basis for further positive engagement,” Jenkins’ statement says.

Through a spokesman, Jenkins declined to respond to D’Arcy, who also declined interviews Tuesday.

The two have skirmished before. In 2006 and last year, they clashed over the school’s decision to allow the play “The Vagina Monologues” to be performed on campus.

In his statement, D’Arcy said he learned of Notre Dame’s selection of Obama in a phone call from Jenkins on Friday.

He cited the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ policy that Catholic institutions should not give honors to those who “act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles” lest they suggest support for such actions.

Saying the decision to host Obama was “shocking” to many, the bishop argued that Notre Dame had chosen the “prestige” of having the president speak over principles.

“Indeed, the measure of any Catholic institution is not only what it stands for, but also what it will not stand for,” D’Arcy’s statement said.

rsalter@jg.net

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