Sunday, 17 May 2009

Obama looks for common ground with Catholics

President Obama's commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame today has been surrounded by controversy, with some Catholics angry that a 'pro-choice' politician has been granted this honour. In fact, Obama's position is much more nuanced than his opponents allow. In common with leading Catholic Democrats such as Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi, he believes that abortion should be a rare occurrence but that the state shouldn't override a woman's right to choose. 

Not all Catholics oppose the Notre Dame invitation. Brennan Bolman, the class valedictorian and pro-life biology major who will share the stage with the President today, has said she believes that Obama practises Catholic values in his administration. A group of priests who worked with Obama on community projects in Chicago have spoken out in his support. Rev. Bill Stenzel said: 'He doesn't view abortion as a positive, good thing. It needs to be addressed in ways that can make a difference. His approach wouldn't be all that different than the approach we might take in any parish: How do we bring people together? I see him as committed to reducing the rate of abortion'.

Catholic historian James Carroll congratulates Notre Dame for taking a stand against fundamentalism and argues that Obama's 'already unfolding social and health programs, including support for impoverished women, will do more to reduce the number of abortions in America than the glibly pro-life George W. Bush ever did'. And Catholic author Sean Michael Winters has written the speech he thinks Obama ought to give at Notre Dame. Here's an extract:

I believe that common-sense proposals to try to reduce the abortion rate are the only available common ground. I believe that if we stop shouting at each other and listen to the women who are actually facing an unplanned pregnancy, we will find plenty of work to do to help them through a difficult chapter in their lives. I believe that if we as a nation and as a culture rally to the support of women facing crisis pregnancies we will both protect women's constitutional rights and promote what Pope John Paul II called 'The Gospel of Life'.

I believe that if we seek common ground on this most divisive of issues, it will be easier for us to work together on the other urgent moral tasks facing our nation. We must continue rebuilding our economy so that a day's work earns a just wage and that the dignity of work becomes the ethical foundation of our economy, not the mere glorification of profiteering which has turned Wall Street into a synonym for greed and worse. We must work together to bring peace to Iraq. We must work together to enact humane immigration reform that honours our nation's tradition of welcoming immigrants while securing the border from those who wish us ill. We must work together to protect the environment, to show ourselves to be good stewards of God's creation.

Catholic blogger David Gibson comments:

So is such an approach foolish to try? I suspect Obama can never win over his enemies, but I hope he will show greater grace and intelligence than than they, and if he does he will carry the day among the great majority disposed to agree with him.

Here's hoping.

There was a really good roundtable discussion of the Notre Dame affair on today's Meet the Press:

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And here's the actual speech (looks like it was a success):

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