DENVER, Colorado, MAY 21, 2009 ( The archbishop of Denver had some "hard words" for Notre Dame's president, Father John Jenkins, after last Sunday's commencement.

Archbishop Charles Chaput criticized the university president Monday in a statement posted on the diocesan Web site, denouncing his decision to invite U.S. President Barack Obama to give the address to the school's graduating seniors.

"There was no excuse -- none, except intellectual vanity -- for the university to persist in its course," the prelate said. "And Father Jenkins compounded a bad original decision with evasive and disingenuous explanations to subsequently justify it."

More than 70 U.S. bishops voiced disagreement with the university's decision to invite President Barack Obama as the commencement speaker and bestow on him an honorary law degree. They noted that it went against the 2004 guidelines set by the U.S. bishops' conference for Catholic institutions of higher education, which states that schools should not bestow honors on individuals who "act in defiance" of the Church's fundamental teachings.

"Let’s remember that the debate over President Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame was never about whether he is a good or bad man," Archbishop Chaput recalled. "The president is clearly a sincere and able man. By his own words, religion has had a major influence in his life.

"We owe him the respect Scripture calls us to show all public officials. We have a duty to pray for his wisdom and for the success of his service to the common good -- insofar as it is guided by right moral reasoning."

The prelate also noted as equally important the duty to defend Catholic teaching on "foundational issues" such as abortion and embryonic stem-cell research.

"And we also have the duty to avoid prostituting our Catholic identity by appeals to phony dialogue that mask an abdication of our moral witness," Archbishop Chaput said. "Notre Dame did not merely invite the president to speak at its commencement. It also conferred an unnecessary and unearned honorary law degree on a man committed to upholding one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in our nation’s history: Roe v. Wade."

The archbishop accused Father Jenkins of ignoring the concerns of the local bishop, more than 70 other bishops from around the country, including the president of the U.S. episcopal conference, as well as "thousands of Notre Dame alumni and hundreds of thousands of other American Catholics."

"The most vital thing faithful Catholics can do now is to insist -- by their words, actions and financial support -- that institutions claiming to be 'Catholic' actually live the faith with courage and consistency," the archbishop concluded. "If that happens, Notre Dame’s failure may yet do some unintended good."