CHICAGO, MAY 22, 2009 ( The president of the U.S. episcopal conference welcomed one of the statements made by President Barack Obama in his controversial speech at Notre Dame last Sunday.

In a statement today, Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago, expressed gratitude for the president's statement that "we should all 'honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion,' and his support for conscience clauses advancing this goal."

The cardinal noted that "Catholic providers, in particular, make a large and essential contribution to health care in our society. Essential steps to protect these conscience rights will strengthen our health care system and enhance many patients' access to necessary life-affirming care."

Cardinal George added: "A government that wants to reduce the tragic number of abortions in our society will also work to ensure that no one is forced to support or participate in abortion, whether through directly providing or referring for abortions or being forced to subsidize them with their tax dollars."

The University of Notre Dame's honored President Obama at last Sunday's commencement ceremony.

To date, 83 prelates have publicly denounced the decision as going against 2004 guidelines set by the U.S. bishops' conference for Catholic institutions of higher education, which state that schools should not bestow honors on individuals who "act in defiance" of the Church's fundamental teachings.