While conservative Catholics protest the invitation of a pro-choice president to speak at the University of Notre Dame, a new poll shows that many Catholics are not on the same page as them when it comes to moral issues.
According to a Gallup poll released Monday, 40 percent of Catholics say abortion is morally acceptable. When compared to non-Catholics, there is almost no difference in opinion with 41 percent saying the same.
Moreover, 63 percent of Catholics and 62 percent of non-Catholics find embryonic stem cell research morally acceptable.
The poll is released as over 200,000 people have added their signatures to an online petition against President Barack Obama giving the commencement address at one of the nation's premiere Catholic universities in May.
The petition was launched by Cardinal Newman Society (CNS), which is dedicated to strengthening Catholic identity at the nation's 224 Catholic colleges and universities.
"The president has been waging a campaign of human destruction with his policies, and abortion, and stem-cell research, and now trying to eliminate conscience protections for healthcare workers," said Patrick J. Reilly, president of CNS. "And in the meantime, Catholic institutions – in particular Catholic universities – have been very quick to abandon their Catholic mission for the sake of prestige. And this is probably the most prominent Catholic University hosting the most prominent leader of the Culture of Death."
Bishop John D'Arcy, the Roman Catholic Bishop of South Bend, Ind., announced that he will not attend the commencement ceremony, where Obama will also be given an honorary degree.
Findings from the Gallup Poll – conducted on a total of 3,022 adults in May 2006, May 2007, and May 2008 – show that the more "committed" Catholics, or those who attend church regularly, are more in line with the church's teachings than other Catholics. Only 24 percent of committed Catholics say abortion is morally acceptable compared to 52 percent of Catholics who do not attend church regularly.
However, over half of committed Catholics find embryonic stem cell research morally acceptable. Seventy percent of non-practicing Catholics agree.
Students, professors and alumni at the Notre Dame campus are split on Obama's invitation.
One student who opposes abortion is not against Obama speaking at the university's graduation.
"Commencement addresses are supposed to be optimistic: 'Go out in to the world and do good,'" said David Wilbur, a senior, according to the Associated Press. "He's not coming here to change us or try to make us be pro-choice."
Kenneth L. Woodward, a contributing editor at Newsweek and an alumnus of Notre Dame, is adamantly pro-life but supports Obama speaking at his alma mater, he said in a Monday commentary in The Washington Post.
"On the dais at Notre Dame, Obama will find a familiar face: Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon, Bush's ambassador to the Vatican, who will receive this year's Laetare Medal in part for her peerless defense of human life. It's important that the president hear her message as well as deliver his own," Woodward wrote. "It is equally important that this kind of engagement take place at a university devoted to both faith and reason. Where else but in a university setting should we expect this kind of principled presentation of issues?"
He added, "He will receive an honorary degree because it is the custom, not as a blessing on any of his decisions."
Catholic theologian George Weigel, a Pope John Paul II biographer, however argued, "Commencement is not an occasion for debate."
"Commencement is not an opportunity to set the foundations for a dialogue. Commencement and the award of an honorary degree is a statement on the part of the university this is a life worth emulating," Weigel said, according to AP.