Father Jenkins, Lou Holtz, & Joe Biden

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.@NotreDame president Fr. John  Jenkins slams former Irish football coach @LouHotlz for criticizing @JoeBiden's anti-Catholic position on abortion. #GoCatholicND Click To Tweet

Strange Happenings in Father Jenkins’s Office

There have been strange and revelatory happenings in the President’s Office at Notre Dame during the political conventions just ended.

Pete Buttigeig

First, as we noted in our last bulletin, during the Democratic convention Pete Buttigeig, a newly appointed Notre Dame Faculty Fellow, pressed the case for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the party’s ultimate pro-abortion and pro-same-sex marriage ticket, with a side dish of anti-Catholicism served up by Harris.

Fr. John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, said not a word about his new faculty member’s exhortation.

Lou Holtz

Then, during the Republican convention, Lou Holtz, Notre Dame’s legendary former football coach and a tireless pro-life advocate, supported President Trump, declaring “nobody is a stronger advocate for the unborn,” and denounced the Biden/Harris ticket as “the most radically pro-abortion in history.”

He continued:

They and other politicians are Catholics in name only and abandon innocent lives. President Trump protects those lives.”

Father Jenkins immediately issued a statement declaring that Notre Dame’s long departed football coach didn’t speak for Notre Dame and criticizing him for what he said about Biden.

While Coach Lou Holtz is a former coach at Notre Dame, his use of the University’s name at the Republican National Convention must not be taken to imply that the University endorses his views, any candidate or any political party. Moreover, we Catholics should remind ourselves that while we may judge the objective moral quality of another’s actions, we must never question the sincerity of another’s faith, which is due to the mysterious working of grace in that person’s heart.

So here we have the President of the country’s leading Catholic university and a supposedly nonpartisan member of the Commission on Presidential Debates inserting himself into the presidential campaign to put down a former Notre Dame coach supporting the pro-life Trump/Pence team while he watched in silence as a current Notre Dame employee lauded the pro-abortion Biden/Harris ticket, celebrated same-sex marriage, and jabbed at religious liberty claims of people of faith. 

Why would Father Jenkins do that? 

Consider what he says.

First, Holtz “used the University’s name,” so people might think Notre Dame “endorses his views.”


Holtz is a quarter century removed from Notre Dame, and this is how he “used the University’s name”:

I used to ask our athletes at Notre Dame, if you did not show up, who would miss you and why?


You know, there’s a statue up of me at Notre Dame. I guess they needed a place for the pigeons to land. But if you look closely, you will see these three words there: trust, commitment and love. All my life, I’ve made my choices based on these three words.

Surely Holtz’ response to Father Jenkins’s professed concern during a Fox News interview was right:

Everybody knows I’m not a representative of Notre Dame.

Still, perhaps Jenkins thought Holtz so calumniated Biden that he should speak up to provide moral instruction. “We Catholics,” he explained, “must never question the sincerity of another’s faith.”

But Holtz did no such thing, and it is decidedly unfair of Father Jenkins to say that he did – even assuming Jenkins has a roving commission to admonish former employees for what they say about political issues. 

Holtz didn’t remotely hint that Biden doesn’t believe he’s Catholic, that he’s just faking it, much less that he was without any faith at all. As Holtz said about Father Jenkins’s accusation during a Fox interview:

I understand Biden’s a fine young man. I can’t tell what’s in his heart, but I can tell his actions are not in accord with what I understand is Catholicism.”

Unfounded Claim

Holtz was simply saying what countless other Catholics have said, namely, Biden’s claim to be a full-fledged Catholic, which by any reasonable standard includes fidelity and witness to the Church’s fundamental teachings, is in fact unfounded, irrespective of what he thinks about it.

Consider, for example, how Dr. Robert George of Princeton, one of the country’s most prominent Catholic public voices, recently said substantially the same thing as Holtz in calling Biden’s support for codifying Roe v. Wade “disgraceful”:

How can anybody who, as a Catholic, is committed to the proposition that every single member of the human family… is a creature made in the very image and likeness of God… expose an entire class of human beings to death?

Here’s the heart of Lou Holtz’s response to Father Jenkins:

The complete interview is here

The Catholic Card

Holtz was certainly not reaching for an issue. Biden regularly boasts about his supposed Catholic credentials. The Catholic card was played again and again at the Democratic Convention. See America’s “Joe Biden’s Faith on Display” and a convention video featuring Biden’s audience with the Pope. Then, for example, there are the multiple stories about Biden’s confiding to reporters that he always carries his deceased son’s rosary in his pocket.

Biden’s most recent iteration of his purportedly robust Catholicism came in the Fox interview of Holtz:

I’ve been a practicing Catholic my whole life. I practice all the elements of my faith.

That is so spectacularly false that one wonders how Biden could bring himself to say it. 

As any sentient prospective voter knows, Biden, who supports public funding of abortions and who officiated at a same-sex marriage in the vice-presidential residence, publicly and unequivocally rejects the Church’s historic and fundamental teachings on abortion, sex, and marriage. 

Warning to Catholic Politicians

Just the other week the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglio, reiterated the Church’s warning to Catholic politicians to “stop promoting laws against the life” of the unborn. “The Church is very clear in this regard,” he declared. “It is a response from the Catechism.”

This prompts the question why, if Father Jenkins for some reason decided he should instruct Catholic voters about what they should not hold against Biden, he did not also instruct them what the bishops say they most certainly should hold against him. 

In the bishops’ “teaching guide” for the election (“Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship”), Catholics are warned that it is “impermissible” to vote for a candidate who, like Biden, supports “intrinsic evils” such as abortion and same-sex marriage except for “truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences.” And if the Catholic voter supports the candidate’s views – e.g., approves same-sex marriage – then that voter “would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil.”

Causes and Consequences

One can only speculate why Father Jenkins acted as he did in these two convention incidents. The most obvious explanation is that offered in a National Review article by staff writer (and Sycamore Trust board member) Alexandra DeSanctis (ND ’16), “Notre Dame’s Party Politics.” Father Jenkins simply prefers Biden, and Obama before him, and is acting accordingly. 

Perhaps, too, this affair has something to do with Father Jenkins’s bewildering 2016 choice of Biden as recipient of the Laetare Medal, an honor bestowed annually by Notre Dame on a Catholic “whose genius” “has illustrated the ideals of the Church.” Holtz’s indictment of Biden certainly underscored the impropriety of Father Jenkins’s decision. 

Or perhaps we have here just blunders and unforced errors. 

Whatever the reason, the result was lamentable. It is disheartening to see the President of Notre Dame publicly chastise a man who has meant so much to the University, and it is especially painful when that chastisement is warrantless.

Lou Holtz brought Notre Dame a National Championship, two #2, one #4, and one #6 finishes in one of the most sparkling and exuberant periods in Notre Dame football history. In 2008, a grateful assembly of Notre Dame notables, including Father Jenkins, dedicated a sculpture of Holtz with two of his players that stands in the stadium alongside other past football superheroes Rockne, Leahy, and Parseghian. 

And in the years after Notre Dame Holtz brought so much to so many that on September 4 President Trump announced he will shortly confer on Holtz the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. As Unversity Vice President Paul Browne noted in a statement congratulating Holtz, he is not only “among America’s greatest college football coaches” but “his contributions off the field have been equally inspiring.”

And Holtz brought himself to Notre Dame with his contagious enthusiasm, his fierce loyalty to the school, and his deep and crusading Catholic faith, qualities that have continued to mark his life in the years after Notre Dame. 

Father Jenkins, most relevantly, has brought Notre Dame Joe Biden. And Barack Obama. And Pete Buttigeig.

Lou Holtz Trust Commitment Love

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