Tuesday, May 5, 2009



This letter is addressed to the President of the United States, Barack Obama, and to the president of Notre Dame University, Father John Jenkins. It is written in response to the fact that Father Jenkins has invited Barack Obama to be Notre Dame’s Commencement speaker on May 17, 2009, at which time the university will bestow on him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

Father Jenkins, what you have done is in direct violation of the U.S. Bishops 2004 document on Catholics in Public Life, which states that Catholic institutions are not to bestow honors on, or provide speaking platforms to, anyone who stands in public opposition to the Church’s moral doctrines, particularly those which defend the sanctity of human life from conception until natural death. The prestige that the president will lend to your commencement is not sufficient reason to disregard these principles. There are numerous prominent public figures distinguished for their moral rectitude and record of public service from which you could have drawn.

Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago and current president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has urged faithful Catholics to “do what you are supposed to be doing: to call, to email, to write letters, to express what’s in your heart about this.”

By now, you have already heard from dozens of bishops, presidents of other Catholic universities, numerous alumni, and well over a 325,000 people across the nation, speaking against the action you have taken. Surely their collective voice has made it clear that they consider your action to be scandalously inconsistent with Notre Dame’s symbolic mission to showcase how Catholic faith can positively influence modern life and culture. Why have you refused to meet with twelve university student groups, who have asked to talk with you about your choice?

I join my voice to this growing chorus of protesters, and I encourage Valley Catholics to express what is in their hearts to you, Father Jenkins, by calling you at (574) 631-5000, faxing you at (574) 631-2770, emailing you at president@nd.edu, or mailing a personal letter to you at 400 Main Building, Notre Dame, IN 46556.

Father Jenkins, I pray that you use your office not only to maintain and enhance the academic excellence of the university, but also and above all to preserve and promote Notre Dame’s Catholic identity and mission.

Mr. Obama, I joined in our nation’s celebration of the historic significance of your election to the presidency, and did so with a glad heart. I support you fully in your efforts to assist our nation’s poor, and to improve our relations with other nations. In particular, I thank you for putting an end to harsh interrogation techniques that have rightly been classified in the past as torture. Such behavior is beneath our dignity as a nation; it is intrinsically wrong to subject any human being to torment simply on the utilitarian argument that good may possibly follow.

At the same time, I recognized that there is a deep divide between you and the majority of Americans on the paramount moral issue of our time: the right to life vs. the claimed right to abortion. A consistent ethic of life requires us to protect the sanctity of every human life from conception until natural death!

In the short time you have been in office, you have taken a number of steps that have been inconsistent with an ethic of life. You have rescinded the "Mexico City policy" and authorized the use of our tax dollars to fund international groups that promote abortion around the world. You have begun to eliminate the "conscience clause" that protects doctors and nurses from being forced to take part in abortions. You have provided federal funding for embryonic stem cell research that involves the killing of human beings at their embryonic stage of development.

You have renewed funding for the United Nations group (UNFPA) that helped China enforce its "one child" policy of forced sterilization and forced abortions. You promised to sign into law the Freedom of Choice Act, which is meant to strike down every pro-life law enacted in the various states, including laws which require notification (but not consent) of the parents of a minor seeking an abortion, mandatory 24-hour waiting periods, mandatory dissemination of information on the physical and emotional risks a woman incurs in having an abortion, and the provision of information on alternatives to abortion.

Mr. President, less than 18 months ago, Pope Benedict XVI canceled a speaking engagement at La Sapienza University in Rome, simply because some of the students reacted negatively to the announcement of his coming. Rather than risk throwing the university into turmoil, the pope humbly withdrew. I respectfully ask you to consider freely withdrawing your commitment to speak at Notre Dame University, for the same reason.

I offer you my prayers, and I pledge my cooperation on all that you do to foster the well-being of our people and the good of the community of nations. I pray for peace and unity in our nation, conscious of the fact that we can never know peace or unity in a culture of death, but only in a culture that celebrates, promotes, and protects every human life at every stage of its development. I ask you not to exclude from the protection of law the most defenseless members of our national family – the unborn. May God grant you strength and wisdom to do the right thing.

+Bishop Raymundo J. Peña

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