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Bishop to Boycott Obama Commencement Speech at Notre Dame

Kaitlynn Riely

Posted: Mar 25th 2009 12:30AM

Filed under: Politics, Small Campus, Big Story, Culture, Religion, News, Local, Media, Notre Dame



Bishop John M. D'Arcy, who presides over Indiana's Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese, which includes Notre Dame, announced Tuesday he will not be attending Notre Dame's May 17 Commencement, since President Barack Obama will be speaking.

"Can I have the Bishop's ticket?" my friend posted on the Web site Twitter.com.

D'Arcy has clashed with Notre Dame in the past, most significantly when University President Fr. John Jenkins issued a statement in 2006 allowing The Vagina Monologues to be performed on campus. Now it's Obama's pro-choice stances and decisions, rather than vaginas, that have gotten D'Arcy's Irish up.

Notre Dame and the White House announced Friday that Obama would be speaking at Notre Dame's May 17 Commencement ceremony, with Jenkins following up Monday clarifying that asking Obama to speak, and awarding him with an honorary doctor of laws degree, does not signify support of his policies. Most students, from my observations on campus, seem to be supportive of and excited about hearing Obama speak. But a vocal student minority, as well as alumni and unaffiliated pro-life groups, have protested the decision vehemently.

In his statement Tuesday, D'Arcy said Jenkins informed him of Obama's acceptance shortly before the announcement was made. D'Arcy said it was the first time he'd been told about the invitation. This May is the 25th Notre Dame graduation since D'Arcy became bishop, and for the first time, he said, he will not attend.

"After much prayer, I have decided not to attend the graduation," he said. "I wish no disrespect to our president, I pray for him and 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."

He added: "My decision is not an attack on anyone, but is in defense of the truth about human life."

I understand that D'Arcy has major disagreements with Obama over abortion and stem cell issues. But isn't he giving up a unique opportunity to pull the president aside for a moment and voice his concerns? It may not make a difference in Obama's stances, but when else will D'Arcy have the ear of the president?

I'm unimpressed with D'Arcy's leadership. The pro-life movement's sign-carrying, march-making approach hasn't worked so far, and I doubt the Bishop's boycott will make any difference in abortion policy in the United States. It just distances the Catholic Church from the decision-making process.

Too bad. I wish D'Arcy had been a bit braver and seen the opportunity, rather than ask whether Notre Dame has "chosen prestige over truth."

D'Arcy's ticket won't go to waste. Notre Dame seniors, who are only guaranteed 3 tickets each for graduation, have been posting on Facebook asking those who don't want Obama to speak at Notre Dame to give away their tickets.

Security itself on graduation day promises to be intense. But already, with two months to go, life in the Notre Dame bubble is becoming surreal. Leaving the gym this afternoon, I stopped by a television because a woman from a local television station was delivering a report from my campus.

When I got back to my room, a friend told me Notre Dame was on CNN.

Does this controversy have the momentum to last two months? Pro-life groups will certainly try their best. Everyone here has a viewpoint on the Obama drama.

My favorite opinion of the day came in a letter to the editor published in Notre Dame's student newspaper, The Observer. The author of the letter is a student at Saint Mary's, the all-women college across the street from Notre Dame, who asked whether the Notre Dame "administration considered the impact such an important political figurehead will have on the travel plans of the other schools graduating that weekend."

I imagine potential traffic congestion is the last thing Jenkins is thinking about this week.

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