By Kathleen Gilbert

NOTRE DAME, Indiana, April 8, 2009 ( – A group of priests with the Congregation of the Holy Cross (C.S.C.), the religious order that runs the University of Notre Dame, and four more U.S. bishops have issued their condemnation of Notre Dame’s decision to honor President Obama with an honorary law degree and an invitation to speak at the school’s May 17 commencement. 

Ten Holy Cross priests and Notre Dame alumni wrote a letter concerning the scandal to the University’s Observer newspaper yesterday, requesting that fellow C.S.C. member and University president Fr. John Jenkins “revisit this matter immediately” as “failure to do so will damage the integrity of the institution and detract from all the good work that occurs at Notre Dame and from the impressive labors of its many faithful students and professors.”  Both the local C.S.C. superior, and the superior general in Rome, have refused to condemn the invitation. 

Said the priests: “The University pursues a dangerous course when it allows itself to decide for and by itself what part of being a Catholic institution it will choose to embrace.”

The priests lamented “the fissure that the invitation … has opened between Notre Dame and its local ordinary,” and that the invitation “portends a distancing of Notre Dame from the Church.”

“Although undoubtedly unintended, the University administration’s decision portends a distancing of Notre Dame from the Church which is its lifeblood and the source of its identity and real strength,” said the priests.  “Such a distancing puts at risk the true soul of Notre Dame.” 

Archbishop Daniel Buechlein of Indianapolis, in a letter to Fr. Jenkins posted on the archdiocese’s website today, wrote: “I join my voice to the chorus of thousands of faithful Catholics around the United States, and those of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis in particular, who are appalled and embarrassed by your recent invitation to President Obama to address the 2009 graduates of Notre Dame.

“I was stunned and angered upon hearing the news of the invitation; in the end, I am among the thousands of good people who are profoundly saddened by it,” he wrote.  “There isn’t a single reason that would justify Catholic sponsorship of the president of our country, who is blatantly opposed to the Catholic Church’s doctrine on abortion and embryonic stem-cell research.

“You dishonor the reputation of the University of Notre Dame and, in effect, abdicate your prestigious reputation among Catholic universities everywhere,” the Archbishop concluded.  “Like other people of good faith, I await some action that indicates your regret concerning a truly wrong decision.”

Bishop Alexander Sample of Marquette, Michigan, the nation’s youngest bishop at 48, called the decision “unconscionable” in a statement published today.

“It is unconscionable to me that a Catholic university would bestow such an honor upon an individual who is so completely out of step with the Catholic Church’s teaching on the need to protect innocent human life in its most vulnerable forms, even if that individual holds the highest office in the land,” said Sample.  The bishop said he has written to Fr. Jenkins urging him to withdraw the invitation, “Because this has the potential to cause grave scandal to the faithful and weaken our united Catholic efforts in defense of life.”

“It saddens me beyond words that the great university named after Our Lady would bestow distinction and honor on a politician who would seek to expand threats to such innocent human life,” wrote Sample.  (To view Bp. Sample’s full comments:

Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore has said he was “disappointed and bewildered” by the decision, reports the Baltimore diocese’s Catholic Review newspaper.

In a March 26 letter, O’Brien told Fr. Jenkins that he “fully supports” the statement by Notre Dame’s own Bishop John D’Arcy, who announced his plan to boycott the ceremony and expressed dismay at the decision to invite Obama.

regret that [Bishop D’Arcy] must bear this personal affront from a university which he has so consistently and ardently supported this last quarter century,” Archbishop O’Brien wrote.  O’Brien also wrote a separate letter to Bishop D’Arcy thanking him “for your strong and noble stand in your effort to uphold the reputation of the University of Notre Dame as a thoroughly Catholic institution.”

In Friday’s edition of the Birmingham diocesan newspaper One Voice, Bishop Robert J. Baker published an article “to express my deep disappointment” over the Obama invite, which he called a “travesty.”

“That a Catholic school should publicly recognize a man who unashamedly promotes values clearly opposed to the Church’s teaching on the Gospel of Life is a travesty to the legacy of Catholic education,” said Baker, who concurred with Bishop Thomas Olmsted’s statement that the situation constituted “a public act of disobedience to the Bishops of the United States.”

Baker encouraged Catholics “to vigorously react to this situation through prayer,” as well as public witness on the day of commencement.

The bishops who have so far gone public with their disapproval of Notre Dame’s invitation of Obama (in alphabetical order) are:

1. Bishop John D’Arcy – Fort Wayne-South Bend, IN
2. Bishop Gregory Aymond – Austin, TX
3. Bishop Robert Baker – Birmingham, AL
4. Archbishop Daniel Buechlein, Indianapolis, IN
5. Archbishop Eusebius Beltran – Oklahoma City, OK
6. Auxiliary Bishop Oscar Cantú – San Antonio, TX
7. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo – Houston, TX
8. Archbishop Timothy Dolan – New York, NY
9. Bishop Thomas Doran – Rockford, IL
10. Auxiliary Bishop John Dougherty – Scranton, PA
11. Cardinal Francis George – Chicago, IL; President, USCCB
12. Archbishop José Gomez – San Antonio, TX
13. Bishop William Higi – Lafayette, IN
14. Archbishop Alfred Hughs – New Orleans, LA
15. Bishop Jerome Listecki – La Crosse, WI
16. Bishop William E. Lori – Bridgeport, CT
17. Bishop Robert Lynch – St. Petersburg, FL
18. Bishop Joseph Martino – Scranton, PA
19. Bishop Charles Morlino – Madison, WI
20. Bishop George Murry – Youngstown, OH
21. Archbishop John J. Myers – Newark, NJ
22. Bishop R. Walker Nickless – Sioux City, IA
23. Archbishop John C. Nienstedt – St. Paul-Minneapolis, MD
24. Archbishop Edwin O’Brien, Baltimore, MD
25. Bishop Thomas Olmsted – Phoenix, AZ
26. Bishop Kevin Rhoades – Harrisburg
27. Bishop Alexander Sample – Marquette, MI
28. Bishop Edward J. Slattery – Tulsa, OK
29. Bishop Anthony Taylor – Little Rock, AR

See related coverage:

Seven More U.S. Bishops Make 24 Against Notre Dame Scandal

Notre Dame’s Bishop Will Not Attend Obama-Honoring Graduation, Criticizes University’s Decision

Notre Dame Faces Groundswell of Outrage after Announcing Plan to Honor Obama

Notre Dame President: School “Honored” by Obama’s Acceptance to Speak and Receive Honorary Degree

Catholic Notre Dame University to Give Obama Honorary Degree on May 17, Against USCCB Policy