President Obama will be in New Orleans Sunday to remember the devastation of Hurricane Katrina five years after the storm roared ashore, but the location the White House has picked for his remarks is stirring an old controversy -- and it has nothing to do with storm or the rebuilding of the Gulf.
Some Catholics don't agree with the fact that the president is being allowed to speak at Xavier University, a Catholic institution, because it is giving a platform to someone who is very publicly opposed to the teachings of the Catholic church.
It all goes back to a 2004 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) statement on "Catholics in Political Life." It reads in part, "The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."
The controversy similarly swirled when the pro-choice and pro-stem cell research president was invited to speak at Notre Dame's commencement address in 2009, where he was also given an honorary degree.
And While Notre Dame was an invitation, Xavier was likely picked with religious issues aside and more because of it's progress -- not only just in rebuilding, but in expanding -- it is opening this fall with a brand new pharmacy wing.
Neither the Notre Dame speech nor the Xavier one were set up to be outright political events, some argue there can always be a political dimension and that in his commencement address the president did bring up both abortion and stem cells.
"The situations are similar in that President Obama is choosing a Catholic environment to provide a platform for his political activity, and the U.S. Bishops have expressed concern about a Catholic institution being used for purposes by individuals who are clearly opposed to Catholic teaching," said Patrick Reilly, the president of the Cardinal Newman Society a lay Catholic educational group.
Reilly also mentioned there's the possibility of becoming political and argued it's a bigger issue that Xavier is not taking a stand, "[The] Greater concern about Catholic institutions trying to simply be a neutral platform, when they ought to be actively promoting Christian values," he said.
The USCCB is the organization that issued that 2004 statement, however in matters like these, as with the Notre Dame case, the group doesn't take a stand on specific matters, and leaves that to the local archdiocese.The issue delves into a bit of church hierarchy, but ultimately the USCCB, a national group, defers to the local jurisdiction and wouldn't supercede their views. That allows for the local church officials to interpret the 2004 USCCB statement's meaning.
New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond will not be attending Obama's speech at Xavier and has no plans to meet with the president.
"He was not in any way consulted, invited -- nor will he attend the event with President Obama at Xavier," said Sarah McDonald, Director of Communications for Archdiocese of New Orleans.
As far as invitations go, university officials say, all questions regarding invitation process go to the White House.
A White House official did not elaborate on the archbishop invitation but tells Fox that invitees include Governor Bobby Jindal, Senators David Vitter and Mary Landrieu, Reps. Joe Cao and Charlie Melancon, and Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
The archbishop will be taking part in other services that day that were already planned.
McDonald says it's not meant to be read into more than that, and it's "just the facts." She also says the archbishop does not see this event as political.
"He did feel that this was not a political speech, it's one that's meant to be speech of solidarity with the people of the university. He knows Xavier University is used for these types of addresses for political leaders -- the mayor and governor used Xavier for these types addresses," McDonald said.
When the president's Katrina anniversary address was announced, Xavier University President Norman C. Francis noted in a statement that Obama was there in 2006. "We are so happy to welcome him back this time as president, since he was still a U.S. Senator when he came to address our first commencement class to graduate after Katrina in 2006."
That commencement largely stayed on the inspiration lines and did not get political, mostly providing encouragement after what the students experienced living through Katrina.
When the Notre Dame protest unfolded, the local South Bend bishop, Bishop John D'Arcy, did publically boycott the president's speech. A month later at their general assembly, the USCCB released a note of "solidarity" to Bishop D'Arcy, basically a vote of confidence in his positions and views. "The bishops of the United States express our appreciation and support for our brother bishop, the Most Reverend John D'Arcy. We affirm his pastoral concern for Notre Dame University, his solicitude for its Catholic identity, and his loving care for all those the Lord has given him to sanctify, to teach and to shepherd," the statement reads in part.
So why is Xavier not getting quite the attention that Notre Dame did? Reilly notes the Katrina remarks are just that, remarks, "Notre Dame was much greater of honor, happened immediately after a hotly contested election and it was Notre Dame, much more attention to it," he said.
Many Catholics opposed the Notre Dame invitation, and there were demonstrations and protests outside of the speech, and dozens were arrested.
The renewed debate over the Xavier remarks also comes at time when stem cell research is in the spotlight after a federal judge temporarily blocked the Obama administration's stem cell regulations. The Department of Justice is now going to appeal that decision.
Shortly after he was in office, Obama issued an executive order that tripled the number of stem cell lines being researched, calling it a move to help create cures. Critics, including the Catholic church, are against destroying an embryo to get the stem cells used in research. They see destroying an embryo as destroying a life. During the Notre Dame commencement, the president brought up the issue of stem cells saying, "Those who speak out against stem cell research may be rooted in an admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son's or daughter's hardships can be relieved."
Obama's Notre Dame address was also peppered with interruptions from the crowd, especially on his pro-choice stance. There were shouts "Abortion is murder! Stop killing children!" He recognized the outburst saying, We're fine, everybody...We're not going to shy away from things that are uncomfortable sometimes."
The president sought to inspire graduates and congratulate them on their achievements, but also addressed the lingering opposition to his appearance. He encouraged the crowd to be open to each other's opinions, and to work on reducing abortions. "Maybe we won't agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this heart-wrenching decision for any woman is not made casually, it has both moral and spiritual dimensions."