Sunday, May 17, 2009

Alumni protest Notre Dame stance by decreasing donations

Obama Honor Puts Notre Dame's Catholic Standing at Risk

Catholics and critics debate the lasting effect of President Obama's 2009 commencement address and the university's awarding of an honorary law degree.

May 15: Father Norman Weslin is carried on a blanket by Notre Dame police after his arrest during an anti-abortion protest. (AP)

By Joshua Rhett Miller
Sunday, May 17, 2009

The University of Notre Dame is taking a hit with President Obama's commencement invitation, not just to its reputation but its wallet.

The 44th president delivered the school's commencement address Sunday afternoon, as anti-abortion protesters demonstrated outside and inside the main event. The scrum attracted widespread media attention and threatened to overshadow other aspects of the Catholic institution's graduation ceremonies.

But long after Obama leaves South Bend, Catholics and members of the Notre Dame community will debate the president's 2009 commencement address and the university's awarding of an honorary law degree.

And the appearance could have a lasting effect on the school's standing in the Catholic community.

According to organizers of, a Web site critical of Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins' decision to host President Obama, more than 1,400 pledges have been received from alumni and donors promising to withhold future donations, a tally of nearly $14 million.

"Most of the donors were at least loosely aware of the university's trend away from its Catholic identity," spokesman David DiFranco said in a press release issued on Tuesday. "But the invitation of President Obama to speak and to receive an honorary degree, combined with the weak responses presented by Father Jenkins as a defense to those (who) have criticized the decision, is what drives most alumni to our site."

In "nearly all cases," DiFranco said, alumni who contacted the group had already decided to cease donating.

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