Catholics astir over Obama's speech at Notre Dame
Opposition to his appearance at Sunday's commencement puts new attention on Catholic sensibilities – and on the president's stance on abortion and stem-cell research.
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“One of the struggles that the bishops have today is that the political discourse is so intensified, so that any time the church is placed next to a political issue, the challenge is to figure out whether to engage and, secondly, how. It’s very, very difficult,” says Mr. Rosengarten, who is Catholic. “I think the bishops are saying, ‘We can tolerate a certain element of ambiguity about capital punishment and Iraq, but where we really have to make the nonnegotiable is [abortion].’ ”Skip to next paragraph
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The Notre Dame controversy is creating opportunities for Catholic advocacy groups to outline a number of disagreements with the president and Democratic lawmakers.
One is an antihate-crime bill, sponsored by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts and Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont, that some Catholics say will result in a priest being prosecuted if someone commits a hate crime as a consequence of a church teaching against, for instance, homosexuality.
Another was Obama’s pledge in early March to “make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology” regarding stem-cell research. That “was taken as special slap to religious groups,” says Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the US Bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.
“I do think some Catholics who voted for the president thinking he wasn’t really going to take that strong a stand against the church on life issues, some of those people have reasons to be disappointed,” says Mr. Doerflinger. “We have to see what more is coming.”
Some Catholics objected, too, when they learned that certain religious iconography was removed from the backdrop during Obama’s speech in April at Georgetown University in Washington, also a Catholic university.
Kinship with evangelicals
As Catholic groups raise concerns, they are finding an unlikely ally: Protestant evangelicals.
“The core values of the Catholic church are our core values,” says evangelical leader Lou Engle, who is considering showing up at Notre Dame on Sunday in support of Catholic protesters. “It’s amazing how a battle can bring together strange bedfellows.”
Whether Catholics will splinter further over politics remains to be seen. But Democrats risk losing at least some of the gains of the last election.
The Catholic League’s Ms. Fani says because Obama’s track record with Catholic leaders has started off on such shaky footing, “they’re not going along with the Obama administration.”
She adds: “And I don’t think that’s good for the Democratic Party.”