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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

NOTRE DAME COMMENCEMENT

Appearance Raises Hackles

More than 87,000 names have been added to an online petition launched by a conservative Catholic group calling for the University of Notre Dame to rescind its invitation to President Obama to speak at its May 17 commencement ceremony.

The petition calls it "an outrage and a scandal" that Notre Dame, one of the nation's leading Catholic universities, would honor Obama. The petition says the president's support for abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research "directly contradict fundamental Catholic teachings on life and marriage."

The petition drive was started by the Cardinal Newman Society, a Virginia-based group that promotes orthodoxy at Catholic colleges and universities. The group launched a Web site, NotreDameScandal.com, with the petition on Friday, shortly after the White House and Notre Dame announced that the president would be speaking at the graduation, where he also will be given an honorary degree.

"His abortion stance, his views on stem cell research, his threat to remove conscience protections for Catholic health-care workers and his support of the Freedom of Choice Act would essentially nullify pro-life protections that have been legislated" across the country, said Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society.

The petition drive has been joined by several Notre Dame campus organizations, as well as other groups, including CatholicVote.org, a group that promotes "a culture of life."

The Rev. John I. Jenkins, Notre Dame's president, seemed unmoved by the burgeoning protest. He issued a statement calling Obama "an inspiring leader" who is courageously grappling with the huge challenges confronting the country. Further, he called Obama and a "healer" who has "spoken eloquently and movingly about race in this nation."

"The invitation to President Obama to be our commencement speaker should not be taken as condoning or endorsing his positions on specific issues regarding the protection of human life, including abortion and embryonic stem cell research," the statement said. "Yet, we see his visit as a basis for further positive engagement."

-- Michael A. Fletcher

ONLINE Q&A WITH OBAMA

President Taking Questions

Late Tuesday afternoon, the White House launched an interactive Web page where users can post questions for the president on the economy and vote the submitted questions up or down. The "Open for Questions" page will continue taking questions until Thursday, when President Obama will go online to answer those that received the most votes on WhiteHouse.gov.

It's unclear how long Obama will be online on Thursday and how many questions he will answer. But this much is clear: A herd of organized (and unorganized) online Web users will stampede WhiteHouse.gov and make it a highly trafficked political hub over the next 48 hours. This is the kind of two-way conversation that the online masses have been waiting for from Obama.

About 30 minutes after a White House spokesman announced the launch of "Open for Questions" in an e-mail, 48 people had submitted 25 questions and cast 219 votes. To participate, users are asked to register and sign up on the site and read a 399-word "terms of service" agreement.

"One of my priorities as president is opening up the White House to the American people, so folks can understand what we're up to and have a chance to participate themselves," Obama said in a nearly-90-second video message announcing the question time. Obama called the effort "an experiment," echoing the sentiment of Macon Phillips, the White House new-media director.

-- Jose Antonio Vargas


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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