The controversy surrounding the University of Notre Dame’s invitation to President Barack Obama has shifted in recent days as cooler heads appear to be prevailing.
Cardinal Francis George said he was "misquoted" if people thought he was urging that there be protests at the university itself. He also said it would be wrong to rescind the invitation to the President. Despite the cardinal’s urging, Randall Terry has already begun protests at Notre Dame’s campus and the conservative group, the Cardinal Newman Society, continues to urge Catholics to protest.
John Gehring, of the progressive group Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, penned an op-ed that appeared at the blog at Sojourners. Gehring has emerged as one of Washington’s most articulate spokesmen for an engaged Catholicism that remains critical of the culture when needed but avoids the gloom and doom scenarios peddled by so many conservatives who argue for religious engagement.
Finally, the group Communion and Liberation, known as Pope Benedict’s favorite among the new ecclesial movements, has issued a thoughtful, if somewhat opaque, statement on the controversy. They recall the founding of the university and its dual mission of serving Church and nation. I am told that the text of the statement was approved by the organization’s HQ in Milan.
Of course, the key question is beginning to emerge: What will the President say? Will he give a speech about foreign policy and ignore the controversy? Or, will he engage the controversy and speak about how he sees the role of religion in the public square? If he chooses the former, he has to make news so that the protests do not win the headlines. If he chooses the latter, he has to hit a home run. Given the poor roll-out of the decisions on embryonic stem cell research and the revocation of the Bush administration’s last minute conscience clause, it is not clear this administration knows how to get a base hit with Catholics let alone swing for the bleachers.