Biden passes on Notre Dame commencement speech amid backlash to abortion stance

President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden participates in a conference phone call with governors affected by a snowstorm in the Midwest and southwest Feb. 16, 2021, in the Oval Office of the White House. |

President Joe Biden passed on delivering the 2021 commencement address at the University of Notre Dame on Sunday as thousands of the Catholic institution's community members objected to the invitation over the president’s pro-abortion policies.

About 4,500 members of the Notre Dame community and others signed a petition urging the Notre Dame President John Jenkins not to invite the second Roman Catholic U.S. president. But the private university still requested Biden to deliver the address.

Sources from the White House told Catholic News Agency earlier this month that the 78-year-old could not attend the ceremony due to “scheduling.” 

Biden’s three consecutive predecessors or their vice presidents have addressed Notre Dame’s commencement in their first year in office — President George W. Bush in 2001, President Barack Obama in 2009 and Vice President Mike Pence in 2017.

The university’s finance executive and trustee, Jimmy Dunne, was asked to address the graduates.

“[Biden] rejects Church teachings on abortion, marriage, sex and gender, and is hostile to religious liberty,” the petition reads.

“He embraces the most pro-abortion and anti-religious liberty public policy program in history. The case against honoring him is immeasurably stronger than it was against honoring President [Barack] Obama, an action that alienated countless Catholics and brought upon Notre Dame the harsh criticism of 83 cardinals, archbishops and bishops.”

C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League, told The Washington Times that there was “unprecedented opposition to Obama receiving a degree from Notre Dame, so much so that the President of Notre Dame, Father Jenkins, actually walked in the National March for Life in D.C. afterwards.”

The petition pointed out that actions that Biden has already taken to increase access to abortion and those promised “will result in the killing of countless innocent unborn both here and abroad through federal funding of abortions and abortion organizations.”

“This is not hyperbole,” the petition reads. “It is demonstrable fact because of Biden’s lifting the bar against the flow of federal funds to both domestic and international Planned Parenthood and similar organizations. The calamity will assume truly harrowing proportions if Biden achieves his goal of providing direct federal funding of abortions.”

The Notre Dame commencement ceremony is no stranger to protests related to the involvement of national political figures. 

In 2017, there was some opposition to Vice President Mike Pence speaking at the ceremony as some graduating seniors walked out of the event in protest of policies the vice president pursued when he was governor of Indiana that they claimed targeted the most vulnerable.

Obama’s speech in 2009 also drew backlash from those concerned about his support for abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. Over 54,000 people backed an online petition calling for Notre Dame to rescind the invitation. But university officials stood firm on the invitation. 

The Catholic Church teaches that abortion is “gravely contrary to the moral law.” In a 2004 memo to then-Washington, D.C. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and Wilton Gregory, who served as Bishop of Belleville, Illinois, at the time, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who would later become Pope Benedict XVI, outlined the factors that determined an individual’s “worthiness to receive communion.”

“Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist,” he wrote.

“When ‘these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible,’ and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, ‘the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it,’” the memo continued. 

In 2019, a priest in South Carolina denied Biden communion as he campaigned in the state. 

According to a Pew poll conducted in March, 67% of Catholics disagreed with the idea that Biden should be denied communion. Meanwhile, 29% believed that his support for abortion should prevent him from receiving the Eucharist.

Fifty-five percent of Catholic Republicans and those who lean Republican said that Biden’s support for abortion should disqualify him from receiving communion. By comparison, 87% of Catholic Democrats and Catholics who lean Democrat felt otherwise.

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