By Kathleen Gilbert

SOUTH BEND, Indiana, May 18, 2009 ( – Archbishop Charles Chaput and Bishop Robert Finn have both lambasted University of Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkin’s address at commencement on Sunday, the same ceremony at which President Obama spoke and was awarded an honorary degree. Chaput dismissed the speech, in which Jenkins praised the U.S. president on numerous counts and criticized those who in their “pride in self and contempt for others” “demonize” the opposition, as “embarassing,” and called the university’s decision to honor Obama “intellectual vanity.”

The university’s invitation to the U.S. president to speak at the ceremony received national attention after it was condemned by over 80 U.S. bishops and 360,000 petitioners. As president of the university, Fr. Jenkins has stood at the centre of the controversy, taking the majority of the heat for the scandal that has rocked the university to its foundations.
The furor culminated on Sunday with thousands of pro-life protesters lining the road to Notre Dame and rallying on the South Quad during the commencement. At least 39 pro-lifers were arrested for trespassing on Notre Dame’s campus.

In his speech introducing the U.S. president, Fr. Jenkins discussed the consequences of a world “torn by differences,” saying that “too often differences lead to pride in self and contempt for others, until two sides – taking opposing views of the same difference – demonize each other.”

Jenkins called on the graduates to pursue dialogue and ease “the hateful divisions between human beings.”  He asked, “Do we keep trying, with love and a generous spirit, to appeal to ethical principles that might be persuasive to others – or do we condemn those who differ with us for not seeing the truth that we see?”

Jenkins also praised President Obama for accepting the school’s invitation “though he knows well that we are fully supportive of Church teaching on the sanctity of human life, and we oppose his policies on abortion and embryonic stem cell research.”  “Others might have avoided this venue for that reason,” said Jenkins, “But President Obama is not someone who stops talking to those who differ with him.”

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver called Jenkins’ speech “embarrassing.”

“Most graduation speeches are a mix of piety and optimism designed to ease students smoothly into real life,” wrote Chaput in a column on the archdiocesan website.  “But only a rare few manage to be pious, optimistic, evasive, sad and damaging all at the same time.”

While Obama is “a sincere and able man” for whom “we have a duty to pray,” said Chaput, “We also have the duty to oppose him when he’s wrong on foundational issues like abortion, embryonic stem cell research and similar matters.” 

“And we also have the duty to avoid prostituting our Catholic identity by appeals to phony dialogue that mask an abdication of our moral witness,” he added.

Chaput took the university to task for ignoring the uproar the honor elicited from the Catholic community.  “There was no excuse – none, except intellectual vanity – for the university to persist in its course,” the archbishop said.  “And Father Jenkins compounded a bad original decision with evasive and disingenuous explanations to subsequently justify it.”

Chaput called Jenkins’ speech and Obama’s honorary degree “a fitting national bookend to a quarter century of softening Catholic witness in Catholic higher education.” 

“Together, they’ve given the next generation of Catholic leadership all the excuses they need to baptize their personal conveniences and ignore what it really demands to be ‘Catholic’ in the public square,” he said.  (To see Abp. Chaput’s full column:

Kansas City – St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn also discussed Fr. Jenkins’ speech, and questioned whether Jenkins’ pointed condemnation of “demonizing” rhetoric amounted to a jab against the more than 80 U.S. bishops who have criticized the Obama invitation.

“In the first part [of his speech] Fr. Jenkins himself uses a whole series of very, very hard words,” Finn said in an interview published on the diocese’s Catholic Key newspaper.  “He uses the words – division, pride, contempt, demonize, anger, distort, hateful, condemn, hostility. And one might wonder whether he uses these words as a kind of a caricature of the 60 to 70 bishops who have spoken out against his invitation.”

“This seems to be the way he sets up the President’s talk for him – to speak in a very negative way about anyone who appears to be contrary to the decision they made, and then to stress the primacy of dialogue, and then offer his admiration of the President,” said Bishop Finn.

“Dialogue is important, but the question is fairly raised, ‘May we negotiate about things that are intrinsic evils?’ and I think the answer is no.” (To see Bishop Finn’s interview with the Catholic Key:


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