By Kathleen Gilbert

SOUTH BEND, Indiana, May 11, 2009 ( – The president of the Association of Catholic Colleges & Universities (ACCU) has sided with the University of Notre Dame’s president in stating that the U.S. bishops’ policy is unclear on whether Catholic institutions are forbidden from honoring non-Catholic pro-abortion politicians.  Meanwhile, the total of U.S. bishops condemning Notre Dame’s invitation to President Obama to speak and receive an honorary degree at next Sunday’s commencement ceremony has reached 74.

ACCU president Richard Yanikoski weighed in on a 2004 document by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Catholics in Political Life,” that has been at the center of the Notre Dame controversy.  The vast majority of U.S. bishops opposing the scandal, beginning with Notre Dame’s own Bishop John D’Arcy, have cited the USCCB policy as an injunction against honoring all pro-abortion politicians, whether Catholic or not.

The statement reads in part: “The Catholic community and 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.” 

“It is clear to me that there is a degree of ambiguity” in the bishops’ document, Yanikoski told the South Bend Tribune Sunday.

However, the association hasn’t taken an official position about the Notre Dame invitation, and Yanikoski also declined to offer his own opinion on the invitation.  “I believe there are people of good will on both sides of this issue,” said Yanikoski.  The University is a member of ACCU, and Notre Dame’s president, Rev. John Jenkins, serves on the association’s board.

In mid-April, the president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities told the National Catholic Reporter that he and the presidents of the group’s 28 member institutions had privately expressed support to Fr. Jenkins for the Obama invitation.

Meanwhile, two more bishops have recently added their names to the list of those opposing the invitation to Obama. 

The communications office of Bishop John Smith of Trenton, NJ told (LSN) Friday that he has pledged his support to Bishop D’Arcy, who has condemned the scandal and intends to boycott the ceremony.

“Bishop Smith has written to Bishop John M. D’Arcy … to express his support for the strong positions he has taken in defense of Church teaching, and the way that he has handled the matter concerning the Notre Dame commencement issue,” stated communications director Rayanne Bennett. 

Auxiliary Bishop Roger Gries of Cleveland, Ohio told LSN today that he also opposes Notre Dame’s decision.

“I don’t believe that a Catholic institution should give a platform to a person who is probably the most anti-life candidate, and holding the place that he holds,” said Bishop Gries.

“And giving him an honorary degree besides?  It doesn’t speak highly for those of us who want to protect life.”

Nearly 360,000 Catholics to date have signed a petition hosted by the Cardinal Newman Society against the Obama invitation (  Late last month Mary Ann Glendon, the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, turned down in protest the Laetare award she was due to receive at the same commencement. 

Judge John T. Noonan will give a speech in Glendon’s place, but as he is already a Laetare award recipient, the event will mark the first in which Notre Dame failed to bestow the prestigious honor since it was established in 1883, Notre Dame’s spokesman Dennis Brown told the Catholic News Service.

To see the list of bishops who have been confirmed as opposing the Notre Dame scandal:

See related coverage:

71: Wave of Episcopal Condemnation Continues into Final Week before ND Obama Honor

Counterstrike: Archbishop Emeritus, Jesuit Clergy Criticize Pro-Life Protests of ND’s Obama Honor

Mary Ann Glendon Refuses Notre Dame Honor over Obama Invitation – White House, Fr. Jenkins Respond