Silence Isn’t Golden

SOUTH BEND, IN — In this bulletin we respond to the criticism of an alumnus and highlight recent developments in the contraception controversy — including the strange silence that has fallen on Notre Dame and Father Jenkins’s bootless talks with the White House.

“I resent your right wing political rant. Your monologue is hate- filled and treasonous. Leave me and my University out of your closed-minded, dark crusade.”

An alumnus posted this to our recent discussion of the Obama administration’s contraception mandate. Perhaps we err, but on careful study we take it to be a criticism. It is related to the somewhat less aggressively phrased objections of Obama supporters who say we dwell too much on the Obama/Notre Dame episode.

Since we return to the mandate in this bulletin, we open with a response:

  • First, our mission extends to everything that affects Notre Dame’s Catholic identity and no further. We have nothing to do with politics except as political matters involve Notre Dame.
  • It was Father Jenkins, not Sycamore Trust, who entangled the University in politics by honoring the most pro-abortion president this country has ever seen.
  • In his letter to Secretary Sebelius at the outset of this controversy, Father Jenkins reminded everyone of the honoring of Obama by declaring, “I stand by that decision.”
  • We did not author but simply reported in our prior bulletin the many news accounts and editorials and op-ed pieces referred to in our bulletin that recalled this episode and linked Father Jenkins and Notre Dame with the Obama agenda.
  • Father Jenkins was again associated with Obama when he accepted appointment to the Commission on Presidential Debates. His name was put forward by the Democratic co-chairman of the Commission, Mike McCurry, former press secretary for President Clinton. The political columnist for the Buffalo News was prompted to write, “Obama still has an influential Catholic leader on his team: the Rev. John I. Jenkins,” the “controversial priest” whom “Obama has placed on the commission.”
  • It did not help for Mr. McCurry to cite a speech by Father Jenkins at Emory University in which he had urged civility in political debate, for it was that speech in which he had also cautioned pro-life advocates that the Church might change its teaching on abortion.
  • Because of its source, perhaps the most telling illustration of the public image of a close relationship between Father Jenkins and President Obama is the description by the Bishops’ Conference (“USCCB”) of Father Jenkins as one of those prominent Catholics who “have long supported this Administration and its healthcare policies.”

The fruit of the Obama episode — a peach or a lemon?

In a recent article in the student publicationThe Observer, the administration itself drew attention to the honoring of President Obama by hailing what it describes as the ensuing fruitful relationship between Father Jenkins and President Obama. It is an illuminating article.
The Observer, February 26, 2012

The university spokesman described two phone calls from the White House during which Father Jenkins “engaged in a give and take conversation.” One preceded Obama’s rejection of protests (including Notre Dame’s) and the second preceded Obama’s “accommodation” in reaction to the severe backlash to his intransigence.

While we cannot of course know what was said, we do know the result. It was plainly all “take” and no “give.” The President’s announcement of the “accommodation” came right after the call. And as we explained in our prior bulletin and as the bishops quickly perceived, the Obama “accommodation” is a mere artifice.

(In addition to the rejections by the USCCB and Cardinal Dolan and his associates that we cited, there is now another letter from Cardinal Dolan and Bishop William Lori to their fellow bishops again deploring the regulation.)

Certainly, as Father Jenkins says, one should not “shun” the President. But it does Obama no credit to suppose that he can be persuaded to change firmly held views because of a cordial personal relationship. If there were any doubt, the results of these phone calls should remove it.

Repairing the Obama damage — so far a lost opportunity.

Father Jenkins’s welcome opposition to the HHS regulation could have been, and still could be, a step toward repairing the Obama-caused damage to Notre Dame’s Catholic image. As head of the nation’s most celebrated Catholic institution, Father Jenkins would be a focus of attention in a prominent leadership role.

But, as we have pointed out, his participation was marred at the outset by his reaffirmation of the honors accorded Obama, and his last word so far is his “applau[se]” of Obama’s “willingness to work with religious organizations” and praise of his worthless “accommodation” as a “welcome step.”

Father Jenkins has neither issued a statement embracing the bishops’ position nor, most importantly, has he offered to join Bishop Lori for the USCCB and other leaders who have testified against the mandate and in support of remedial legislation.

More, he has not joined the Garvey/Snead et al letter we have described that has gained the support of over 500 distinguished religious leaders and educators — including over 60 members of the Notre Dame faculty.

Most significantly, Cardinal Dolan has joined as has Notre Dame’s bishop, the Most Rev. Kevin C. Rhoades.

But, still, not a single Notre Dame officer, only one dean and one department chair, and only two members of the C.S.C. Almost all evidently are following Father Jenkins’s lead.

The Catholic University model.

The actions of another Notre Dame graduate and former faculty member illustrate what a university president can do to advance the cause of religious liberty and add luster to his institution.

Dr. John Garvey, the president of The Catholic University of American (“CUA”), opened the public debate last September with a widely discussed Washington Post op-ed criticism of the proposed regulations.

CUA then filed a protest with Secretary Sebelius, as did Father Jenkins for Notre Dame.

The paths of the two presidents then diverged, with Dr. Garvey continuing as a principal university spokesman for the Church’s cause while Father Jenkins fell silent after praising the Administration for Obama’s “welcome step.”

Dr. Garvey followed his House testimony opposing the Administration’s regulation with an op-ed piece in the Chicago Tribune that calls for your close attention.

In sum, Dr. Garvey describes how religious liberty has historically been protected by the Congress but how the Obama administration has, time and again, acted in derogation of that liberty by executive action. With the Supreme Court’s having weakened its First Amendment test, this latest incursion, Dr. Garvey observes, “is likely to be an important issue in the presidential election.”

As it is in Congress, where the bishops and a host of allies are pressing for relief and where Dr. Garvey has already testified, as we have noted.

Dr. Garvey and the bishops and countless other opponents of the Obama regulation know that Father Jenkins is simply, and fortunately, wrong if he really believes, as reported, that “you can’t change society unless you persuade people.” If they are elected officials, if you can’t persuade them you can beat them. It may be the only way.

Additional Developments

  • John Garvey’s “increasingly public”  role in providing “critical support” to the bishops is described more fully in a recent article by Joan Frawley Desmond. She writes, “He has employed both his high-profile position and intellectual firepower . . . to bolster and inform the bishops’ public stance.” And she quotes Bishop William Lori, the USCCB’s point man on the issue: “He has great credibility in the academy” and  “offers a wonderful example to the young people being formed at the university [in] bringing his professional ability and love of country to bear on this issue.”
  • Cardinal Francis George of Chicago has warned that Catholic institutions will close.“Two Lents from now,” he said, “unless something changes,” the directory page listing Catholic hospitals and health care institutions “will be blank.”

We will discuss in our next bulletin the ethical, legal, and practical issues involved if no relief is secured.

  • Notre Dame and other self-insured employers — Promises, promises! There has been some empty chatter about adapting the Obama “accommodation” to self-insured employers like Notre Dame. As Professor William Evans, one of Notre Dame’s most prominent economists, has said: “I have no idea what their path is going to be and how to get out of this box.” As we have pointed out, Obama’s cosmetic changes — requiring the insurance companies to offer the protection free and to tell the employees of its availability – can have no application to self-insured employers. Notre Dame will bear the cost and its agent will tell the employees about the coverage.
  • Litigation (cont.). The fifth lawsuit has been brought, this one by seven state attorneys general, a Catholic high school, two Catholic social services organizations and two individuals. The government has moved to dismiss one of the other the suits as premature because the regulation will be revised. It will no doubt file similar motions in all cases. We will discuss further the legal situation in our next bulletin.
  • The Jesuit magazine “America” is back in its comfort zone. After initially opposing the mandate, America now accuses the bishops of doing “a disservice to the victims of religious persecution” by rejecting the Obama “accommodation.”
  • Notre Dame expert decries Obama’s “accommodation.” In a penetrating analysis of the Obama “accommodation,” Professor Richard Garnett, a nationally prominent church/state scholar, has flayed the President’s plan as “a crafty — and, it must be said, cynical — election year move.”
  • Contra: a Notre Dame professor emeritus. He writes that a “vast majority” of the faculty lauded Fr. Jenkins for the honoring of Obama and would back him in support of the mandate and in opposition to the bishops. (Note that while some 60 faculty have signed the Snead et al letter, there are some 1,000 on the teaching rolls.)

Stay tuned.

Father Jenkins should publicly endorse the bishops’  rejection of Obama’s “accommodation” and support the remedial legislation.  That’s what a truly Catholic university would do.  If you agree and would like to help with our mission of Catholic renewal at Notre Dame, please click here.

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