Notre Dame President Defends Pro-Abortion Obama Invite Despite Bishops Rules

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 9, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Notre Dame President Defends Pro-Abortion Obama Invite Despite Bishops’ Rules

by Steven Ertelt Editor
April 9
, 2009

South Bend, IN ( — The president of the University of Notre Dame is again defending his decision to invite pro-abortion President Barack Obama to give the college’s commencement address. In a new statement, Rev. John Jenkins refuses to back down in the face of a document from the nation’s Catholic bishops.

In June 2004, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement that makes it clear that Catholic colleges should not allow abortion advocates to have a platform to speak to students or be honored with special awards and degrees.

"Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions,’ the bishops say.

But Jenkins, in a letter to the Board of Trustees at the University of Notre Dame, says his decision to invite and honor Obama with a degree doesn’t violate the bishops’ guidelines.

Noting how numerous bishops and pro-life groups have cited the document to criticize his decision, Jenkins writes, "Our interpretation of this document is different from the one that has been imposed by those criticizing us."

Jenkins calls the document "provisional" but claims he and other Notre Dame officials "have tried to follow both the letter and the spirit of its recommendations."

The Notre Dame president claims the college’s invitation to Obama doesn’t apply because Obama is not Catholic.

"Because the title of the document is ‘Catholics in Political Life,’ we understood this to refer to honoring Catholics whose actions are not in accord with our moral principles," Jenkins writes. "This interpretation was supported by canon lawyers we consulted, who advised us that, by definition, only Catholics who implicitly recognize the authority of Church teaching can act in ‘defiance’ of it."

"Moreover, fellow university presidents have told me that their bishops have told them that in fact it is only Catholic politicians who are referred to in this document," he adds.

Jenkins also says he is within the guidelines because he has repeatedly condemned Obama’s pro-abortion record.

Patrick Reilly, president of Cardinal Newman Society, which has secured the signatures of 255,000 people who are opposed to Notre Dame’s decision, says Jenkins’ interpretation is wrong.

He points to the fact that most of the 29 Catholic bishops who have publicly criticized Notre Dame for honoring President Obama have cited “Catholics in Political Life” as foundational to their arguments.

“How can Father Jenkins maintain that his interpretation of the Bishops’ statement is correct when so many of the bishops themselves, including Notre Dame’s own bishop, have given the exact opposite interpretation?” Reilly asked.

“Who is he to reinterpret the bishops’ own statement?” he told

“In his statement, Father Jenkins once again attempts to argue that Notre Dame is not suggesting support for the president’s abysmal record on life issues,” said Reilly. “And yet it is plainly clear to more than two dozen bishops, thousands of students and alumni and the more than a quarter million petition signers that Notre Dame has betrayed Catholic values.”

ACTION: Contact Fr. John Jenkins, President of Notre Dame, at 574-631-5000, fax 574-631-2770, email [email protected], or mail to 317 Main Building, Notre Dame, IN 46556. You can call Notre Dame at (574) 631-5000 or use the email form at

Related web sites:
Cardinal Newman Society –

Sign Up for Free Pro-Life News From

Daily Pro-Life News Report Twice-Weekly Pro-Life
News Report
Receive a free daily email report from with the latest pro-life news stories on abortion, euthanasia and stem cell research. Sign up here. Receive a free twice-weekly email report with the latest pro-life news headlines on abortion, euthanasia and stem cell research. Sign up here.