A Hapless AdministrationFather Jenkins’s lurching from one position to another after the Trump administration enabled Notre Dame to be free of the mandate has been, shall we say, singular. First, the University said employees and students would continue to receive abortifacients and contraceptives from its insurance companies; then that they would not; then that that they would; and now that the University itself will provide contraceptives, but not abortifacients. This fumbling would be discomfiting for any organization, but it is especially embarrassing for a Catholic university dealing with a moral issue. Instead of acting on principle rooted in Catholic teaching, as his bishop urged, Father Jenkins seems to be searching for a “compromise” that will draw the least criticism. That this is so is confirmed by a closer look at what he’s done. His statement is here.
Catholic Identity – AbortifacientsConsider first Father Jenkins’s treatment of abortifacients. Because they are “most gravely objectionable in the Catholic tradition,” he says, the University will not cover them in its insurance programs. But they will be provided by the University’s insurers to employees until July 1 and to students until August. Why the delay, if abortifacients are “most gravely objectionable”? “To provide time for all to prepare for this change,” Father Jenkins explains. Not, perhaps, because the cut-off is during summer vacation? Will it really take Notre Dame five to six months to put an end to this and for students and employees to locate the nearest pharmacy? Anyway, why should the University make sure they can get a supply of “gravely objectionable” products? And why didn’t Notre Dame act promptly after the October 13, 2017 settlement with the Government? And, especially, why does the University continue to offer cut-rate abortifacients and sterilization under its Flexible Spending Account (FSA) program? Through this program, employees can use tax-free income for medical expenses. The employer designates the eligible expenses. Until this year, Notre Dame had excluded abortions, abortifacients, contraceptives, and sterilization. When we disclosed that all these expenses would be covered in 2018, the University hastily excluded abortions — but not abortifacients, sterilization, or contraceptives. Father Jenkins declares, misleadingly, “The University’s insurance plans have never covered, and will never cover, abortion inducing drugs.” He should have added, “although, to be sure, the University’s FSA program does.” “Most gravely objectionable” indeed!
Catholic Identity – ContraceptionFather Jenkins’s break with Catholic teaching on contraception is so radical that what it really means may be hard to appreciate. Think of Father Jenkins in his office handing out checks to students and employees so they can purchase contraceptives. That is what this comes to. Oh, yes, Father Jenkins promises that all will be given “a statement of the Catholic teaching,” so Father would be telling the students and employees the Church teaches that, if they actually use the contraceptives, they will be sinning gravely. This is beyond parody. No wonder Bishop Rhoades declared:
I strongly disagree with Notre Dame’s decision to provide funding for contraception in its health insurance plans, which involves it even more directly in contributing to immoral activity. The Catholic Church clearly teaches that contraception is an immoral action that contradicts the truth of marital love.
Catholic Identity — Contraception and AbortionDescribing how “contraception and abortion are often closely connected,” Saint John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae denounced the “contraceptive culture”:
[I]n very many instances such practices are rooted in a hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality, and they imply a self-centered concept of freedom, which regards procreation as an obstacle to personal fulfillment. The life which could result from a sexual encounter thus becomes an enemy to be avoided at all costs, and abortion becomes the only possible decisive response to failed contraception.
Catholic Identity — The Priest and His BishopThis is the fourth time Father Jenkins has stiff-armed his bishop – Bishop John M. D’Arcy over the Vagina Monologues and the Queer Film Festival and the honoring of President Obama, and Bishop Rhoades over the honoring of Vice President Biden and now over contraceptives. Bishops are “authentic teachers of the apostolic faith” (Catechism of the Catholic Church) who “should be seen as participants in the life of the Catholic University” with “a particular responsibility to assist in the preservation and strengthening of their Catholic identity,” a responsibility that “will be achieved more effectively if close personal and pastoral relationships exist between University and Church authorities, characterized by mutual trust, close and consistent cooperation and continuing dialogue.” (Saint John Paul II, Ex Corde Ecclesiae par. 28). Unhappily, there is none of this reflected in Father Jenkins’s actions. He expresses no regret over the widening disjuncture between him and his bishop and, accordingly, between the University and the Church. Indeed, he does not mention the Bishop at all. He simply says that he came to his conclusion through “discernment” and “through the prompting of the Holy Spirit.” It is this elevation by Father Jenkins of his private judgment over the teaching of his bishop that has so weakened the bond to the Church that is essential for an authentically Catholic institution.
Catholic Identity – CredibilityNotre Dame’s reputation for integrity has taken a beating during this mandate episode, and Father Jenkins’s last action doesn’t help one bit. First, his action confirms we were right in challenging the University’s implausible story that it was its insurance carriers, not Notre Dame, who wanted to continue supplying abortifacients and contraceptives after Notre Dame was free to get out of the mandate. As we reported (“Just Who Do They Think They’re Fooling?”), the administration was concealing the fact that the University had not accepted the exemption and that accordingly the insurance companies were obliged to continue the coverage. It was, and is, Notre Dame’s call, not theirs. Next, as we pointed out above, Father Jenkins professes in his statement that Notre Dame will have nothing to do with abortifacients even as it enables its employees to get them at cut rates. And, again, he misleads in asserting that, prior to the mandate, “[W]e were among the relatively few Catholic universities that excluded from our health plans contraceptives.” He skips over the fact that 29 states require this coverage. Father Jenkins probably doesn’t know, nor do we, how many Catholic schools voluntarily provided coverage, but the fact that Georgetown did not suggests they were very few. During the famous Sandra Fluke episode in 2012, Georgetown’s president declared:
We do not intend to change Georgetown’s longstanding practice of excluding contraceptive coverage for the purposes of birth control from its student health insurance offerings unless explicitly required to do so by law.
Because of its religious beliefs, Notre Dame believes that it may not pay for, facilitate access to, and/or become entangled with the provision of contraception, sterilization, abortion, or related counseling.