President Obama heckled at Catholic university

President Barack Obama was briefly heckled as he addressed students at Notre Dame University in Indiana last night. On Saturday night there were a number of protests and vigils around the campus.

Groups opposed to abortion rights attended an all-night prayer vigil to protest against the visit, and an estimated 200 people attended a prayer session at Alumni Hall Chapel. More than 100 protesters gathered and 23 marched onto the campus on Saturday. Police arrested 19 for trespassing, with four also charged with resisting police.

A university spokesman said none of those arrested were students. About 12,000 people attended the commencement Mass. During the service neither the university head Fr Jenkins nor Bishop D'Arcy mentioned the controversy.

Traditionally, Notre Dame, which is one of the largest Catholic universities in the USA, has always invited new presidents to give a speech on their graduation day. Mr Obama received a lengthy ovation from students and staff as he was welcomed onto the stage wearing the blue robes of Notre Dame.

There was loud cheering as the president was given an honorary degree. Heckling began soon after he began his address, but a majority of those in the audience cheered the president, who asked for calm and told them: "We don't do things the easy way." AFP news said four men shouted "abortion is murder" and "stop killing babies" before being escorted from the auditorium. Mr

Obama went on to voice his view on abortion, describing it as "a heart-wrenching decision for any woman". He said: "Let's work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term."

Mr Obama told the audience that he did not want the debate on abortion to go away. Conceding that the views of opposing advocates were "irreconcilable", he said each side would continue to make its case with conviction. "Surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature?" said. A number of church leaders have criticized the university for inviting Obama. Cardinal Francis George, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops said: "It is clear that Notre Dame didn't understand what it means to be Catholic when they issued this invitation."

A strong majority of students were reported to be in favour of the president's visit, but a petition containing some 360,000 names from all over the USA was delivered to the university as a mark of protest. A full page advertisement in the South Bend Tribune on Saturday had the headline: "Catholic Leaders and Theologians Welcome President Obama to Notre Dame."

The advertisement, signed by university professors around the country, many of them at Catholic colleges, said that as Catholics committed to civil dialogue, they were proud Mr Obama was giving the commencement address.

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