Lay Catholics support Notre Dame honor for Obama

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While church fathers continue to come out against the University of Notre Dame for inviting President Barack Obama to commencement, ordinary Catholics support the university's decision by a margin of nearly 2-1, according to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Obama's support for abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research put him at odds with Catholic teaching. Nonetheless, Notre Dame has invited the president to speak and receive an honorary degree during commencement exercises Sunday.


The web site has counted 76 American bishops who have spoken out against Notre Dame since the invitation was announced. Baltimore Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien was among the first, writing to Notre Dame President John Jenkins in March that he was "disappointed and bewildered" by the invitation.

Locally, the controversy recalls the outcry that greeted the decision of Loyola College of Maryland to invite former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, another abortion rights supporter, to participate in commencement there in 2005.According to the Pew survey, 50 percent of Catholics polled between April 23 and 27 said Notre Dame was right to invite Obama. Twenty-eight percent said the school was wrong.


"These findings are consistent with Catholics' overall views of Obama: A majority voted from him in the 2009 presidential election and express approval of his performance in office thus far," Pew reports. "The new findings are also consistent with Catholics' views on abortion and embryonic stem cell research, with pluralities in the poll expressing support for each."

The survey noted a divide between more- and less-observant Catholics. Those who said they attended mass weekly said Notre Dame was wrong by a margin of 45 to 37 percent; those who attend less frequently said Notre Dame was right by a margin of 56 to 23 percent.

Asked about the controversy during his prime time press conference last month, Obama spoke of a White House task force that he said was working with groups on both sides of the abortion divide on ways to reduce "the number of unwanted pregnancies that result in women feeling compelled to get an abortion or at least considering getting an abortion."

"I believe that women should have the right to choose, but I think that the most important thing we can do to tamp down some of the anger surrounding this issue is to focus on those areas that we can agree on," he said. "And that's where I'm going to focus.