Difference is not about demonizing

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There are few issues that confound this country as much as the issue of abortion. It is the third rail of politics, and feelings on both sides of the issue run strong.

There are few issues that confound this country as much as the issue of abortion. It is the third rail of politics, and feelings on both sides of the issue run strong.

President Barack Obama knew he had thrust himself in the midst of that issue when he accepted the invitation to address the graduates at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana this past weekend. The Jesuit university, regarded as the Catholic university, had been roiling in controversy, as many Catholics were outraged that Obama, who is pro-choice, would be invited to speak at a school where the religious underpinnings are squarely on the pro-life side.

Not only Obama, but Notre Dame president John Jenkins has also been vilified by Catholics for even inviting the president and for compounding the outrage by conferring an honorary degree on Obama.

But Obama did not shirk from the controversy and decided instead to step into the breach and face the issue head on. “We’re not going to shy away from things that are uncomfortable sometimes,” he said as protesters attempted to disrupt the opening of his speech.

Rather than talk about abortion and stem cell research – anathema to many Catholics (and non- Catholics), Obama instead sought to talk about common ground and open dialogue.

He talked about “fair-minded words,” as a way to have that dialogue, without demonizing those who disagree. It is easy to say but often very difficult to apply. Of course, Obama had ample experience with those kinds of polar opposites during his campaign, where some of those who disagreed with his views, even his candidacy, often resorted to words that were not fair, dialogue that forgot to consider that there are two sides to dialogue. Even the U.S. Catholic Bishops chimed in with vitriolic rhetoric as the speech neared, using strong language that seemed at odds with compassion, out of context with fairness.

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