By Michelle Boorstein
There is a vocal and influential constituency of American Catholics who disapprove of the University of Notre Dame’s decision to invite President Obama to speak at the Catholic university and receive an honorary degree in mid-May. But almost twice as many Catholics approve of the invite — not a total shock since the majority of American Catholic voters cast ballots for the president.
Catholics upset with Notre Dame for giving Obama (a supporter of abortion rights and embryonic stem-cell research) what many see as American Catholicism’s highest award have been slamming Notre Dame since the honor was announced.
Some of the most vociferous opponents have already set up camp at the school, launched a campaign, and cheered when Mary Ann Glendon — the most recent U.S. ambassador to the Vatican — announced earlier this week that she was turning down another award at Notre Dame in protest of the Obama honor.
But a poll released yesterday by the Pew Forum of Religion and Public Life shows 50 percent of Catholics saying they approve of the Notre Dame award to Obama, while 22 percent say they disapprove. Twenty-two percent said they didn’t know. That’s pretty similar to the views of Americans overall on the issue — 48 percent of the general public said they approved, 25 percent disapproved and 27 percent said they didn’t know.
In recent years American Catholics have come to mirror the general American population more and more. Another recent survey by Pew showed that more than two-thirds of Catholics approve of Obama’s job performance, about the same as the population in general. Only 33 percent of white, evangelical Protestants feel the same way. Meanwhile, 96 percent of black Protestants support the president’s performance.
However, authors of the poll note that there is a gap in the Notre Dame controversy that persists in so many arenas — between more and less observant Catholics. Among white, non-Hispanic Catholics who attend church weekly or more often, approval of the decision plummets to 37 percent. Forty-five percent said the decision was wrong. Among those who attend “less often,” 56 percent support the invite while 23 percent oppose it.
Pew’s poll also shows that weekly attending white Catholics are now noticeably more negative toward Obama’s performance compared with earlier this year. In fact, a plurality of this group (45%) now disapproves of the job Obama is doing, more than double the figure in February (20%).