By Kathleen Gilbert

NOTRE DAME, Indiana, April 14, 2009 ( – As the number of American Catholic bishops, clergy, and laity condemning the University of Notre Dame’s decision to honor President Obama continues to grow, one retired archbishop has criticized the pro-life backlash against the scandal.  The president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities has also criticized the condemnations and expressed his support for Notre Dame for honoring the president. 

Notre Dame stirred up a national controversy after the university announced that Obama, called the “most pro-abortion president in history” by numerous pro-life advocates, had accepted an invitation to give the commencement address and receive an honorary doctorate of law on May 17.

Retired San Francisco Archbishop John R. Quinn wrote an article for the March 30 edition of the Jesuit periodical America, in which he questioned the outcome of calls to revoke the invitation and warned that the negative feedback risks “public embarrassment” for the President.

“What if the president is forced to back out of his appearance at Notre Dame either because he withdraws or the university withdraws its invitation?” asked Quinn.  “If this happens, will that further the pro-life effort in our country?” 

The archbishop emeritus also wondered, “If the president is forced to withdraw, will that bring about fewer abortions in the United States?”

Quinn also questioned whether a turnaround would be received as a way to “link the church with racist and other extremist elements in our country.” 

“Will the banishment of the first African-American president from Catholic university campuses be seen as grossly insensitive to the heritage of racial hatred which has burdened our country for far too long?” he mused.

“We must step back and consider the limitations – prudential, moral and political – on the role of bishops in public issues,” wrote Quinn.  “We must weigh very seriously the consequences if the American bishops are seen as the agents of the public embarrassment of the newly elected president by forcing him to withdraw from an appearance at a distinguished Catholic university.”

The Archbishop also expressed confidence in Obama’s character. “The president has given ample evidence that he is a man of good will, of keen intelligence, desirous of listening and capable of weighing seriously other views,” he wrote. 

In addition, the president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities told the National Catholic Reporter yesterday that he and the presidents of the association’s 28 member institutions have privately expressed support to University president Fr. John Jenkins for the invitation.

Jesuit Fr. Charles Currie said that he and other members “have been talking to individual bishops to see if we can’t lower the volume and lessen the heat of the discussion.”

“I think that the bishops have the responsibility to protect the faith of their folks, and so I think this is the kind of thing that really has to be talked out in a conversation between bishops and university presidents. We have to raise the level of the dialogue beyond condemnations,” he said.

See recent coverage:

Bishops of Knoxville and Palm Beach Continue String of ND Scandal Condemnations

ND Bishop Clarifies: Demonstrate Sure, But Don’t Disrupt Graduation

Canon Lawyer: Notre Dame Prez Reasoning “Too Bizarre for Words”