Leading Archbishop: Notre Dame's Plans to Honor Obama a 'Scandal'

( [email protected] ) May 09, 2009 06:18 AM EDT

A high-ranking bishop who heads the Vatican's supreme court said Friday that the decision by Notre Dame University to honor President Obama at its upcoming commencement ceremony is a scandal.

Archbishop Raymond Burke, the first American to lead the Vatican supreme court, told attendants at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast that Catholics should not honor those who have publicly violated "moral law."

"The proposed granting of an honorary doctorate at Notre Dame University to a president who so aggressively advocates an anti-life and anti-family agenda is rightly the source of the greatest scandal," Burke told the crowd at the Washington D.C. event.

The comments by Burke, who formerly led the Archdiocese of St. Louis, add to the intensifying protest by Catholics and pro-life advocates over Notre Dame's decision to allow Obama to deliver the commencement speech and receive an honorary doctor of laws degree at the May 17 event.

Over the past two months, at least 60 Catholic bishops have made public statements denouncing the invite. Some 354,000 people have also signed petitions against the president's appearance and honor at notredamescandal.com.

Their main argument is that the school's decision to honor Obama violates the a directive issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in 2004 which reads: "The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."

In his speech, Burke brought up several Obama administration decisions that other bishops have cited in their opposition, saying the policies go against "the fundamental society that is the family."

He pointed to the president's repeal of the Mexico City Policy, support for the Freedom of Choice Act and rollback of conscience protections for healthcare workers.

"With unparalleled arrogance, our nation is choosing to renounce its foundations," Burke said.

An outspoken opponent of pro-abortion Catholic politicians, Burke made headlines in 2004 when he said he would deny Communion to then-Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.

On Friday, he also slammed the confirmation of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic who supports abortion rights, as "the deepest embarrassment to Catholics."

A poll released this week found that 52 percent of Americans believe Notre Dame should have followed the USCCB's guidelines and not award Obama the honorary degree. The survey, conducted by Rasmussen Reports, showed that U.S. Catholics oppose the awarding of the degree 60 to 20 percent. Sixty-six percent of evangelical Christians share that view along with 52 percent of other Protestants.

The demands from protesters sounding off on the invite have varied. Some have asked that the school rescind its offer of an honorary degree to Obama while others have called for a withdrawal of the confirmed invitation itself. A few have gone as far as called for an outright firing of the Rev. John Jenkins, the university's president, for his decision to permit the invitation.

Jenkins has said that the university meant to honor Obama as an "inspiring leader," and his invitation does not mean that the university accepts all his positions.

ND Response, a coalition of campus students groups formed in response to the invite, plans to hold prayer rallies and vigils during the weekend of commencement to affirm the school's Catholic identity and sanctity of life.

Some pro-life activists have made an early start on demonstrations. On Friday, a group of 21 protesters led by former Republican presidential candidate Alan Keyes reportedly walked on campus with baby carriages carrying dolls covered with stage blood. They were arrested on trespassing charges. Keyes also plans to be arrested on the day of the commencement.

Obama will speak at the University of Notre Dame’s 164th University Commencement Ceremony, which begins 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, May 17 at the campus' Joyce Center. He will be the ninth U.S. President to be awarded an honorary degree by the university and the sixth to be the commencement speaker.