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Archbishop to Obama: Look Past 'Strident Outcries' Over ND Visit

6 years ago
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Though dozens of his brother bishops have said they were "scandalized'' or "in shock and deep distress'' that our pro-choice president will speak and be honored at the University of Notre Dame this weekend, retired Archbishop John R. Quinn of San Francisco has let President Obama know that not all pro-life Catholics -- or even all strongly pro-life Catholic prelates – see things that way.

"I am writing as a Catholic Bishop to offer a different voice from the often strident outcries over your forthcoming visit to Notre Dame,'' Quinn said in the April 22 letter. Today, he provided a copy of it to Quinn, a former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, went on to praise Obama as a history-making role model, an inspiring family man and a thoughtful person. Between the lines, his message was, Don't let those guys waving signs get you down.

In a phone interview on Thursday, I asked Quinn why he had written to the president – especially since at age 80, he so rarely speaks out these days: "No, I really don't,'' he said, "but I just thought there needed to be a positive note in this whole discourse.''

Though he does not agree with Obama on abortion rights, "it's not that the only issue involved is the life issue, though certain people have spoken very vociferously and focused only on that one point.'' ( lists 76 bishops who have reportedly opposed Obama's "invitation and award'' at ND's graduation this Sunday, but not all those on the list think the president ought to be disinvited.)

Quinn said he was puzzled that "there was not this outcry when the candidate Obama went to Xavier and the bishop there didn't speak out,'' or when French President Nicolas Sarkozy was honored at St. John Lateran in Rome, for that matter. Obama spoke at Xavier University's commencement in 2006, and Sarkozy, who also favors abortion rights, was made honorary canon of St. John Lateran in December 2007.

The archbishop said he had not heard back from the president, and wasn't waiting by the mailbox. "But I hope he feels some encouragement from what I said, and knows that some of us see some very positive features even though we retain some differences.''
The President
The White House
Washington, D. C. 20500

Mr. President,

I am writing as a Catholic Bishop to offer a different voice from the often strident outcries over your forthcoming visit to Notre Dame University. I acknowledge certain critical differences between us, especially on the issue of abortion. But without minimizing the gravity of these issues, I want to state several things, which I believe of major importance at this time.

First, I am personally deeply gratified by the election of an African American as President of the United States and I share the jubilation of many Americans and in particular of many African American Catholics in the United States over your election. It is significant that the Vatican newspaper compared your election with the fall of the Berlin Wall and I recall that the Pope personally offered his congratulations to you.

I believe it important to acknowledge the fine example you have given in your married life and in your love and devotion to your children. The ideal of stable family life has long been a focus of interest for the Catholic Church. This, together with your frequent call for personal responsibility, is a great contribution to our nation.

It strikes me that you have shown a measured, thoughtful approach to issues of public concern and your ability to listen to and weigh views different from your own is an asset to the discharge of your high responsibilities. This admirable quality inspires hope for further dialog on issues over which there are major differences.

Mr. President, I address this letter to you not to deal with matters of policy or legislation, but simply to wish you great blessings and to assure you of my prayer that your service as President will bring lasting benefits to all Americans who, with you, cherish the ideal of "liberty and justice for all."

Most sincerely yours,

+John R. Quinn
Former Archbishop of San Francisco

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