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Examining Notre Dame Controversy

Bishop Sam G. Jacobs
Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, LA

Published in the Bayou Catholic, Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux

May 7, 2009

A number of years ago, the Bishops of the United States sent a directive to all the presidents of the Catholic Universities in the country not to honor or give a platform to those who are in public conflict with the moral and
faith teachings of the Catholic Church.

As you are aware from the media, Notre Dame University in South Bend, IN, has invited President Obama to give the commencement address at graduation and at the same time be awarded an honorary degree. This has caused a national uproar as well as religious reaction.

The bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend has declined to be present for what has been an annual commitment on his part. Other bishops, including myself, have written the president of the university to express our strong disapproval of his decision to offer this invitation.

President Obama has made it clear where he stands on such moral issues as abortion and embryonic stem cell research. He has issued executive orders which have undone federal limitations set by previous administrations.
While we respect the office of the president of the United States and the person, we do not agree with his policies and actions, especially when they are diametrically opposed to the moral teachings of the church and the fundamental Natural Law. As citizens we have a right to voice our opposition within the norms of the country’s civil laws.

At the same time, we have a right to deny any person a forum to promote his own agenda, when these are in contradiction to the teachings of the church. And if we are going to deny them a forum, we should certainly not honor them with any recognition or award.

We are not opposed to open debate but do not consider that a graduation address is the time or place for this to take place.

While we want to be in dialogue with public officials who hold opposing views, we still have a right and a duty as citizens and as religious leaders to publicly voice our disagreement with their views.

Let us continue to pray for our president, our congressional leaders, our judicial representatives and all those who hold public office. Let us always act in ways that are in compliance with our civil laws to the extent we can without jeopardizing our religious convictions. The separation of church and state was never envisioned by our founding fathers to be a one-sided principle, but one mutually beneficial to each.


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