- The Washington Times - Monday, May 18, 2009

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Engaging the culture war directly, President Obama made a plea Sunday at the University of Notre Dame for both sides to talk to each other with “open hearts, open minds, fair-minded words” on abortion and other fiery issues.

Mr. Obama received a raucously enthusiastic greeting from graduates of America’s leading Roman Catholic university even as protesters outside - and a few inside - vocally objected to his pro-choice views, which stand in contrast with Catholic teaching.

Thanking the university for extending the invitation and for giving him an honorary degree, the president said there may never be common ground on tough issues, but said Americans must work to get beyond that.

“The fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature,” Mr. Obama said.

His 31-minute speech was interrupted early by a man shouting “abortion is murder,” but the student body shouted the man down, chanting Mr. Obama’s campaign slogan, “Yes, we can.” A few other interruptions followed, but Mr. Obama talked through them.

The university’s invitation to Mr. Obama set off a stark debate among Catholics, with dozens of bishops saying the university had forgotten its Catholic mission by awarding the president an honorary degree.

Some alumni have said they would end their contributions; pro-life leaders been arrested protesting at the university; and a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Mary Ann Glendon, declined the school’s prestigious Laetare Medal at this year’s ceremony.

But the university stuck to its invitation, and the school’s president, the Rev. John Jenkins, introduced Mr. Obama by saying that while the focus has been on Notre Dame’s offer, the president deserves praise for accepting it.

“If we want to extend courtesy, respect and love and enter into dialogue, then surely we can start by acknowledging what is honorable in others,” Father Jenkins said. “We welcome President Obama to Notre Dame, and we honor him for the qualities and accomplishments the American people admired in him when they elected him.”

More than 300 pro-life advocates demonstrated at the school’s front gate to protest the Obama honor. South Bend police told the Associated Press that 39 people were arrested Sunday - 37 on trespassing charges and two others on charges of trespassing and resisting arrest.

Bishop John D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, whose diocese includes Notre Dame, joined student protesters on the school’s south quadrangle rather than attend the commencement, as has been his annual custom for a quarter-century.

“It’s certainly the place for the bishop to be here. There’s no doubt about that,” said Bishop D’Arcy, who was the first bishop to criticize Notre Dame over the invitation, paving the way for almost 80 others to do so. “All of you here today are heroes, and I’m proud to stand with you.”

Mr. Obama saw some of the protests up close. His limousine on the way from Notre Dame back to South Bend Regional Airport passed several dozen protesters shouting and holding signs, including pictures of fetuses and one that said “Notre Dame spiritually sold out.”

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