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By Kathleen Gilbert

NOTRE DAME, Indiana, April 9, 2009 ( – A former ambassador to the Vatican has criticized the University of Notre Dame’s decision to honor President Obama by inviting him to deliver the school’s commencement address and to receive an honorary law degree. The former ambassador noted, however, that the scandal will likely serve to “wake Catholics up” to the impact of pro-abortion celebrities on Catholic culture.  At the same time, the founder of the Acton Institute, the influential Rev. Robert Sirico, a prominent Catholic priest and writer, has expressed his “shame and sorrow” over the invitation by sending back a statue of Mary given to him by the University. 

On FOX News’ “Hannity” show April 3, Jim Nicholson, former secretary of Veterans Affairs and former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, told host Sean Hannity that while he considered University president Fr. John Jenkins “a fine man,” he agreed with U.S. bishops who concluded Notre Dame “made a grievous error and it’s an embarrassment to themselves and the Church.”

“I mean nothing, nothing is more fundamentally important to Catholic doctrine today than the sanctity of life, and this president who has a lot of attributes and has created a lot of excitement being the first African-American president and so forth has just had an assault, an onslaught on life the two months he’s been in office,” said Nicholson.

“I think that may be one of the redeeming results of this is that it’s going to kind of wake Catholics up,” he added. 

Nicholson also conjectured that the honor might have been a political move on the part of Obama to ingratiate himself with the Catholic community in the wake of his anti-life agenda.  “You know, there’s 70 million Catholics in this country, and 55 percent of those that have voted for President Obama, and he’s done nothing since he’s been president but to stick it right into their eye, and I think frankly that he may have asked Notre Dame for this venue to speak to this commencement,” he said, adding that he doesn’t “know that for sure.”

“I think it [the decision] was a miscalculation. I think he wanted to go there to salve what some have felt is offensive behavior to Catholics, but there’s a great outrage,” said Nicholson.  “I think they [Notre Dame] are getting a lot more pushback from this than they anticipated, and I think it’s aroused sort of the Catholic nation.”

Rev. Robert Sirico, a prominent Catholic priest, writer, and founder of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, posted on the Acton Institute’s blog March 27 his letter beseeching University President Fr. John Jenkins to reverse the decision. 

“I feel compelled to write to you as a brother priest to express my own dismay at this decision which I see as dangerous for Notre Dame, for the Church, for this country, and frankly Father, for your own soul,” wrote Sirico.

Sirico said he would to return a statue of the Lladro Blessed Mother he had been offered as a gift after his latest speech at Notre Dame, in protest of the decision.

“I am returning this statue to your office because what once evoked a pleasant memory of a venerable Catholic institution now evokes shame and sorrow,” he wrote, adding the statue “is simply too painful a reminder of the damage and scandal Notre Dame has brought to the Church and the cause of human life in this decision.”

“This is not a matter of abortion (I presume we agree on how evil it is); nor is it about free speech (you could have invited the p