We are writing today to ask you to join us in signing a STATEMENT OF SUPPORT for excellence in Catholic Higher Education, and in particular for Fr. John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, and the Notre Dame community.
As you probably know, Fr. Jenkins and Notre Dame are under attack for their brave and hopeful decision to invite President Obama to deliver the university's 2009 Commencement address, a tradition that will make him the ninth US president to receive an honorary degree and the sixth to deliver the commencement oration. We believe that these attacks, originally launched by far-Right Catholic groups, are an implicitly political maneuver to damage President Obama's standing among the Catholic community, which decisively voted for him this past election.
Fr. Jenkins has declared that the invitation acknowledges the leadership and healing President Obama has provided in moving the nation past the deep wounds of racial inequality, as well as advancing a spectrum of social and economic justice issues at the heart of our faith. Not mentioned by President Obama's harsh critics is his new focus on strategies to reduce abortion. Fr. Jenkins has been clear that the invitation "should not be taken as condoning or endorsing President Obama's positions on specific issues regarding the protection of human life" but rather that his visit provides a "catalyst for dialogue" and a "basis for further positive engagement."
The attacks can be construed in a larger context as a litmus test for Catholic identity that is being used for partisan political ends. This threatens to undermine the tradition of excellence in Catholic education, known for instilling critical thinking and bringing faith and reason to bear on the moral issues facing our world. Many of us continue to bear the fruit of this experience in our lives today.
Today, there are divisive petitions circulating on-line, with hundreds of thousands of names, calling for Notre Dame to rescind its invitation to President Obama. We expect that these well-funded groups may reach more people than our effort. However, there is no doubt that the support we offer will touch the lives of the millions of people who cherish their Catholic education-- as well as those responsible for carrying on the tradition of excellence in Catholic education at Notre Dame and other Catholic institutions of higher learning.
We are asking you to do two things today.
- Sign the STATEMENT OF SUPPORT FOR NOTRE DAME AND ITS PRESIDENT, AND FOR CATHOLIC EDUCATIONAL EXCELLENCE. Other Catholic organizations have created petitions supporting Fr. Jenkins, and we encourage you to sign these as well so that Catholic voices in support of Notre Dame and Catholic education are heard.
- Forward this e-mail to as many friends and family whom you think would want to voice their support. In May, we will be sending the STATEMENT OF SUPPORT along with the names of all supporters, not only to Notre Dame, but also to the heads of the 244 other Catholic colleges throughout the nation.
Notre Dame, indeed Catholic education, is providing leadership in the Church and in the world by furthering a dialogue between President Obama and Catholics who may or may not agree with him on every issue. We are asking you to be a leader in supporting their efforts against those who would seek to turn back the clock on one of Catholicism's most enduring legacies.
With warm regards,
Patrick Whelan MD PhD
Kevin Hayes AIA (University of Notre Dame, 1983)