With the backing of outraged pro-life Catholics, a coalition of student groups at the University of Notre Dame will hold a prayer rally on Palm Sunday to protest the school's invitation to President Barack Obama to be the commencement speaker and to receive an honorary doctor of laws degree.
The coalition of a dozen on-campus student groups, Notre Dame Response, plans to hold a public demonstration in front of the campus' main building beginning at 2 p.m. The students have invited pro-life attorney Harold Cassidy, who will argue how abortion violates the rights, interests and health of women.
Organizers behind the rally are demanding the university withdraw its invitation to the president, who agreed last month to speak at the commencement on May 17. They say Obama should not be honored by the Catholic institution when his decisions have shown disregard for Catholic teachings on the sanctity and dignity of all human life.
In a statement earlier this week, ND Response said it hopes the rally will remind the university community to "celebrate its Catholic character and to defend those non-negotiable principles for which Notre Dame stands, including an overarching recognition of the inherent dignity and value of all human life."
The Cardinal Newman Society, an organization dedicated to renewing and strengthening Catholic identity at America's 224 Catholic colleges and universities, on Friday encouraged its 20,000 members and signers of a petition that it's circulating to support Sunday's rally by offering a Rosary for their intentions.
According to CNS, events in the prayer rally include an invocation, an address by the ND Response chairman, a keynote speech, a Rosary, announcements, and a procession with flowers to the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes.
As of Saturday, more than 239,000 people have signed the CNS and CatholicVote.com-sponsored petition at NotreDameScandal.com urging university president Rev. John Jenkins to rescind the invitation to Obama.
The petition calls the decision to ask Obama to deliver the commencement address "an outrage and a scandal."
Despite the president's "admirable qualities," the petition states, "this honor comes on the heels of some of the most anti-life actions of any American president, including expanding federal funding for abortions and inviting taxpayer-funded research on stem cells from human embryos."
At least 19 US Catholic Bishops, including the head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), have also come out against the Notre Dame decision.
Newark Archbishop John J. Myers, among several Catholic bishops who this week joined the growing protest, said Wednesday he was pained to hear the news.
"When we extend honors to people who do not share our respect and reverence for life in all stages, and give them a prominent stage in our parishes, schools and other institutions, we unfortunately create the perception that we endorse their public positions on these issues," Myers expressed in a statement.
Bishop John D'Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, whose diocese covers Notre Dame, meanwhile, has decided not to attend the commencement ceremony.
Most of the bishops who have responded publicly to the Obama invite have cited the 2004 USCCB statement "Catholics in Political Life," which states in part, "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."
Notre Dame president Jenkins has said the university meant to honor Obama as an "inspiring leader," and his invitation does not mean that the university accepts all his positions.
"The invitation of President Obama to be our commencement speaker should in no way be taken as condoning or endorsing his positions on specific issues regarding the protection of life, such as abortion and embryonic stem-cell research," Jenkins told Notre Dame Observer, the university's daily newspaper.
In addition to Sunday's rally, ND Response has announced plans to launch a national Red Letter Campaign in response to the Obama invite. Supporters of the pro-life movement are being asked to send an empty red envelope to represent a child lost by abortion. The coalition plans to collect and deliver the envelopes to Jenkins, asking him to personally hand them to Obama at the commencement ceremony.