The first is Notre Dame’s protest of the government’s proposed regulation that would require the University to provide contraception and sterilization coverage in its employee health insurance policies. While Notre Dame’s move is laudable, in important respects Fr. Jenkins’s statement is not.
The second is another violation by Notre Dame of the policy of the United States bishops against awarding honors to organizations violating fundamental Church teachings, in this instance an organization promoting contraception.
In addition, in our concluding “Notes” section we urge support of an important student project, this year’s Edith Stein Conference.
Notre Dame’s Protest of Mandatory Contraception Insurance Coverage
Pursuant to the “ObamaCare” legislation, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has proposed that employers be required to include contraception and sterilization coverage in their employee health insurance plans.
The conscience clause exemption is so narrowly drawn that it does not cover schools like Notre Dame nor a host of other Catholic service organizations.
Father Jenkins’s Statement – The Good News
The President of Catholic University, Dr. John Garvey (ND ’70), fired the opening salvo against this proposal in a widely publicized op-ed piece in the Washington Post.
Subsequently, Notre Dame joined CUA and the USCCB in filing official protests with HHS. In its excellent pleading, the USCCB presented the comprehensive constitutional, statutory, and regulatory argument against the proposed regulation. Notre Dame’s supplemental protest was in the form of a letter from Fr. Jenkins to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius emphasizing the need for a broader conscience clause. Father Jenkins and Dr. Garvey also joined 18 other heads of Catholic service and other organizations in a widely publicized advertisement opposing the HHS proposal.
We add that Notre Dame Law School scholars Gerard V. Bradley and O. Carter Snead recently co-authored with professor Helen Avare of George Mason Law School a compelling analysis of the HHS proposal that contributes importantly to the literature on the subject.
This was a laudable step by Fr. Jenkins. It is gratifying to see the presidents of the bishops’ university and the nation’s flagship Catholic university, both Notre Dame men, stand side by side with America’s bishops in protest against this aggressive assault on Catholic institutions.
Father Jenkins’s action is especially notable because Notre Dame and CUA stand alone on this matter among the nation’s major Catholic universities and, for that matter, nearly alone among the nation’s 225 Catholic colleges and universities.
Another eighteen smaller schools joined the Cardinal Newman Society in filing protests, and there evidently were a few more last minute submissions. But the great majority of Catholic schools evidently remained silent.
Indeed, a number of them already provide contraception coverage, probably most if not almost all because of state laws. Boston College, for example, obeys state law but does not provide contraceptives in its on-campus dispensary.
While Father Jenkins has declared that Notre Dame will cancel its employee health insurance program if this regulation becomes law, evidently these other schools have decided that it is ethically permissible to comply with state laws on the ground — to use traditional moral theology categories — that this constitutes “mediate material cooperation” rather than “formal cooperation” with evil and is justified by a countervailing proportionate cause, i.e., the provision of health insurance to employees.
This obviously does not advance the conscience clause argument, but it does serve to underscore Father Jenkins’s admirable boldness in so aggressively supporting the Church’s teaching.
We wish the story could end here. Unhappily, it cannot.
Father Jenkins’s Statement – the Bad News
In his letter, Father Jenkins quite unnecessarily volunteered that he “stand[s] by his decision” to confer an honorary degree upon the President in 2009.
Father had said before that he would “do it again.” That is, he would again act in contravention of the policy of the country’s bishops prohibiting the honoring of persons who support abortion, an action that brought the condemnation of 83 cardinals, archbishops, and bishops, a tsunami of criticism from Catholics everywhere, and heated division among alumni.
Still, when Father Jenkins first reaffirmed his decision not a great deal had yet happened and he could be reported as believing that the event “had influenced the President for the better” without being ridiculed.
But subsequent events have surely laid to rest the fanciful notion that a brief visit to Notre Dame would change the views of this dedicated pro-abortion politician.
Thus, we have seen Obama’s repeal of the Bush/Reagan Mexico City policy and the consequent flow of taxpayer money to abortions overseas, new NIH embryonic stem cell research rules wiping out the Bush restrictions, and the narrowing of the conscience clause for medical care workers.
Nor is this all by any means. Observers have compiled a list of Administration initiatives “relentlessly attacking religious liberty” too long to reproduce here, but we should take note at least of how, at a recent fundraiser, the President “offered a flippant ‘darn tooting’ rejoinder to an audience member who called out support for his unyielding enforcement of the contraceptive mandate.”
And yet Father Jenkins insists again that it was right for Notre Dame to honor President Obama. This is deeply disappointing. It confirms Bishop D’Arcy’s charge that the University chose “prestige over truth,” for now there is no other explanation. More, it shows that, while Notre Dame stands with the bishops on the current issue, it will freely leave them again if it judges some secular interest to trump union with the Church.
But there is more. In an evident effort to unearth some benefit from the honoring of Obama, Fr. Jenkins argues that the Notre Dame community and the President had agreed upon, in the President’s words, “a sensible conscience clause” and that the Secretary’s proposal “is not the kind of ‘sensible’ approach the President had in mind.”
This salvage attempt is transparently infirm. The lack of content of the phrase “sensible conscience clause” is obvious. Both Democrats and Republicans want a sensible tax reform, a sensible environmental policy, a sensible deficit reduction program, and all else that is sensible. No doubt the Taliban would like a sensible peace accord. Why, then, all the discord?
But beyond this, Father Jenkins’s invocation of Obama’s statement is especially instructive because it focuses attention on what the President actually said and shows just how easily gulled were those who supported the honoring of Obama.
The paragraph in which Obama called for common ground — just what the audience was waiting for — was a masterpiece of clever drafting. He succeeded in drawing a burst of applause for his call for agreement on more extensive contraception and he limited his empty phrase “sensible conscience clause” to abortion and qualified it with an appeal to science and the “equality of women.” Thus:
So let us work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions, let’s reduce unintended pregnancies. (Applause.)…Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded not only in sound science, but also in clear ethics, as well as respect for the equality of women. (Applause.)
What did the audience think Obama meant by “reducing unintended pregnancies”? Abstinence? It is the administration’s phrase for contraception, but it is in any case in plain English.
And so far as a “sensible conscience clause” for abortion is concerned, as we’ve noted the Administration has already narrowed the Bush regulation.
The fact is that Obama promised nothing. HHS may modify the regulation, but surely not because of Obama’s Notre Dame visit. The Administration might well elect not to become locked in litigation with the nation’s Catholic bishops and Catholic institutions over incursions into religious freedom during an election year. Oremus.
Indeed, it is Obama who might wonder why Notre Dame is turning on him now after the wave of applause that greeted his call for agreement on contraception. He knew how weak Catholic support is for this Church teaching. Why should it be different at Notre Dame?
Reaction to Fr. Jenkins’s Statement at Notre Dame.
Why indeed? The student newspaper The Observer deplored Fr. Jenkins’s “clinging” to this trace of Catholic identity. Notre Dame, The Observer declared, has to make up its mind whether it is an “educational institution that happens to be Catholic” – The Observer’s choice – or a “Catholic institution that happens to teach.”
And Notre Dame’s voice in Commonweal, Professor Cathleen Kaveny, confesses that she can’t figure out whether there are any “underlying philosophical justifications for conscience protections.” So much for Fr. Jenkins’s protest.
On the other hand, an editorial in the indispensable independent student publication The Irish Rover provides an admirably balanced perspective. While noting the troubling implications of Fr. Jenkins’s invocation of the Obama episode, the editorial concluded, “Fr. Jenkins’s letter is cause for gratitude” and “gives us hope that Notre Dame may take up its proper role as the nation’s leading Catholic university.”
So hope we all.
Notre Dame Honors a Pro-Contraception Organization.
Notre Dame’s post-Obama actions confirm Fr. Jenkins’s reaffirmation of Notre Dame’s willingness to act in opposition to the policy of the country’s bishops
Last year, as we have reported, honors were conferred on a major embryonic stem cell research player, General Electric.
And now we report that this year the University honored a promoter and provider of contraception services, Partners in Health (PIH).
In conferring the Notre Dame Award for International Human Development and Solidarity upon PIH, Fr. Jenkins said, “PIH represents in their work the work of Christ.”
While the “work of Christ” phrase is apt for PIH’s important health projects in impoverished countries, it hardly suits PIH’s extensive contraception program (presumably including abortifacients).
PIH’s website explains:
Family planning is among the most effective tools for reducing maternal mortality. When women are counseled, educated, and provide with contraceptive options, they are more likely to delay childbearing, have fewer children, and reduce their risk for obstetrical complications….Family planning is an integral part of the model of comprehensive women’s health care….Each of ZL’s clinical sites has a full-time nurse trained in sex education and reproductive health counseling ZL has been offering free condoms and other contraceptive methods for over 15 years.”
We wrote to ask how the award to PIH could be squared with the bishops’ injunction that “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.” In his reply, the University spokesperson did not even mention that policy. He simply said that PIH’s contraception programs were “not at the core” of its mission.
The Irish Rover was no more successful in its effort to secure an explanation. As recounted in its fine article about this award, the University’s response was even more unresponsive if that is possible. It did not even refer to the contraception program, “core” or otherwise, that was the point of The Rover’s inquiry.
Once again Notre Dame substitutes its own policy for that of the bishops. Whether or not its contraceptive programs are “core,” whatever that might mean, they are extensive and important. There is no exception in the bishops’ policy for organizations who conduct morally objectionable programs like these no matter what other praiseworthy projects they may sponsor. Nor, indeed, did the University spokesman suggest the contrary.
Thus, as Father Jenkins’s letter to Secretary Sebelius signals, the fissure between University and Church persists notwithstanding their alliance on the HHS proposal.
It gives us no pleasure to muffle praise of Father Jenkins’s action, but the alternative is to forgo a careful analysis of what he said in combination with what the University has done in favor of a burst of uncritical enthusiasm at any sign of hope for a renewal of Notre Dame’s Catholic identity. That is not our mission.
Special Note: We urge you to join Sycamore Trust in donating to The Edith Stein Conference. The conference, which will be held at the University on February 10th and 11th, is produced annually by the Identity Project of Notre Dame and is one of the most important student contributions to the Catholic identity of the University.
Instituted as a counter to The Vagina Monologues, the conference continues as a vital means of illumination of, and reflection upon, the authentically Catholic vision of issues of gender, sexuality, and vocation. It requires substantial contributions to enable it to enlist as participants outstanding faculty members and notable scholars, authors, and commentators from outside the University as it has in the past.
If you wish to help, make your tax-deductible check payable to “The University of Notre Dame – The Identity Project of Notre Dame” and send it to:
University of Notre Dame (The Identity Project of Notre Dame), Department of Development, 1100 Grace Hall, Notre Dame, IN 46556
We suggest you also advise the students and us of your contribution by way of an e-mail to Renee Roden with a copy to George Heidkamp, our Secretary/Treasurer.