Plan for Obama commencement speech at Notre Dame draws protests

John McCormick | MCT

CHICAGO (MCT) – 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.

Obama’s May 17 speech in South Bend is one of three commencement addresses he is expected to give this spring. He has also agreed to speak to ceremonies at Arizona State University and the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland.

Daly’s club and others with similar views are in the process of trying to decide how to move their protest forward. National Catholic organizations, meanwhile, are attempting to mobilize opposition to Obama’s selection by reaching out to alums of the school and


The Cardinal Newman Society, an organization dedicated to the “renewal” of the nation’s Catholic colleges and universities, has issued an “urgent alert” on its Web site. As of mid-morning Tuesday, the organization claimed more than 60,000 people had signed an online petition to stop the “scandal” at the university.

The Pro-Life Action League is urging supporters to call in protests to university president Rev. John Jenkins and ask him to un-invite Obama, something a university spokesman has said is highly unlikely.

As part of his visit, Obama is expected to be awarded an honorary degree, making him the ninth president to receive one from the university.

Jenkins told the campus newspaper, The Observer, the school is not honoring Obama for his stands on issues, but rather his leadership.

“The invitation of President Obama to be our commencement speaker should in no way be taken as condoning or endorsing his positions on specific issues regarding the protection of life, such as abortion and embryonic stem cell research,” he told the paper. “You cannot change the world if you shun the people you want to persuade.”

Daly, however, said she does not view a commencement address as an opportunity for dialogue on the issues. “It’s a very much one-way conversation,” she said.

Obama will be the sixth U.S. president since Dwight Eisenhower to speak at a Notre Dame commencement.