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Obama at Notre Dame: A conversation begins

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Notre Dame, Ind.

Although Barack Obama was invited to speak at the University of Notre Dame’s commencement because of his historic victory as the first African-American president of the United States, he may be remembered for something even greater: beginning a civil conversation between supporters and opponents of legalized abortion in a speech that earned praise from those on both sides of the issue.

For all the news coverage of finger-wagging bishops, bussed-in protesters and Alan Keyes being dragged off in handcuffs, the bigger story at Notre Dame’s 164th commencement was the respectful tone, not only from the president of the country and the president of the university, but also from the majority of graduates and other Notre Dame students.

In the end, it was pretty much like any other graduation. Black-robed graduates posed with beaming parents for pictures in front of the Touchdown Jesus mosaic before the ceremony. Afterwards they ran up the stairs of the golden-domed Administration Building, smiling for even more pictures at the top. And they cheered their graduation speaker, who just happened to be the president of the United States.

Why was Obama ND visit 'Eloquence Incomplete'?

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As suggested in the my recent essay, the most obvious incompleteness: missing bishops.

But there is a deeper level of incompleteness: the million plus abortions every year in this country. The speech was wonderful, but the real work remains. President Obama understands that. I know the talented young men and women now staffing his Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships do too.

Do the street demonstrators fully appreciate the need for the practical? Some do -- especially those who volunteer hour after hour at pregnancy counseling centers. They see the real anxiety faced by a woman in poverty or a college coed confronting God's unexpected gift of life under circumstances or at a time when that gift overwhelms. Yet, far too many churchmen in America, though perhaps not Rome given the highly receptive reviews of the speech, have become so fixated on changing the law that the humanity of the woman gets lost in abstract argumentation.

Obama's singling out Bernardin, Hesburgh is message for us

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It is not a surprise that the media and most commentators have focused on what was evident to just about everyone present at the University of Notre Dame's Joyce Center for Sunday's graduation ceremonies and to those who subsequently read the full text of President Barack Obama's address to the graduates, their parents and special guests, and the faculty, and through them to the entire nation.

Obama called for achieving some measure of common ground on the highly charged abortion issue. He urged both sides in the debate to engage one another with "open hearts" and "open minds," and always to employ "fair-minded words," acknowledging all the while that "at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable."

Vatican notes Obamaís search for 'common ground'

VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican's official newspaper called President Obama's commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame May 17 part of his "search for common ground" with opponents of legalized abortion.

"The search for common ground: this seems to be the path chosen by the president of the United States, Barack Obama, to face the delicate question of abortion," said an unsigned article in the May 18 edition of L'Osservatore Romano.

Obama at Notre Dame: Incomplete Eloquence

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The presidents were there in splendid form; the bishops were not.

Three presidents stood upon the stage: Father Jenkins, the embodiment of academic integrity informed by faith; Father Hesburgh, Notre Dame’s president emeritus and civil rights champion, and Barack Obama, whose inauguration just months earlier was greeted with virtual national euphoria, but whose visit to campus was claimed to be “in defiance of church teaching.”

And the bishops? Sadly absent. Some, no doubt, honestly believed the President to be their antagonist. Most were silent. Notwithstanding repeated entreaties, the pastoral shepherds of the Church chose not to extend a simple pastoral blessing upon the graduates of the flagship Catholic university in America and their families.

God bless retired San Francisco Archbishop John Quinn, whose pension must be fully vested, since to my knowledge he alone conquered the intimidation of his peer group to praise President Obama for his “fine example of married life and the love and devotion to [his] children” as well as his “measured, thoughtful approach to issues of public concern. . . .”

Obama calls for understanding, respect in abortion debate

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President Barack Obama, speaking at Notre Dame University today, called for understanding on both sides of the abortion debate.

He told graduates at the South Bend, Indiana university that he knows the pro- and anti-abortion camps are "irreconcilable." But he says the debate must avoid "reducing those with differing views to caricature."

The following is a text of the president's speech as it was released by the White House May 17th

Thank you, Father Jenkins for that generous introduction. You are doing an outstanding job as president of this fine institution, and your continued and courageous commitment to honest, thoughtful dialogue is an inspiration to us all.

Good afternoon Father Hesburgh, Notre Dame trustees, faculty, family, friends, and the class of 2009. I am honored to be here today, and grateful to all of you for allowing me to be part of your graduation.
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Right wing warriors cause damage to the church

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Analysis
The images out of Notre Dame are similar to what transpired at Georgetown when President Obama spoke here: students were enthusiastic to hear from a president whose election was both a watershed moment in American history and a turn from the destructive and divisive politics of the recent past, while angry protesters at the gates denounced a betrayal of Georgetown's Catholic character.

If their apocalyptic shouts win no converts their cause, they are still quite successful in equating abortion with the sum total of Catholic concern about public life. The president had come to Georgetown to discuss his economic vision and policies. These were an enormous improvement over the market fundamentalism that has brought us to our current crisis and much closer to Catholic Social teaching, if not beyond critique. This central Catholic concern was once again obscured by what a colleague has called "the abortionification" of Catholicism.

Editorial: Partisanship and the pulpit

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Jesuit Fr. John Langan (see story) is an exceptionally clear thinker. He makes the necessary distinctions seem obvious.

“The bishops are certainly right to condemn the moral evil of abortion and to warn us against the individualism, selfishness and greed which have had such a devastating effect on American culture and family life as well as on our financial institutions,” Langan, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin professor of Catholic social thought at Georgetown University, told a Capitol Hill symposium last month. “But if they think they make their witness more credible and more effective by developing a quasi-excommunication of the Democratic Party [emphasis added] and by aligning themselves with politicians who think that combining pro-life slogans with American chauvinism and exercising American military power without regard to international criticism constitutes an adequate response to evil in the world, they are sadly mistaken.”

Langan hits the nail squarely.

Obama reveals task force to reduce abortions

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President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that he had formed a White House task force to work with pro-life and pro-choice groups to develop policies aimed at reducing the number of abortions in America.

He also sent a clear signal to his abortion critics that the Freedom of Choice Act, which would lift abortion restrictions and to which he offered support as a candidate for the presidency, is not a high legislative priority.

Pro-life groups, including many Catholic groups, have been critical of the Obama administration during its first 100 days for being insensitive to their causes.

The presidential task force remark marked the first time the Democratic president, who, during the campaign leading up to his election, had said he would work to reduce abortions, let it be known that such a group had been formed.

“I would like to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies that result in women feeling compelled to get an abortion, or at least considering getting an abortion,” the president said in a nationally televised press conference inside the White House, “particularly if we can reduce the number of teen pregnancies, which has started to spike up again.”

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