Cardinal Dolan named Notre Dame’s 2013 commencement speaker

South Bend, Ind., Mar 7, 2013 / 12:08 am (CNA).- Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York will deliver the commencement address and receive an honorary degree at the University of Notre Dame’s graduation ceremony on May 19.

Cardinal Dolan is “a man of great intelligence and personal warmth, and a dedicated shepherd of the Church,” said Notre Dame president Father John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.

He explained in a March 6 statement that the university is “grateful” that the cardinal has accepted its invitation to celebrate the students’ graduation and to “provide them with words of wisdom as they set out into the world.”

The invitation to Cardinal Dolan comes four years after the university’s intensely controversial invitation to President Barack Obama to deliver the commencement address and receive an honorary degree at the May 2009 commencement.

Many pro-life advocates objected to granting university honors to a president deeply committed to legal abortion, and numerous bishops spoke out against the invitation.

In April 2009, then-Archbishop Dolan said the invitation to President Obama was a mistake and sent the wrong signal to students that the president is to be held up as a model. However, the archbishop also stressed the need to engage with politicians and others who support abortion.

Former Vatican ambassador Mary Ann Glendon declined the university’s Laetare Medal, which was to be awarded to her at the 2009 commencement. She cited the controversy between the university and the U.S. bishops, as well as her concern that honoring the president would encourage other Catholic institutions to ignore the bishops.

Opponents of the invitation to the president cited the U.S. bishops’ own instructions in a 2004 document on Catholics in political life. The bishops said that Catholic universities should not honor those who “act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles” and should not be given honors or platforms that would “suggest support for their actions.”

Following the controversy, Notre Dame launched several pro-life initiatives. It created a paid position of coordinator for university pro-life efforts and sought to expand support for pregnant women.

The university will now prepare to welcome Cardinal Dolan, who has been Archbishop of New York since 2009. Pope Benedict XVI made him a cardinal in 2012, and he is presently in Rome for the conclave to elect the next Pope.

The cardinal is also the current president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. During his time in this position, he has worked to defend the religious liberty of individuals and institutions from the recent federal contraception mandate.

Issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, the mandate requires employers and schools to offer health insurance plans covering sterilization and contraception, including some abortion-causing drugs. Those who violate the requirement face stiff fines. 

Last May, Notre Dame became one of dozens of plaintiffs to file a lawsuit challenging the mandate on the grounds that it forced the university to violate its religious convictions.

In December, a federal judge ruled the lawsuit was premature because the Obama administration has promised to formally amend the mandate in the coming months to accommodate religious freedom.

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