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Michael Sean WintersSeptember 17, 2009

"In All Things" has received a copy of an email sent to "the Notre Dame Family" from University President, Father John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. In it, Father Jenkins outlines ways for Notre Dame to become more involved in the pro-life effort. One of the canards thrown at Father Jenkins during the controversy surrounding President Obama’s commencement address was that it undercut the school’s commitment to the pro-life cause which, as Father Jenkins writes, is "at the heart of Notre Dame’s mission." Another canard thrown at Father Jenkins was that the President’s appearance would do nothing to increase dialogue, a goal Jenkins cited in his decision to invite the President. Of course, the Catholic community spent much of last spring having that dialogue but today’s letter shows further fruit of Jenkins’ decision. I would submit that a letter from a Catholic university president inviting the university community to get more involved in the pro-life movement would not normally be considered newsworthy. But, all of us, and many more non-Catholics too, are more attuned to this important aspect of Catholic witness precisely because of all the attention and controversy that surrounded Notre Dame’s hosting the President. Let's hope that the University, and all Catholic Universities, continue to find ways to further the cause of life. Here is the text of the letter.

Dear Members of the Notre Dame Family,

Coming out of the vigorous discussions surrounding President Obama’s visit last Spring, I said we would look for ways to engage the Notre Dame community with the issues raised in a prayerful and meaningful way.  As our nation continues to struggle with the morality and legality of abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and related issues, we must seek steps to witness to the sanctity of life. I write to you today about some initiatives that we are undertaking. 

Each year on January 22, the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, the March for Life is held in Washington D.C. to call on the nation to defend the right to life. I plan to participate in that march. I invite other members of the Notre Dame Family to join me and I hope we can gather for a Mass for Life at that event. We will announce details as that date approaches.

On campus, I have recently formed the Task Force on Supporting the Choice for Life.  It will be co-chaired by Professor Margaret Brinig, the Fritz Duda Family Chair in Law and Associate Dean for the Law School, and by Professor John Cavadini, the Chair of the Department of Theology and the McGrath-Cavadini Director of the Institute for Church Life.  My charge to the Task Force is to consider and recommend to me ways in which the University, informed by Catholic teaching, can support the sanctity of life. Possibilities the Task Force has begun to discuss include fostering serious and specific discussion about a reasonable conscience clause; the most effective ways to support pregnant women, especially the most vulnerable; and the best policies for facilitating adoptions.  Such initiatives are in addition to the dedication, hard work and leadership shown by so many in the Notre Dame Family, both on the campus and beyond, and the Task Force may also be able to recommend ways we can support some of this work.

I also call to your attention the heroic and effective work of centers that provide care and support for women with unintended pregnancies.  The Women’s Care Center, the nation’s largest Catholic-based pregnancy resource center, on whose Foundation Board I serve, is run by a Notre Dame graduate, Ann Murphy Manion (’77). The center has proven successful in offering professional, non-judgmental concern to women with unintended pregnancies, helping those women through their pregnancy and supporting them after the birth of their child.  The Women’s Care Center and similar centers in other cities deserve the support of Notre Dame clubs and individuals.

Our Commencement last Spring generated passionate discussion and also caused some divisions in the Notre Dame community.  Regardless of what you think about that event, I hope that we can overcome divisions to foster constructive dialogue and work together for a cause that is at the heart of Notre Dame’s mission.  We will keep you informed of our work, and we ask for your support, assistance and prayers. May Our Lady, Notre Dame, watch over our efforts.

In Notre Dame, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.

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14 years 5 months ago
Maybe someone can follow up with President Jenkins to ask in whose name we would be gathering for his proposed Mass. It might be relevant information for some Catholics-perhaps even a few he knows.
14 years 5 months ago
Kudos to President Jenkins! But, Michael, please don't pretend that those voices raised in protest against Notre Dame's decision to honor President Obama didn't have a LOT to do with Fr. Jenkins' actions in creating this initiative. Those objecting - including many prominent voices from within the Notre Dame community - weren't ''thowing canards''; they were and are raising legitimate points of concern. Notre Dame NEEDED to hear those voices and, on the basis of President Jenkins announcement, it appears that those voices were, indeed, heard. Good for President Jenkins and good for Notre Dame. I commend this step, and hope to see the efforts come to fruition.
14 years 5 months ago
Thanks, Michael.  Here is what I wrote about this at Mirror of Justice:
I do not believe that, on balance and all things considered, it was appropriate for Notre Dame to honor President Obama with a ceremonial degree or with the role of commencement speaker.  (It is, obviously, appropriate for Notre Dame to engage in "dialogue" and "debate" with the President, and with anyone else.)  And, I do not agree with Michael Sean Winters that it was "throw[ing a] canard" to worry that Notre Dame's decision to honor the President in this way "undercut the school’s commitment to the pro-life cause."  No one who knows Fr. Jenkins doubts his own commitment to that cause, and to human dignity, but it is not unreasonable to think that Notre Dame's public, institutional activity and commitment on this front have sometimes been unven, and lagged behind where they should be.
In any event, I believe that those of us who opposed the invitation last year, and who very much want Notre Dame to be what she should be, and what the world needs her to be, should welcome Fr. Jenkins' announcement.  Are the initiatives he described "enough"?  No, but I assume that Fr. Jenkins does not regard them as "enough."  Should their announcement end the discussion about whether Notre Dame's leaders are correct in (what seems to be) their understanding of academic freedom, the nature of a university, or the appropriate relationship between a Catholic University and the "institutional" Church?  I don't think so.
Yes, Notre Dame needs to do more.  The Administration and University leaders need to embrace and celebrate - publicly and enthusiastically - the work and witness of pro-life students and faculty, of programs like the Center for Ethics & Culture, of pro-life policies and proposals.  It should never be possible for a reasonable observer to think that Notre Dame cares passionately about energy conservation but reservedly or half-heartedly about the need - the moral imperative - to use the law (and other policy tools) to protect unborn children.
All that said . . . this is a good thing.  I'd like to see Notre Dame's pro-life critics - that is, those of her critics who recognize her importance and who want her to be what she is called to be - give Fr. Jenkins and this task force (full disclosure:  Prof. Brinig, one of the co-chairs, is my friend) the benefit of assuming good faith, welcome and engage their work, and - as needed - charitably call on them to do more.
There is a picture, often celebrated at Notre Dame, hanging in the student center, of Fr. Hesburgh standing at Dr. King's side, hand-in-hand, calling for civil rights.  I am indulging the hope that, before too long, there will be a similarly prominent picture displayed of Fr. Jenkins alongside Notre Dame's inspiring pro-life student group at the March for Life.  Just a symbol?  Merely a picture?  Perhaps.  But I think it would be one of those pictures that's worth a lot.
14 years 5 months ago
Perhaps Fr. Jenkins can also drop charges against those Catholics witnessing to the prolife movement by being arrested on campus for praying the rosary...  That would be a nice gesture too.  Nevertheless, it's a start.  However Mr. Winters, these issues were and are far from "canards".  Clearly that is sinking in to Fr. Jenkins, when will you see it too?
14 years 5 months ago
America Mag says that the Bishops should not upset Obama with the big protest agains the FOCA.  What happened?  Obama dropped it.
America Mag says that the protests at ND over Obama were unfounded.  What happened?  Jenkens is forced to put the defence of the unborn on the front-line of NDs mission.
What do we learn from this?  Catholics NEED to keep the pressure on!  We have a long way to go to get to the mountain top but I have a dream...
14 years 5 months ago
The elephant in the room is that Fr. Jenkins is too polite to say that as order priests, the USCCB's guidance on inviting and honoring individuals the bishops disagree with has no effect inside campus walls.  Orders report to the Vatican, not the local ordinary.
As for FOCA, it is not that Obama dropped it under pressure, it is that this was a red herring all along, given that the bill has not even been introduced in this Congress and will likely never have the votes to pass.  When Obama supported FOCA to planned parenthood, Catholics for Obama had not yet been created (if he responded to anyone, it was us, not the recent hysteria) and he was running against Hillary Clinton.  In other words, he had a need to pander.  Could he be pandering now?  Given his prior employment with Catholic Charities, I doubt it.
14 years 5 months ago
Bill Dempsey, ND
Class of 1952, provides important background and context to Fr. Jenkins' message, including an observation that the most important pro-life organizations on campus
are notably excluded from the proposed initiative: 
14 years 5 months ago

Dr. Charles Rice, Professor Emeritus of Law at Notre Dame, who is widely respected and by no means a lightweight, has made available his open letter in response to Father Jenkins on this topic.  Dr. Rice's important letter can be viewed here:  http://insightscoop.typepad.com/2004/2009/09/open-letter-from-dr-charles-e-rice-to-fr-john-i-jenkins.html

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