INDIANAPOLIS — The Roman Catholic bishop whose diocese includes the University of Notre Dame says he will boycott President Barack Obama's commencement speech at the Catholic school because Obama's policies on stem cell research and abortion run counter to church teaching.
Bishop John D'Arcy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend said in a statement Tuesday that Obama's recent decision to federally fund embryonic stem cell research "has now placed in public policy ... his long-stated unwillingness to hold human life sacred."
"While claiming to separate politics from science, he has in fact separated science from ethics and has brought the American government, for the first time in history, into supporting direct destruction of innocent human life," D'Arcy said.
Obama has said the decision was aimed at easing human suffering.
The Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame's president, said Monday that the invitation for the May 17 event did not mean the university supports all of Obama's positions. A school spokesman, Dennis Brown, said he saw no circumstances under which it would rescind the invitation.
The White House issued a statement Tuesday saying Obama welcomes the "spirit of debate and healthy disagreement on important issues."
"While he is honored to have the support of millions of people of all faiths, including Catholics with their rich tradition of recognizing the dignity of people, he does not govern with the expectation that everyone sees eye to eye with him on every position," the statement said.
D'Arcy's boycott comes 25 years after former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo gave a speech at Notre Dame in which he argued that Catholic politicians like himself could oppose abortion without trying to outlaw it. Cuomo said bishops shouldn't try to make their anti-abortion sentiments the law of the land until they had convinced their own flocks to stop having abortions.
Besides the embryonic stem cell research funding policy, Obama has lifted restrictions on federal funding of international family planning groups that perform abortions or provide information about them. However, he has said his Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships would make it a priority to help reduce the abortion rate.
"As a Catholic University, Notre Dame must ask itself, if by this decision it has chosen prestige over truth," D'Arcy said.
Obama will be the ninth U.S. president to receive an honorary degree from Notre Dame and the sixth sitting president to address graduates. Other commencement speakers have included Dwight Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
D'Arcy announced his boycott on the same day that a spokesman said Evansville Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger would boycott Vanderburgh County Right to Life's annual dinner because keynote speaker and Republican National Chairman Michael Steele said in a recent magazine interview that abortion was "an individual choice." He later clarified that he opposes abortion and believes the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion should be overturned.
Gettelfinger said abortion opponents should remain unequivocal in stating those beliefs.
Diocese spokesman Paul Leingang said the bishop would break with recent practice and stay away from the April 16 banquet.
A message left by The Associated Press with a Republican National Committee spokesman seeking comment from Steele was not immediately returned.