- The Washington Times - Friday, April 24, 2009

Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde has become the 46th Catholic bishop in the U.S. to publicly castigate the University of Notre Dame for inviting President Obama to give this year’s commencement speech and grant to him an honorary doctorate.

The invitation, which was announced March 20, has roiled America’s Catholics: apart from the unprecedented episcopal criticism, more than 330,000 people have signed an online petition asking the historic Catholic institution to rescind the invitation that would give a pro-choice president a coveted platform in a Catholic setting.

“If Notre Dame were hosting the president as a participant in a dialogue that included a full presentation of the Church’s position regarding the primacy of life, then the university’s action would be more understandable,” Bishop Loverde said in a statement made public Thursday.

“However, given the unique national prominence of Notre Dame among Catholic universities, the decision by a few administrators to give him a platform and honor on commencement day will be damaging to the Church, to the pro-life cause and, ultimately, to the university itself.”

The Rev. John Jenkins, the Notre Dame president who gave the invitation, has been most-harshly criticized by Bishop John D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, the diocese where the school is located.

Bishop D’Arcy took the lead, announcing that he would boycott commencement ceremonies for the first time in 25 years within days and later saying he was not notified of the invitation before the announcement by the university and the White House. Another dioceses began joining in opposition. The Diocese of Orlando, Fla., announced it would offer a Reparation Mass at the Cathedral of St. James on May 4 to repent for Notre Dame’s invitation.

On April 18, Bishop Robert Finn of the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese predicted Father Jenkins “will probably lose his job” over “this debacle.” Baltimore Archbishop Edwin O’Brien called the matter “a personal affront” to Bishop D’Arcy. Archbishop John Nienstedt of Minneapolis/St. Paul called the invitation a “travesty” and threatened to withhold future support from Notre Dame unless it’s rescinded.

Not all bishops have weighed in - most prominently Cardinals Roger Mahony of Los Angeles and Sean O’Malley of Boston. Spokesmen for both cardinals did not return calls for comment Thursday.

Bishop Loverde is the second of the region’s four bishops to have denounced the invite, following Archbishop O’Brien. A spokesman for Richmond Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo declined to comment.

As for Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, he thinks the invitation should not have been extended, but once given, should not be rescinded, according to spokeswoman Susan Gibbs.

Father Jenkins has fought back, appearing last week at a student town-hall meeting to say the university will not rescind its invitation.

“I think it’s unfortunate that the great event of President Obama coming to this campus has been a little clouded by that controversy, but we believe what we believe, and we’re clear on that,” he said in remarks published in the South Bend Tribune.

“But at the same time,” he continued as students cheered, “we recognize this remarkable leader and this remarkable person who has accomplished so much.”

When contacted Thursday, a Notre Dame spokeswoman declined to comment, instead referring back to Father Jenkins’ remarks last week.

Many of the bishops cite a 2004 U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops document called “Catholics in Public Life” that forbids Catholic institutions to give people “awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions” defying Catholic moral principles.

In a letter to Notre Dame’s board of trustees sent out earlier this month, Father Jenkins excused his apparent breach of the document by saying it only applies to Roman Catholic guests. The president is a member of the United Church of Christ, a liberal Protestant denomination.

Plus, Notre Dame has made it plain it disagrees with President Obama, Father Jenkins wrote, adding, “If we repeatedly and clearly state that we do not support the president on these issues, we cannot be understood to ‘suggest support.’ ”

Bishop D’Arcy responded vigorously Wednesday in an open letter saying Father Jenkins’ interpretations of the USCCB document “are simply wrong” and that he as the local bishop has the definitive right under church law to rule on any ambiguity about its meaning.

He also said a “terrible breach” had taken place “between Notre Dame and the church,” a breach that “cannot be allowed to continue.”

“Notre Dame and Father Jenkins must do their part if this healing is to take place,” he said, adding that his office has received 3,300 messages of “shock, dismay and outrage” about the invitation.

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