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September 14, 2009

Support From the Board

Re: “The Church and the University” (8/31): As Catholics we need to look to the future. We have a unique opportunity to learn from and leverage an event that took place in May on the campus of Notre Dame. In the university’s tradition, the president of the United States, Barack Obama, was invited to speak at the commencement and accepted. There the debate began among many as to whether this was appropriate, given the new administration’s stance on abortion.

There is no debate as to Notre Dame’s position on the sanctity of human life. As Notre Dame’s president, John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., has stated many times, including at the commencement, we are unwavering in our support of the Catholic Church’s teachings. We oppose President Obama’s policies on abortion and embryonic stem cell research.

So what should we learn from this event, and what is the opportunity that it created? The president of the United States came to our campus knowing our position on the sanctity of human life. He was willing to listen to us and was open to dialogue. We also listened to him with respect. The level of national attention to this issue has never been higher. This is the opportunity. In addition to honoring the office of the presidency, we hoped that this invitation would provide an opening for dialogue on those issues on which the Catholic Church and our president are not in agreement. That first step will need to be nurtured.

We must not let this opportunity slip from our grasp. We must work hard at the relationship between our faith and our culture. We cannot take a position that lets the ground lie fallow because we are unwilling to be teachers. It will be a long road. The possibility of meaningful dialogue on vital subjects was increased because of Notre Dame’s role as a place where a renewed effort built on courtesy and respect could begin.

During this period some have questioned whether the Notre Dame board of trustees gave any consideration to this matter. A thorough and candid discussion of the invitation to the president to speak and receive an honorary degree occurred. There was no need for a statement or a press release from that meeting because we stayed the course that we were on. It should also be said that the president of Notre Dame, Father Jenkins, had then and has now our total support. From Father Hesburgh to Father Malloy and now Father Jenkins, Notre Dame has been blessed with great leadership.

I would also like to thank Bishop John M. D’Arcy for his leadership and counsel. For 24 years he has served the diocese and supported Notre Dame. We are saddened by his disappointment in Notre Dame and other Catholic colleges throughout the world that subscribed to the landmark Land O’Lakes Statement on academic freedom and institutional autonomy. As the bishop has stated, “Notre Dame is a splendid place.”

Richard C. Notebaert

Chairman, Board of Trustees

University of Notre Dame

South Bend, Ind.

More Dialogue

No one doubts the authority of bishops to pronounce on moral issues. Bishop John D’Arcy’s complaint is that Notre Dame has “honored” the president of the United States, although he does not accept the church’s teachings regarding abortion.

I myself “honor” many opponents of the church’s teaching on abortion by inviting them to my home. In doing so, I do not express any dissent from the church’s teaching. On occasion, while they are there, we discourse on the subject of abortion, and this provides me with an opportunity to articulate the church’s position. Maybe, seeing my resolve, they may soften their hearts.

Susan M. Smith

Wallingford, Pa.

A Remarkable Bishop

I applaud Bishop D’Arcy for his article. During his time as bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend he has demonstrated remarkable leadership and strength, especially on issues of morality. I firmly agree that it is due to the work of the passionate student body of Notre Dame that the Catholicity of the university has remained intact. Notre Dame’s first priority, as with all Catholic institutions of higher education, is to be a witness to the truth of the Gospel.

Monica Nistler

Fort Wayne, Ind.

Condemnation or Dialogue

There is an unfortunate tendency among many to prefer to be “right rather than effective.” The two articles in America by Bishop John M. D’Arcy and Archbishop John R. Quinn deal with this very conundrum—when is “witnessing” counter to Christ’s directive to love above all else.

My beloved Benedictine college, Saint Vincent, invited President Bush to give the commencement address. Many at the college felt this was inappropriate; they claimed he did not emulate Benedictine virtues. President Bush was invited on the Benedictine principle of “hospitality,” which welcomes anyone who comes to the monastery.

And so I tend to agree with Archbishop Quinn, Pope John Paul II and the Second Vatican Council’s Christus Dominus (No. 13). We had an opportunity for dialogue with someone we disagree with on this issue but agree with on many issues of social justice.

Let’s hope Obama’s visit to Notre Dame will be the start of a determined effort to gain mutual understanding of how to promote reverence for all life.

Charles F. Keller

Los Alamos, N.M.

Humbly Human

Bishop D’Arcy’s take on the Obama-University of Notre Dame fiasco offers at least this practitioner of the faith such a balanced and intelligent, at the same time humbly human, range of insights as to all but restore trust in our hierarchy’s grasp of what its “world’s most important assignment” needs to consist of.

James C. G. Conniff

Upper Montclair, N.J.

Truly Ecumenical

Thanks to Archbishop Quinn. Civic respect and tolerance are essential values in the Christian witness. We have learned to be ecumenical with those of other religions. We must be ecumenical also with those who do not share our moral values.

Michael McGuckian, S.J.

Galway, Eire

Teaching Mission

What a pity that Archbishop Quinn’s remarks were not presented and discussed at the bishops’ meeting! I hope that this can be remedied at the next one, because his recommendation is critical to the teaching mission of the church.

While it is important to speak the truth, how it is spoken and with what respect for the audience dramatically affects how the message is received.

When the bishops are perceived as closed-minded, partisan and arrogant, their teaching on other justice issues will be ignored as well.

Peggy Saunders

San Carlos, Calif.

Support and Oppose

Is there anyone in the United States, Catholic or not, who believes that the University of Notre Dame, its administration, faculty or student body support abortion? Would the bishop deny an honorary degree to someone who supports the death penalty? Would he deny such to George Weigel, who opposes the church’s position on the definition of a just war? These matters are also part of the “Catholic faith in all of its fullness” and are also “life” issues.

Let the church and its related universities continue to support the president on those life and social justice issues on which we agree and continue to oppose him on the others.

Robert M. Rowden

San Rafael, Calif.

Dignity, Logic, Charity

Bishop D’Arcy’s letter is a classic, comparable in dignity and stature with Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter From Birmingham Jail. Without a scintilla of meanness and with a heart full of affection for Notre Dame, he makes his case with dignity, logic and charity. Three cheers for the good bishop!

John McCarthy

Weston, Mass.

The Real Question

Bishop D’Arcy has gotten right to the point. The question is, What is the relationship between the Catholic University and the local bishop? Does the role of the bishop apply inside the gates of the university?

The actions of the president and board of Notre Dame have not been consistent with a Catholic identity. Notre Dame is free to honor whomever it wants, but it cannot be Catholic and not-Catholic at the same time.

Susan Hubbard

Bentonville, Ark.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
14 years 2 months ago
The Board of trustees had a discussion about the Obama invitation.  Father Jenkins must have informed them of his intention to invite the Presidant. I think it would have been polite to inform the Bishop at the same time he informed the board of trustees. I like that comparison of Bishop D'Arcy's article to Martin Luther King from the Birmingham jail.  How true. 
14 years 2 months ago
I have thoroughly enjoyed the responses form Bishop D'Arcy and Archbishop Quinn, as well as the multitude of comments from here and afar. The composition of the Roman Catholic church is ideologically fractured on many public policy issues facing Americans. There is no opportunity for dialogue or debate on these sensitive issues within the administrative church. What appears to be coming out of this debate is a newly discovered role for concerned Catholics to reflect upon a common ground. From my observation universities like Notre Dame, Georgetown, Boston College and several smaller colleges are beginning to lead the way. I applaud those Catholic colleges and universities leaders who are brave enough to share their facilities for those who may have a different view. Catholic students will surely make up their own minds on these matters. It helps when they witness an informed debate in a academic environment.
14 years 2 months ago
Pro-abortionist Obama has been notoriously honored by the University of Notre Dame.  By doing so, the University has dishonored itself and we who have associated ourselves with it.  The University's board, executive, faculty, and student body, through their support of this decision, have violated the University's own charter, and will bear its consequences.  It, by its own choice, is no longer a Catholic institution.  There are good Catholic institutions worthy of our support.  So be it.
14 years 2 months ago
Out of Charity for Christ and His Church, Bishop D'Arcy should explain to his flock why one cannot be Catholic and autonomous. In order to be Catholic, one must be in communion with The Catholic Church to begin with.
14 years 2 months ago

With the respect due the Chairman of the Board of a
great university, I suggest that the infirmity of Mr. Notebaert’s defense of
Notre Dame’s conferring honors upon President Obama is transparent both in what
he says and because of what he does not say.

 Whatever the reason for Notre Dame’s action,
surely Mr. Notebaert must know that it has caused grave damage. Its action,
disapproved by most Catholics, has alienated the pro-life community, driven a
wedge between University and Church, and riven the alumni and the broader
Catholic community. The Rasmussen poll disclosed that 60% of Catholics
disapproved, and why should they not?  Notre Dame’s action, which collided
with the pertinent policy declaration of the nation’s bishops, was denounced by
Notre Dame’s own bishop, the Most Rev. John M. D’Arcy, and 82 other Cardinals,
Archbishops, and Bishops. When was the last time that happened to any Catholic
college or university?

 Yet, in discussing “what we should learn from
this event,” Mr. Notebaert takes no note whatever of any of this. The
disheartening implication is that the Board thinks none of it matters.

 What is especially unsettling is Mr.
Notebaert’s dismissive and, I must say, misleading treatment of Bishop D’Arcy’s
position. It is ironic, to put it conservatively, for him to “thank Bishop John
M. D’Arcy for his leadership and counsel” when this controversy arose in
substantial measure precisely because Father Jenkins studiously refrained from
seeking Bishop D’Arcy’s counsel and paid no heed whatever to his leadership.
This was typical, not idiosyncratic. The Bishop, whose deep affection for Notre
Dame over decades is unquestioned,  has simply been ignored on issues that
raise important issues of institutional witness to the faith such as The Vagina
Monologues and Queer Film Festival controversies.  I don’t mean merely
that his advice has not been followed. I mean, as he said,  it has not
even been sought.

 Nor is there basis for Mr. Notebaert’s attempt
to portray Bishop D’Arcy as opposed to  “academic freedom and
institutional autonomy.”  As the Bishop wrote, he has “never[size= 22.0pt] [/size]interfered in the internal governance of Notre
Dame.” What Bishop D’Arcy has sought is simply what Ex Corde Ecclesiae requires
of a Catholic university:“[A] close personal and pastoral relationships
between University and Church authorities, characterized by mutual trust, close
and consistent cooperation and continuing dialogue.”  Instead, as the
Chair of the Theology Department has characterized the  atmosphere at Notre
Dame: “It is as though the mere mention of a relationship with the Church has
become so alien to our ways of thinking and so offensive to our quest for a
disembodied ‘excellence’ that it has become impolite to mention it at all.”

 The warrant for all of this that Mr. Notebaert
offers is that the occasion provided “an opening for dialogue on those issues
on which the Catholic Church and our president are not in agreement,” namely,
abortion and embryonic stem cell research.  “The possibility of meaningful
dialogue was increased,” we are told, because the President was treated with
“courtesy and respect.“

This demeans the President and offends common sense.
The President is a person of high intelligence and should be presumed to be a
man of principle. The notion that he will bend on issues as to which he has
staked out consistent and clear positions because Notre Dame treated him well
and evidenced openness to discussion is simply unreal. And who, by the way,
appointed Notre Dame negotiator for the Church?  And what competence does
Notre Dame have to speak on these issues that informed and skilled legislative
experts have toiled at for years?

At all events, Notre Dame now owns this issue. 
It has paid a high price to gain this supposed negotiating position. All will
wait eagerly to learn of the progress of the contemplated discussions. Let us
hope that, contrary to all reason, it will turn out that the pro-life forces
and bishops who objected so vehemently to Notre Dame’s action didn’t know what
was good for them. And let us hope also that Notre Dame’s eagerness to “engage”
with those who oppose what the University says it stands for will be translated
into a willingness to engage with its own bishop and bitterly disappointed and
saddened alumni and other members of the Notre Dame family.

 William H. Dempsey


Sycamore Trust



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