The University of Notre Dame’s 2021 commencement is set for Sunday, but President Biden will reportedly be absent from the event.
Breaking with recent tradition, the president will not address the ceremony after 4,300 “members of the Notre Dame community” signed a petition urging Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins not to invite Biden, the second Roman Catholic president, over his stance on abortion.
A White House source told Catholic News Agency that Biden was invited but could not attend due to a scheduling conflict. Instead, finance executive and trustee of the university Jimmy Dunne will address the graduates.
Biden during the week delivered a commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy and spoke virtually at the commencement for Syracuse University, his law school alma mater.
For the last three presidencies, either the president or vice president has attended the Notre Dame commencement their first year in office. President George W. Bush gave the commencement address in 2001, President Barack Obama gave the address in 2009 and Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the ceremony in 2017. Obama’s attendance drew backlash for similar reasons.
In 2017, Vice President Mike Pence – a Catholic who now identifies as simply a “Christian” – addressed Notre Dame’s commencement ceremony. The university would not say if it invited President Trump to speak.
“Neither President Trump nor President Clinton, we understand, was invited,” stated an open letter to Fr. Jenkins asking him not to invite Biden. The letter, signed by more than 4,300 “members of the Notre Dame community,” cited Biden’s “pro-abortion and anti-religious liberty agenda” as reasons not to invite him to address the commencement.
A university spokesman said on Tuesday, “While Notre Dame has had more presidents serve as commencement speakers than any university other than the military academies, we have not always hosted a president in his first year in office–or at all.”
Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush each addressed Notre Dame’s commencement in their last year in office, Brown noted. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter each addressed the commencement in their first year in office. President Gerald Ford did speak on campus, but the event was an academic convocation on St. Patrick’s day.
Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump did not address Notre Dame’s commencement at all.
Obama’s address in 2009 drew controversy due to his ardent support of legal abortion. Bishop Thomas Olmstead of Phoenix sent a letter to Notre Dame’s president Fr. John Jenkins, CSC, saying that the invitation of Obama to speak and receive an honorary law degree at Notre Dame’s commencement is a violation of the USCCB’s 2004 statement “Catholics in Political Life.”
Bishop John M. D’Arcy, who served as the bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend until his retirement in November 2009, issued a statement at the time that Jenkins gave a “flawed justification” for the university’s commencement invitation to President Obama, and should have consulted with his bishop before extending the invitation.
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