- (Photo: AP / Gerald Herbert)
Following weeks of protests and outcries, President Barack Obama stepped onto the platform at the University of Notre Dame acknowledging the controversy around his invitation.
Addressing the abortion debate head on, Obama conceded that at some level, the views of the pro-life and pro-choice camps are "irreconcilable" and that they cannot "fudge" the debate no matter how much they may want to.
"Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction," he said Sunday at the South Bend, Ind., campus. "But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature."
A few times during Obama's commencement speech, a Catholic shouted "abortion is murder!" and "stop killing our babies!" from various parts of the auditorium before being escorted out.
The disrupters received boos from the graduating class which had enthusiastically welcomed the president to the stage.
A group of seniors less enthusiastic toward his visit held a prayer vigil and peaceful protests elsewhere on campus. They refused to attend their own graduation ceremony in order to stand up for the pro-life position and oppose the Roman Catholic university's decision to honor the pro-choice president.
At the school's front gate, meanwhile, nearly 40 protesters were arrested on trespassing charges.
Anti-abortion activist Randall Terry said in a statement, "This entire debacle of Notre Dame has been an act of defiance to the Church, and betrayal of the babies who are dying from abortion. We grieve that this speech ever took place, and that the local bishop did not do all he could do to stop this from happening."
The university's president, the Rev. John Jenkins, has been under much heat over the invitation extended to Obama. He told the graduating class on Sunday that the world they are entering "is torn by division" and "fixed on its differences."
Seeking to foster dialogue with all people, Jenkins said, "We will listen to all views, and always bear witness for what we believe."
And while the controversy has largely focused on the university's decision to invite and honor Obama, Jenkins directed attention to Obama's decision to accept.
"President Obama has come to Notre Dame, though he knows well that we are fully supportive of Church teaching on the sanctity of human life, and we oppose his policies on abortion and embryonic stem cell research," he said. "Others might have avoided this venue for that reason. But President Obama is not someone who stops talking to those who differ with him."
"Mr. President: This is a principle we share."
Amid ongoing debates, Obama encouraged the seniors to hold firm to their faith and not be afraid to speak their mind when their values are at stake. At the same time, he called for "open hearts, open minds, [and] fair-minded words."
"[W]e must find a way to reconcile our ever-shrinking world with its ever-growing diversity – diversity of thought, of culture, and of belief. In short, we must find a way to live together as one human family," he said.