His Excellency Most Rev. Alfred Hughes, Archbishop of New Orleans, has this to say to Fr. Jenkins of Notre Shame.
Dear Father Jenkins:
I write to you with a heavy heart after the announcement that the University of Notre Dame has invited President Barack Obama to deliver the commencement address and receive an honorary degree. I fail to see how the decision to invite him corresponds with the decision taken by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops with regard to the providing of honors and recognition to public figures who take positions and promote policies that are in direct opposition to the fundamental truths rooted in universal natural law and presented in Catholic Church teaching.
Many of us recognize that President Obama brings unique gifts to his role as President at this crucial time in our history. He obviously has a gift for communication. He also seems to seek practical solutions to the huge problems that face our country. His election provides an historic moment for our country in that the last hurdle for African Americans, who have struggled so hard to experience dignity and opportunity, are represented now in the presidency. We all want him to succeed.
But dignity and equality belong also to our unborn brothers and sisters. We cannot compromise our Church’s clear and unflagging opposition to abortion and embryonic stem cell research by providing honors and a platform for those who deny the humanity and dignity of the most frail creatures in our midst. Nor can we accept the denial of conscience protection in the delivery of health or social services. I respect the office of the President of the United States. I pray for him. As Catholics we need to enter into civil debate with him on the fundamental issues on which we disagree. We work with him on those issues with which we agree. But we do not supply a platform or grant an honor to someone who not only is so wrong on such a fundamental issue but is aggressively pursuing policies which exclude the human rights of the unborn.
The University of Notre Dame used to be the flagship Catholic university in the United States. I regret that we are not experiencing that leadership and integrity. I know that Bishop D’Arcy has worked with you to address this and other issues. I want this letter to express support for his efforts.
As indicated at the beginning of this letter I write with a heavy heart. I have appreciated the wonderful collaborative efforts which the University of Notre Dame has offered to this archdiocese and is planning for the future. I hope that these can continue to move forward in a fruitful way. But our common efforts to offer education, healthcare and social services to those in need must be premised upon a respect for the right to life of all human beings. God grant us the grace to serve the truth together.
Sincerely in the Lord,
Most Reverend Alfred C. Hughes
Archbishop of New Orleans