Giving Discernment a Bad Name

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Father John I. Jenkins elevates his private judgment over the teaching of his bishop and the Church in deciding #NotreDame should cooperate with moral evil. #GoCatholicND Click To Tweet

We now have the fourth installment of Father Jenkins’s Policy-of-the-Month contraception misadventure. He has finally decided to claim an exemption from the Obamacare mandate and to have the University itself, rather than the insurance companies, provide contraceptives, but not abortificiants, to employees and students. Accordingly, Notre Dame will now, surely for the first time and against the strong objection of Bishop Kevin C. Rhodes, furnish students and employees with the means to commit acts the Church teaches are intrinsically immoral, knowing many will do so. Unless reversed by the Fellows or the Board or through the intervention of Father Jenkins’s religious superiors, this action will radically undermine the University’s claim to Catholic identity and underscore its evident abuse of the judicial system

Here are the details:

A Hapless Administration

Father 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 – Abortifacients

Consider 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 – Contraception

Father 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.

Until now, the University was fully in accord with Bishop Rhoades. Contraceptives were excluded from its insurance policies, and in his affidavit in Notre Dame’s lawsuit, Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves explained why that was so. He declared that “Notre Dame’s religious beliefs” include the “core tenet” that contraception is a “serious moral wrong,” and that those beliefs therefore “prohibit [the University] from paying for, facilitating access to, and/or becoming entangled in the provision of contraception.”

The reasons Father Jenkins gives for repudiating this policy are weightless. They are “a respect for the conscientious decisions” of those who disagree with the Church’s teaching and the fact that “some have come to rely on access to contraceptives” through Notre Dame’s insurers.

Notre Dame does not impose Church teaching on contraception on its employees. It “respects their conscientious decisions.” But surely there is no Catholic principle that supports Notre Dame’s providing employees and students with “drugs objectionable in Catholic teaching” so they can engage in actions the Church teaches are intrinsically and seriously immoral.

More, Father Jenkins ignores an especially pernicious effect of his decision unrelated to views about contraception itself: scandal to students respecting fornication. Notre Dame stressed to the courts its special obligation to avoid giving scandal to students. The lesson to students here is not simply that Notre Dame evidently does not regard the use of contraceptives as seriously immoral, but that it does not regard what they are used for by unmarried students as seriously immoral.

And if it is a financial “burden” for an employee or student to afford contraceptives, it is bizarre to think it is Notre Dame’s obligation to help them out. There is no call for a Catholic institution to fill in for Planned Parenthood.

It is no secret that Notre Dame has never been a champion of Pope Paul VI’s Humana Vitae, but to its credit it has in the past officially stood by it. Indeed, one especially grotesque feature of Father Jenkins’s statement is his praising Humana Vitae even as he torpedoes it.

Catholic Identity — Contraception and Abortion

Describing 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 Bishop

This 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 – Credibility

Notre 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.

Georgetown more Catholic than Notre Dame? Fancy that!

Finally and most important, Father Jenkins’s action, if not reversed, confirms that Notre Dame based its lawsuit on an array of gross misrepresentations. They are listed in the Open Letter to Father Jenkins from Notre Dame Alumni Attorneys, which now has well over 100 signatories and remains open for more. (Any lawyer with a Notre Dame undergraduate or graduate degree may simply send us his or her name, Notre Dame class year, and law school name and class year.)

One example from the affidavit of the University’s Executive Vice President upon which the lawsuit was based will serve:

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.

That is precisely what Father Jenkins has decided Notre Dame should do. Notre Dame’s representations to the courts were evidently false. And Father Jenkins does not attempt to explain why they were not. To the contrary. He says that Notre Dame was suing simply to get the right to decide for itself what to do on these matters. That would have been a frivolous lawsuit. Understandably, that is not what Notre Dame told the courts.

The alumni lawyers call for a judicial inquiry if necessary. A ruling that Notre Dame lied to the courts would be ruinous. The Fellows or the Board can avoid this by affirming the Affleck-Graves affidavit as University policy and reversing Father Jenkins’s decision. We have asked the Fellows to do so and will shortly open a petition to the Board for signatures.

Meanwhile, Notre Dame will proceed in “unwavering fidelity to its Catholic mission” as Father Jenkins misperceives it. There is still more to be said about that. To be continued.


Among the many articles about Father Jenkins’s action, we commend especially an illuminating analysis by Elizabeth Kirk (ND Law ’96), former associate director of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture and Adjunct Professor at Ave Maria University and, we are pleased to say, a member of the Sycamore Trust board of directors. It appears here.

11 Responses to “Giving Discernment a Bad Name”

  1. John McNamara '86 March 3, 2018 at 12:17 am

    More weaseling around by the self-appointed Pope of South Bend, John I Jenkins, who thinks he’s smarter than Pope Paul VI and St. John Paul. The Pope of South Bend has essentially created his own South Bend Catholic Church, and Notre Dame is no longer a Roman Catholic Institution. There is no doctrine more sacred to the Roman Catholic Church than the sanctity of life. The Catholic Bishops started the pro-life movement in the late 1960’s when states started legalizing abortion. If I were Bishop Rhodes, I would consider going to court and getting an order stating that Notre Dame’s land and buildings are owned by the Roman Catholic Church, not the South Bend Catholic Church or the Pope of South Bend and asking the Pope of South Bend to vacate the property with his phony clergy, who formerly were Roman Catholic and are now South Bend Catholic. You may smile and think this is ironic, but I am serious. The Church may have to demand the University back from the lapsed Holy Cross order in order to get Notre Dame back in line with the Roman Catholic Church.

    It should be noted that the Pope of South Bend, John I Jenkins, has gone farther afield from Catholic doctrine and is flirting with killing and abortion (legalized killing), than Father Charles Curran, when the Vatican in 1986 suspended Fr. Charles Curran’s right to teach theology at the Catholic University of America and Catholic universities in general. He is also flirting with mortal sin and is flirting with perjury in federal court. This ain’t gonna end pretty and there’s really only one outcome that the Church can pursue without looking divided, weak and having publicly changed it’s doctrines on the sanctity of life and being willing to accept a liar and a priest who appears to have put his employee in a situation flirting with perjury in the American civil courts. It’s time for John I Jenkins to be removed as president of the University of Notre Dame at a minimum and it may be time for the diocese of Ft. Wayne South Bend to take control of the University away from an order of lapsed Catholic priests, living a pretty relaxed, pretty comfortable scandalous life at Club Notre Dame.

    FOR THOSE ALUMNI WHO ARE ONLY INTERESTED IN NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL, consider this: I recently got an e-mail from the University. written by the Pope Of South Bend, John I Jenkins the First, about NCAA sanctions against the Notre Dame football team resulting from academic cheating and how the NCAA was forfeiting some of Notre Dame’s wins from a few years ago. The Pope of South Bend wrote how the NCAA action was unexpectedly harsh after Notre Dame reported itself to the NCAA. After all that has gone on with the Pope of South Bend over the last six months, I found it hard to believe ANYTHING the Pope of South Bend wrote about the NCAA sanctions. DO YOU WANT THIS DISHONEST BUM RUNNING YOUR BELOVED FOOTBALL PROGRAM AND GETTING HUMILIATED BY THE NCAA FOR ACADEMIC ETHICS VIOLATIONS BY OUR FOOTBALL TEAM???? FORGET GEORGETOWN, NOTRE DAME IS SINKING TO THE LEVEL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI UNDER THIS DISHONEST CON MAN PRIEST. THINK ABOUT THAT

    Notre Dame lawyers, time to send a letter to the federal court, you tried respectfullyto work this out in house, but now each of your reputations is on the line for not notifying the court of perjury as soon as you knew about it. It’s a dark night of the soul. The simple course of action is to do the right and honest thing and contact the court NOW, before you start being viewed as being complicit and things get complicated. God Bless you with your integrity!

  2. STEVEN MARTINEK (ND 1971, NDL 1974) March 1, 2018 at 10:26 am

    Bill O’Connor: “Expressions of outrage are 4 years late and massively hypocritical?” No, not so much. I joined a Faith-driven cohort of the ND family, in on-campus protest in 2009 at the announced award to the abortionist-in-chief. With a fellow-alum I hiked and prayed the campus in pilgrimage for its CAtholich character (and the success of the new POTUS) on July 4, 2017. Some whose views I respect, have felt and voiced outrage going back to the Land of Lakes policy. (Personally I am more generous toward Father Ted.) How does it benefit discussion or discernment to label as “hypocritical” such expressions of “ourrage” once a third or fourth modified position of disingenuity and mendacity is felt to cross some line beyond which one feels unable to give further “benefit of the doubt” to Jenkins and his views? What is your audience here, Bill? Who are you trying to anger, impress, or persuade–and of what?

  3. William J. O'Connor March 1, 2018 at 9:50 am

    These expressions of outrage are four years late, are massively hypocritical , and do nothing for
    the honored dead. As for the Pharisee references, Jenkins and the instigators are obvious, but
    the students, alumni ,faulty, and priests who walked away from the drowning unborn are more
    responsible, especially those who only raise dialogue in defense..

    Will no one act in defense for the martyrs, especially those to come ? Truly Notre Dame’s darkest hour, and Pope
    Francis’, who watched in silence with the rest of The Catholic Church. A moderate response to our actual, not inevitable demise.
    William J. O’Connor
    Class of 1974

  4. Nancy D (@AnnDanielD) February 28, 2018 at 11:20 pm

    I think first and foremost, for the sake of Christ, His Church, all who will come to believe, and those prodigal sons and daughters, who, hopefully, will soon return to Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, this case should be brought before the Court that, before any other Court, has the duty and the authority, to hear this case, as well as any other case that concerns a misrepresentation of The Deposit of Faith.

  5. Robert A. Michalak February 28, 2018 at 12:24 pm

    “Father” Jenkins has lost his moral compass, spouting his situational ethics double talk, leading our Alma Mater away from the teachings of the Catholic Church. His offering of the instruments of sin while admonishing against the use of those instruments is hypocritical. His purported reliance on “the prompting of the Holy Spirit’ is sacrilegious even for a lay person, let alone a priest. Instead of leading Notre Dame to greater heights, he is leading the demolition of its Catholic identity.

  6. STEVEN MARTINEK (ND 1971, NDL 1974) February 28, 2018 at 12:21 pm

    The Pharisees were not faithless bad Jews, nor were they condemned. I meant no offense. The Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed (even with god-awful modern tweaks)–these I intone fully. This is my faith and I am proud to share it. I recall adhering to numerous rules as a child-Catholic: no meat on Fridays; fasting before communion; praying and seeking indulgences, all come to mind. I would not be surprised at all to find over 600 specific rules or prohibitions defining being a good adherent Catholic–and I do not demean any of them. I am pro-life and anti abortion or abortifaciants. For some that is not enough, I’ll let that speak for itself. God continue to bless all on this thread, and all who are ND. Amen?

  7. Brian Simboli, Ph.D. February 28, 2018 at 12:08 pm

    “Dr. Simboli’s comment sparks a bit of a personal follow-on. I do not call for the Pope or the Catholic Church or Father Jenkins to become or be Pharisees.”
    Ah, so those of us who affirm Church teaching are Pharisees. I’ll let that speak for itself.

  8. STEVEN MARTINEK (ND 1971, NDL 1974) February 28, 2018 at 12:00 pm

    Dr. Simboli’s comment sparks a bit of a personal follow-on. I do not call for the Pope or the Catholic Church or Father Jenkins to become or be Pharisees. Unlike many conservative cradle Catholics I do not see all rules and views of our Church as mandatory–I see some as aspirational best-practices. Yet, there must needs be consistency and constancy in such aspiration–not the muddled PC articulation offered by Jenkins. Such empathy, compassion, understanding, even license Father Jenkins may choose to issue in the privacy of the confessional is surely between him and the penitent and God–and not my business or concern. Yet, if he muddies the water and muddles the thinking of the faithful from the pulpit, or in his especially privileged position as President of the University of Notre Dame–then his words and actions become undeniably heretical and scandalous and demand some level of correction, repentance and amendment, I believe.

  9. Brian Simboli, Ph.D. February 28, 2018 at 11:19 am

    I don’t recall seeing the phrase “simple contraceptives” ever used in Catholic moral theology. Note how the term “simple” rhetorically demotes the intrinsic, objective wrongdoing of using contraceptives.

    Let’s be realistic here. Any reasonable observer will ask whether the Notre Dame administration’s obvious insouciance about so-called “simple” contraceptives doesn’t just reflect outright rejection of Church teaching that contraceptive use is intrinsically evil.

    One can fairly ask this question without actually attributing to Father Jenkins (or his supporters in the CSC order) the view that he actually rejects the Catechism’s teaching.

    But one can also ask whether he has ever discussed (in homilies or public statements… or in confessional practice) the obligation Roman Catholics have to follow its teachings … specifically on pains otherwise of committing mortal sin.

    Perhaps Fr. Jenkins has been emboldened by Cardinal Cupich’s subjectivist, deeply un-Catholic view of conscience. A closed conference was recently held at ND, part of a set of three “New Momentum” conferences, to discuss Amoris Laetitia, at which Cupich was supposed to speak.

    A “New Momentum” … from what, toward what? There is a larger theological context, one can only surmise, to Jenkins’s bold move to institutionalize at Notre Dame a rejection of Humanae Vitae.

  10. Pres. John Jenkins grasp of the meaning of truth escapes me. When the ND ’88 were awaiting our trials (for 2 years) Jenkins was often quoted in the South Bend Tribune saying that he had no influence over the trials as it was in the hands of the District Attorney. That was until ND was informed via our attorney, Tom Dixon, and The Thomas More Society, that they were in jeopardy of a huge Civil Rights Suit. A complicated miracle happened and the details reside with The TMS and Tom Dixon All of a sudden Pres. Jenkins said ND would step down and we were let off. I do keep John Jenkins and Notre Dame in my daily prayers and hope we all can do that.

    Penny Cyr, ND’88

  11. STEVEN MARTINEK (ND 1971, NDL 1974) February 28, 2018 at 10:18 am

    Here is the essential disingenuous language of lie in Father Jenkins letter…’ A tension exists between establishing policies in accord with Catholic teaching
    and respecting the religious traditions and decisions of the many members of our
    community. ‘ No such tension exists. There are no bona fide religious traditions and decisions which require any members of the ND community to have access to either contraception or abortion induction under an insurance plan. Having thus framed the false Hobson’s choice, Jenkins proceeds to rely upon it for perfidy. Tragic in its lack of moral and intellectual integrity. Very sad.

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