Monday, May 4, 2009

Winona bishop joins clamor over Obama/Notre Dame

270 comments so far in the Star Tribune, so far the night of May 4, many ill-informed and virulently anti-Catholic.

The bishop of the Winona diocese has become the latest Catholic official to criticize the University of Notre Dame for inviting President Obama to the school's commencement ceremonies later this month.

"It might be a little too dramatic to say that Our Lady of the Golden Dome is hanging her head in shame," wrote the Rev. Bernard Harrington, "but there is no question that hundreds of thousands of 'loyal Irish' supporters are angered, dumbfounded and disappointed in this administration's decision."

Almost as soon as the White House announced in late March that Notre Dame would be one of the schools on his spring commencement tour, some Catholics began complaining about his policies on abortion and embryonic stem cell research.

By inviting Obama to speak and giving him an honorary degree, Notre Dame "is choosing to defy the bishops of the United States and turn its back on the Catholic community in its continual defense of the right-to-life," Harrington wrote. "It is hard to believe that the University of Notre Dame has chosen 'political rightness' over principle and truth."

Harrington has become the latest of at least 55 of the nation's bishops to publicly criticize the university for its decision to extend an invitation to Obama.

In a letter written last month to Notre Dame's president, the head of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis called Obama "anti-Catholic." Archbishop John Nienstedt called the decision to invite him "egregious" and a "travesty."

Since Harrington's letter hit the mailboxes of all of the Catholic households in the Winona diocese, the reaction has been muted, said spokeswoman Rose Hammes. "It's been split, with some supportive of him and others saying they wish he'd be more open to dialogue.

Nationally, it's been more polarizing, with no fewer 352,000 Catholics logging onto a website called "Notre Dame Scandal" and demanding that the school's president rescind his invitation.

At the same time, a poll conducted late last month by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that Catholics nationwide were slightly more in favor of the invitation to Obama than the public at large, with 54 percent agreeing with the invitation.

The White House has remained largely mum on the issue.

University officials have said Obama's appearance on May 17 is intended to honored him as an inspiring leader who broke a racial barrier -- not for his positions on abortion or stem cell research.

When he appears at the university on May 17, Obama will be the ninth president to be awarded an honorary degree by the Notre Dame and the sixth to be its commencement speaker. Star Tribune

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