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Protests growing over Obama speech at Notre Dame

March 27, 2009

John McCormick at the Chicago Tribune blog has a piece covering the anti-Obama sentiment coming from Catholics who feel the President should not be speaking at Notre Dame. The protesters point out that Obama’s pro-choice, pro-stem cell research positions are at odds with the views of the Catholic church and that his speech at America’s foremost Catholic institution of higher learning is inappropriate.

President Barack Obama’s plan to speak at the University of Notre Dame’s commencement ceremony this spring is generating disapproval among some on the heavily Catholic campus and triggering protest by national anti-abortion groups.

“In many ways, the president does not have a whole lot in line with the mission of this university, especially in terms of its Catholicism,” said Mary Daly, president of the campus Right to Life club.

Daly said Obama’s views on abortion and stem cell research run counter to Catholic teaching and he should not be given such a prominent speaking platform. “People look to this university as a leading example of American Catholicism,” she said.

Of course, the Catholic church and the university with which it is associated are entitled to exercise their faith in accordance with the catechism. And that means, among other things, inviting or not inviting speakers depending on whether those people’s beliefs reflect the teachings of the church, as the university understands them. (Though, I have to wonder whether there was this kind of discontent over the appearance of George W. Bush in May of 2001. Was his pro-death penalty stance cause for protest then?) And it’s important to recognize that the church is not monolithic; there is a diversity of viewpoints and there is nothing wrong with encouraging a debate about those differences. But disputes over dogma aside, this is the kind of story that makes me think the church needs significant PR assistance. What are the most recent stories that come to mind when we think of the Catholic church? Just off the top of my head: the Pope explicitly arguing that the use of condoms in Africa is making the HIV/AIDS crisis there worse; the Pope lifting the ex-communication of Bishops who, among other things, deny the existence of the Holocaust; the excommunication of a Doctor and the mother of a pre-teen girl who was given an abortion after she had been raped and became pregnant while the rapist himself was allowed to remain in the Church; and, of course, the ongoing clergy sexual abuse scandal which, while not in the news lately, has been a dark cloud over the Church for years. And now, the preeminent Catholic university in the country decides to invite a President–a President whose tremendously high approval ratings seem impervious to the worsening economic crisis, by the way– to speak and, yet, the organizations associated with the Church and individual Bishops within it are organizing boycotts and protests? Those actions, ultimately, seem both short-sighted and counterproductive.

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