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J. Shane Mercer, Published April 08 2009

Fargo Bishop Aquila condemns Notre Dame's invitation to Obama

In a letter released Tuesday, the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Fargo condemned the University of Notre Dame’s decision to invite President Barack Obama to speak at the school’s May commencement and to award Obama an honorary degree.

In the April 5 letter to Notre Dame President John Jenkins, Bishop Samuel Aquila wrote that Obama “clearly rejects the truth about human dignity through his constant support of a so called ‘right to abortion.’ He also tolerates the inexcusable act of letting aborted children die who are born alive. He promotes an intrinsic evil which must always be resisted by a just and civil society.”

Aquila also wrote about Obama, “Your judgment in this matter is seriously flawed, with damaging consequences, for ‘… you are not on the side of God, but of men,’ ” a reference to the biblical passage Matthew 16:23.

The letter was, in part, a result of numerous expressions of concern from parishioners in the diocese about the university’s decision, Aquila said.

Tim Mathern – a North Dakota state senator and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Catholic – was on hand when Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean came to Fargo to stump for Obama last fall.

While not privy to the details about Notre Dame’s Obama invitation or the degree he was to receive, Mathern said, “Well, I think the bishop has a point of view that’s important for him to express.

“I happen to believe that Notre Dame is expressing another point of view, and Obama’s views on issues cover many topics, many policies – some that are consistent with Catholic teaching, some that are inconsistent,” Mathern said. “And I support those areas where he is consistent with Catholic teaching.

“And I think it’s just fine for a university like Notre Dame to express the role of a university and that is to have a fair range of discussion on issues,” he said.

There are about 86,000 Catholics in the Fargo Diocese, which covers the eastern half of North Dakota.

The full text of Aquila’s letter is available at the diocese Web site, www.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734