An Open Letter to Fr. John Jenkins
University of Notre Dame
Dear Fr. Jenkins,We are writing this letter to you in hopes that you can clear something up for us.
We are two Catholic women who reside in the State of Colorado. We made tragic mistakes in our younger years by having abortions. We came to the University of Notre Dame last Friday, May 8, to witness to the harm caused to us by our “choice.” We held signs that say “I Regret My Abortion”. We also gave our testimonies and prayed the Rosary with other Catholics who supported us.
We did this in hopes of saving young women years of pain, shame and guilt. We did this because college aged women have the most abortions. We did this because we wanted these young women to know that women deserve better than abortion and that women can achieve the things that they want without having their babies killed. We did this because we believe in the fundamental right to life of all human beings who are created in the image and likeness of God which is a dogmatic teaching of the Catholic Church.
We have both attended Project Rachel and Rachel’s Vineyard retreats – both Catholic healing programs for those suffering from abortion. We then joined “The Silent No More Awareness campaign”, a program sponsored by a Catholic Priest – Fr. Frank Pavone.
In all of these programs we were taught about the acceptance and mercy of God and our fellow Catholics. Also, in these programs we were encouraged to seek the counsel of a Catholic Priest – that they would help us to find redemption in the sacrament of reconciliation. We were also encouraged to share our stories so that the Catholic community and the greater community at large could hear first hand of the devastating effects of abortion.
While speaking these truths on Friday we were issued a Trespass Notice by security officers hired by the University that in part states “The University has the right to tell us that we are not wanted on University property.”
Imagine our shock after receiving this notice and being barred from speaking further, we were arrested and thrown in jail. We spent the day in a holding cell until we posted a $250 bond. As we now understand things, we are awaiting news as to whether the charges against us will be misdemeanor trespassing or a felony. This happened all because we wanted the students to know through our stories how devastating abortion is to women.
We are confused, Fr. Jenkins. Why would a Catholic University bar Catholic women from speaking the truth about a fundamental Catholic teaching, under the signage of a healing program that is sponsored by a Catholic priest, while praying the Rosary? Yet, the University would welcome, honor and have a person speak at Commencement who is virulently opposed to this same fundamental Catholic teaching?
Fr. Jenkins can you please explain this to us?
We look forward to your response.
Jane Brennan, MS
Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests For Life writes:
My Day at Notre Dame-
There was an eerie stillness and silence across the Notre Dame campus as my colleagues, a few of the seniors and I walked across the campus very early on the morning of Commencement Day. It was the calm before the storm of what we knew was an historic day. I started with a national Fox News interview along with Fr. Richard McBrien. We were asked our views of the Commencement. My message was: Everyone can imagine people they would protest speaking at a commencement: an avowed racist, anti-Semite, or advocate of terrorism. So the failure to object to one who is unwilling to call for an end to abortion is the failure to see that abortion is as bad or worse than those other evils. We have to stop trivializing abortion. Moreover, the university gave the President an honorary law degree. Law exists to protect human rights; but this president has admitted that he doesn’t know when a child receives human rights. How can he defend human rights when he doesn’t know who has them? After speaking to various media, I greeted people on campus who were coming from all over the country to stand with the courageous students who boycotted their own commencement and invited me to lead them in an alternate ceremony. After I greeted and blessed the demonstrators who were at the campus entrance, and concelebrated a special Mass for Life, I led the Class of 2009 Vigil for Life. We meditated on the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary, on the victory of life over death, and on the fact that Jesus is King over every nation, over the courts, the Congress, and the White House. As I gave the students and their families reflections on these truths, the current occupant of the White House was calling the graduates to have “open minds, open hearts” and a spirit of dialogue. Now dialogue with our opponents on this issue is something we at Priests for Life specialize in. I maintain friendships with abortion advocates and practicing abortionists. The clarity of our own convictions never means we despise, demonize, or shut out other people. And yes, we are willing to collaborate with others in morally legitimate ways to reduce the numbers of abortions. But the President’s remarks had a glaring omission. While willing to dialogue and to promote adoption, he gave no indication of any willingness to protect the children in the womb. And that’s the crux of the issue. In his remarks, he referred to the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that outlawed segregation. Certainly, his call for open minds does not include openness to reconsider the segregation issue. There’s a right answer to it, period. So it is with the protection of the unborn. And as quiet again descended on campus at the end of the day, I reflected… Open minds, yes, but for the purpose of eventually firmly closing upon the truth! And isn’t that supposed to be the purpose of Catholic universities?
Archbishop Chaput on Notre Dame – “Notre Dame’s leadership has done a real disservice to the Church.”
“I have found that even among those who did not go to Notre Dame, even among those who do not share the Catholic faith, there is a special expectation, a special hope, for what Notre Dame can accomplish in the world.”
~ Reverend John Jenkins, C.S.C., May 17, 2009
Most graduation speeches are a mix of piety and optimism designed to ease students smoothly into real life. The best have humor. Some genuinely inspire. But only a rare few manage to be pious, optimistic, evasive, sad and damaging all at the same time. Father John Jenkins, C.S.C., Notre Dame’s president, is a man of substantial intellect and ability. This makes his introductory comments to President Obama’s Notre Dame commencement speech on May 17 all the more embarrassing.
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. 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.
We also have the duty to oppose him when he’s wrong on foundational issues like abortion, embryonic stem cell research and similar matters. 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. 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.
In doing so, Notre Dame ignored the U.S. bishops’ guidance in their 2004 statement, Catholics in Political Life. It ignored the concerns of Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon, Notre Dame’s 2009 Laetare Medal honoree – who, unlike the president, certainly did deserve her award, but finally declined it in frustration with the university’s action. It ignored appeals from the university’s local bishop, the president of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference, more than 70 other bishops, many thousands of Notre Dame alumni and hundreds of thousands of other American Catholics. Even here in Colorado, I’ve heard from too many to count.
There was no excuse – none, except intellectual vanity – for the university to persist in its course. And Father Jenkins compounded a bad original decision with evasive and disingenuous explanations to subsequently justify it.
These are hard words, but they’re deserved precisely because of Father Jenkins’ own remarks on May 17: Until now, American Catholics have indeed had “a special expectation, a special hope for what Notre Dame can accomplish in the world.” For many faithful Catholics – and not just a “small but vocal group” described with such inexcusable disdain and ignorance in journals like Time magazine — that changed Sunday.
The May 17 events do have some fitting irony, though. Almost exactly 25 years ago, Notre Dame provided the forum for Gov. Mario Cuomo to outline the “Catholic” case for “pro-choice” public service. At the time, Cuomo’s speech was hailed in the media as a masterpiece of American Catholic legal and moral reasoning. In retrospect, it’s clearly adroit. It’s also, just as clearly, an illogical and intellectually shabby exercise in the manufacture of excuses. Father Jenkins’ explanations, and President Obama’s honorary degree, are a fitting national bookend to a quarter century of softening Catholic witness in Catholic higher education. Together, they’ve given the next generation of Catholic leadership all the excuses they need to baptize their personal conveniences and ignore what it really demands to be “Catholic” in the public square.
Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George has suggested that Notre Dame “didn’t understand” what it means to be Catholic before these events began. He’s correct, and Notre Dame is hardly alone in its institutional confusion. That’s the heart of the matter. Notre Dame’s leadership has done a real disservice to the Church, and now seeks to ride out the criticism by treating it as an expression of fringe anger. But the damage remains, and Notre Dame’s critics are right. 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. If that happens, Notre Dame’s failure may yet do some unintended good.
Read Catholic Online for Deacon Keith Fournier’s take on Archbishop Chaput: ‘Notre Dame, the Issues that Remain’