Land O’Lakes On Steroids


The ascendancy of the Land O’Lakes statement, the charter for the secularization of Catholic universities, over Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Pope John Paul II’s charter for the preservation of their Catholic identity.

In this final bulletin on the Laetare Medal/Biden episode, we consider its broad significance. As Bishop Rhoades declared, the university has given scandal, but there is much more. In publicly spurning the counsel of Notre Dame’s (and his) bishop for the third time, Father Jenkins has further undermined the crucially important relationship between Notre Dame and the Church. More, he rejected the recommendations of his faculty committee and took an action he knew would divide alumni, becloud the commencement, and again stain Notre Dame’s reputation in the pro-life community. His actions mark the ascendancy of the Land O’Lakes statement, the charter for the secularization of Catholic universities, over Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Pope John Paul II’s charter for the preservation of their Catholic identity.

Ex Corde Ecclesiae versus Land O’Lakes

Father Wilson Miscamble, C.S.C., award-winning Notre Dame historian and author of For Notre Dame: Battling for the Heart and Soul of a Catholic University, has characterized the battle at Notre Dame as a “debate between these two documents,” Land O’Lakes and Ex Corde Ecclesiae. “How this contest gets worked out in practice,” he has declared, “will determine the future of Notre Dame.”

The Land O’Lakes 1967 statement by representatives of 26 Catholic universities, mostly Jesuit, coincided with the astonishingly swift transfer of control of almost all Catholic schools, including Notre Dame, to lay-dominated boards. Father Hesburgh chaired the meeting, held at the Holy Cross Land O’Lakes facility in Wisconsin.

The statement opened with a declaration of independence from the Church:

To perform its teaching and research functions effectively the Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.

The statement sounded this self-sufficiency theme throughout, as Father James T. Burtchaell, C.S.C., former provost of Notre Dame, explained in his masterful study of the secularization of religious schools, “The Dying of the Light.”

“From the Church,” he writes, “the university asks only to be left alone.” Again, “Apart from a wary welcome to theology,” which should be “explored ‘critically,’” “no other means to make Catholicism perceptively present and effectively active is mentioned. (pp. 594-5)

Land O’Lakes does not co-exist comfortably with Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Pope John Paul II’s 1990 definitive description of the essential elements of a Catholic university, which has been applied to the United States by its bishops in a 1999 decree.

In Land O’Lakes, the Church is held at a distance. In Ex Corde Ecclesiae, in contrast,

Every Catholic University, without ceasing to be a University, has a relationship to the Church that is essential to its institutional identity. One consequence…is a recognition of and adherence to the teaching authority of the Church in matters of faith and morals.

The bishops are the Church’s representatives in this relationship. They “have a particular responsibility to promote and assist in the preservation and strengthening of the Catholic identity” of Catholic universities. They “should be seen not as external agents but as participants in the life of the Catholic University,” and there should be “close personal and pastoral relationships between University and Church authorities, characterized by mutual trust, close and consistent cooperation and continuing dialogue.”

Notre Dame and Her Bishops

Father Jenkins began his presidency with a very public dispute with Bishop John M. D’Arcy over the student production of “The Vagina Monologues,” a startlingly graphic paean to lesbian sex.

Father Jenkins knew this was coming. Bishop D’Arcy had condemned then president Rev. Edward Malloy’s approval of this production when it was first staged in 2004, citing Ex Corde Ecclesiae and noting,

The bishop is the teacher within his diocese, bearing special responsibility on moral issues, especially when the souls of young people are involved.

Next came Bishop D’Arcy’s denunciation of the honoring of President Obama, which was echoed by 82 other cardinals, archbishops, and bishops. In an notable “America” article, “The Church and the University,” the bishop discussed both the Vagina Monologues and Obama episodes in terms of the link between Notre Dame and the Church, his relationship with Father Jenkins, the choice between Land O’Lakes and Ex Corde Ecclesiae, and the responsibility of the board of trustees.

He disclosed, for example, that Father Jenkins “chose not to dialogue with his bishop on these two matters, both pastoral and both with serious ramifications for the care of souls, which is the core responsibility of the local bishop.” This, he wrote, raised serious questions:

What is the relationship of the Catholic university to the local bishop? No relationship? Someone who occasionally offers Mass on campus? Someone who sits on the platform at graduation? Or is the bishop the teacher in the diocese, responsible for souls, including the souls of students—in this case, the students at Notre Dame?

Bishop D’Arcy cited Dr. John Cavadini, then chair of the theology department:

The statement of our President [Father Jenkins] barely mentions the Church. It is as though the mere mention of a relationship with the Church has become so alien to our ways of thinking and so offensive to our quest for a disembodied “excellence” that it has become impolite to mention it at all. There is no Catholic identity apart from the affiliation with the Church.

Finally, there is the breach between Father Jenkins and Bishop Rhoades over the award of the Laetare Medal to Vice President Biden.

Bishop Rhoades advised Father Jenkins that his action would cause scandal. Who can doubt it? Reasonable people will assume that Notre Dame would not confer this honor “for service to the Church” upon Biden if it took seriously his well-known pro-choice view and his support of same sex marriage (to say nothing of his support of embryonic stem cell research and the Obamacare contraception mandate). Even those present at the commencement were  unlikely to take seriously Father Jenkins’s bizarre disclaimer — “many of us have grave moral doubts about some of your actions” — as he handed Biden the award.

It is instructive to listen to someone with actual experience. A former Minnesota legislator, James Seifert (ND ‘79), wrote us in part:

Based on my own experience in the Minnesota legislature, conferring public praise by a national symbol of the Church on Catholics like Joe Biden has secondary consequences that are devastating….[P]ro-choice Catholics troll for votes from other Catholics with the very persuasive argument that if it wasn’t OK to be a pro-choice Catholic, Notre Dame would never have awarded a pro-choice Catholic its highest award.

The Laetare Medal Conundrum

The most puzzling, and troublesome, question is why Father Jenkins took this action. In the Vagina Monologues case, there was faculty pressure and (flimsy) assertions of academic freedom. In the Obama case, there was, well, the president, and a (sort of) tradition. Here, Father Jenkins rejected the faculty’s recommendations, and he knew that his action would divide alumni, becloud the commencement, and stain Notre Dame’s reputation in the pro-life community.

And for what? To convert the Laetare Medal into a civics award to politicians whom no one would call distinguished but who have generally (though certainly not always) been affable with opponents and generally (though certainly not always) inclined toward compromise rather than conflict.

This is meager reward at high price, surely. It suggests Father Jenkins may have seen benefit in demonstrating Notre Dame’s absolute independence of its bishop and willingness to disregard criticism by “too Catholic” alumni and pro-life and pro-marriage organizations and laity.

This is a deeply worrisome affair.


For a forceful criticism of Father Jenkins’s action, see the letter to the South Bend Tribune by Sycamore Trust board member Dr. Susan Biddle Shearer (ND PhD ’88). And here’s one alumna’s explanation to the university as to why she didn’t attend her 20th reunion,which  calls to mind  Alexandra De Sanctis’s essay about why she didn’t attend her commencement that we reproduced in our last bulletin:

I’ve been disappointed and discouraged in some of the decisions made by Our Lady’s University recently, and have not enthusiastically identified as an ND grad as of late. Honoring our pro-abortion President was bad enough, but giving a Catholic award to his Vice President, who himself claims to be Catholic while publicly and adamantly opposing the Church’s teachings, including that on human life, is horrible and horrifying.  I applaud the University for standing up against the contraceptive mandate, and for sending a huge group to the March for Life, but don’t understand how a University that is Catholic in name decided to provide benefits to those in adulterous or same-sex relationships. It is not just the old fuddy duddy alums who are appalled at some of the decisions being made on campus. Notre Dame’s job is not to win a popularity contest, but to raise honorable and educated citizens in an environment of truth.  I read about the decisions of the University and pray that someone will help right the ship out there. It is a ship worth righting.
— Respectfully, Sheila Cole (’91)

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27 Responses to “Land O’Lakes On Steroids”

  1. Catholics profess that from the moment of creation, when we are brought into being at our conception, every human person has been created in The Image and Likeness of God, equal in Dignity, while being complementary as a beloved son or daughter, Willed by God, Worthy of Redemption. It is not possible for a Baptised Catholic to remain in communion with Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church if a Baptized Catholic denies that God Is The Author of Love, of Life, and of Marriage.

  2. Charles van Ravenswaay August 5, 2016 at 11:46 am

    So…..on the one hand the Church abandoned the boards of these institutions to lay people (are most board members even Catholic? Christian? Religious at all?)………and on the other we are surprised at the complete loss of Catholic identity. Take your hand off the tiller and eventually you end up on the rocks. Even so…….why have the Bishops been completely ineffective reigning in the rogue Fr. Jenkins (and others?) Very troubling….on top of so many other troubling signs.

  3. These and past events, I feel, would very much sadden ND’s founder Rev. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., finding the Golden Dome of his beloved “L’Universite’ de Notre Dame du Lac” tarnished and its reflection on St. Mary’s Lake dimmed. In truth, despite Fr. Hesburgh’s priestly character and affection for social reforms, this is part of his legacy as well as that of Fr.Malloy and Fr. Jenkins, all presiding over the “Fading Irish” and the errosion of ND’s Catholic identity. Cannot ND be saved in the same manner that Franciscan University was rescued under the leadership of Fr. Michael Scanlan by renewing its ways and committment to be Christ centered to promote a truly Catholic education that will restore campus culture rather than continue this degenerating trend? The question for ND is will it make the necessry reassessment to guide itself along “the road less traveled” and heed the admonition of “Roman’s 12:2”:
    “Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may judge what is God’s will, what is good. pleasing, and perfect”.

    In the pursuit of prominence, Notre Dame’s grasp at autonomy and academic freedom independent of the teaching authority of the Catholic Church has been a profound mistake. Should not Notre Dame, and other formerly Catholic Universities, re-examine and re-assess their allegiance to the Land O’Lake’s “doctrine” and evaluate its role in the secularization of Catholic higher education at the cost of its Catholicity?
    Frank Diorio, Class of 56

  4. Bishop Sylvester D Ryan July 16, 2016 at 2:01 pm

    The puzzling aspect of this controversy, for me at least, is what benefit or need does the University of Notre Dame and its president to award honorary degrees to these political figures – they benefit from the awards rather than the University, and in fact the very chasms these awards create among both graduates and us non-Graduate Catholics especially regarding pro life issues and the rights of conscience. Previous Presidents carried out the mission of the University without need to compromise fundamental loyalties by courting public figures. Moreover it would be very helpful to know the facts of whether or not the Faculty Advisory Committee or the Board of Directors supported these actions. If the President can act regardless of their input or recommendations (where there are members of the Holy Cross Community) it makes a huge difference in placing the blame and responsibility. If the President of a University acts totally independent of these bodies as well as the input of major portions of the University as well as the local Bishop, it is clear there is an urgent need for a reassessment of the President’s role to represent the University. I respect the right of the University to act with a broad mind to scholarly research – but that is where academic freedom lies – never in the bond of the University to the fundamentals of faith especially when they touch upon foundational truths. Why divide a University on its very foundations to award recognition to public figures that have never stood with the University on the broadest of Social Justice Issues – the heart of our moral witness and that of a Catholic University so beloved as is Notre Dame. Bishop Sylvester Ryan, Retired Bishop of the Diocese of Monterey.

  5. I’m not a part of the Notre Dame community. I’ve received a BA from Santa Clara University and PhD from Marquette University. I share each of the concerns expressed by the Sycamore Trust, given the drastic decline in Catholic identity and the ascendency of secularism at these campuses. Given the questionable decisions made by recent presidents of Notre Dame, may I ask what by what procedure a new president is appointed? There clearly appears to be a shared commitment to secularization on the part of those in positions of power. Otherwise, wouldn’t a president faithful to the magisterium, to the truth of Catholic orthodoxy, be appointed consistently?
    As well, perhaps someone might clarify the purpose of having a hierarchical church structure. Normally, one would think that rogue theological decisions by those supposedly under the authority of Rome and Roman deputies (cardinals, bishops, etc.) would be overruled. I’ve seen activities on campuses appallingly at odds with Catholic moral teaching. Does this indicate that the Church has lost its nerve in terms of discipline? If there is such a thing as authentic Catholic teaching, how is it possible for Ex Corde to be overruled by an earlier statement of opinions by a lower level group? Are university presidents now figures who are de facto insulated from Roman authority? Has the papacy become a figurehead authority, akin to Britain’s monarchy? Please excuse these naive questions, but any clarification would be appreciated.

    • Thanks for your interest in Notre Dame, Mr. McCamy. For our part, we’re interested in Marquette and wish good fortune to its alumni organization, the Louis Joliet Society (, which we commend to you in case you have not yet heard of it.

      As to the presidency, it is filled by vote of the board of trustees. As with almost all Catholic colleges and universities, the majority of Notre Dame’s trustees are laypersons. The transfer of control from religious to lay control swept the Catholic higher education in the 1960′ and 70’s. Accordingly, the Church has no legal authority respecting Notre Dame or Marquette or other schools.

      At Notre Dame, however, the president must be a priest of the Holy Cross Order, who is subject to the authority of his Provincial and the Director General of the Order, who is in turn subject to the authority of the Pope. Moreover, CSC priests hold half the position on the board of Fellows, which holds ultimate authority over the trustees.

      Accordingly, it is accurate to say that the members of the Order, including the Provincials and Director Generals, are ultimately responsible for the drift at Notre Dame toward secularization under the direct actions and inaction of its presidents in recent decades and Father Jenkins most recently.

      Bishop Rhoades’s authority is limited to the authority he holds over any priest functioning as a priest in his diocese. He has no authority over the university.

      But of course these matters should not be thought of in terms of authority in an authentically Catholic university but rather in terms of comity and the voluntary embrace of Catholic teachings and the rich Catholic intellectual tradition. That depends in large measure on having a faculty in which committed Catholics are dominant — a majority, as ND’s Mission Statement requires but as Notre Dame does not have. Those in governance at ND, especially the priests and their superiors but also of course the laypersons on the board, are responsible for this situation just as it is their obligation to reverse course.

  6. Colleen Sullivan July 13, 2016 at 3:19 pm

    How long until Jenkins retires? Is it possible for Sycamore Trust to lead a petition from alumni and faculty to request a replacement for the rector in light of the repeated scandal he has been to those of us that think the University’s best days are ahead of it once it embraces and signs on with Ex Corde Ecclesiae?

    • Fr Jenkins was elected by the board of trustees to a second five-year term that runs until 2020. After the Obama debacle some alumni organized a campaign to withhold contributions until Fr jenkins was replaced. Thy collected millions of dollars in pledges. It had no impact. The best option by far is to work with what we have, supporting the faculty and students dedicated to the school’s Catholic mission in every we we can and seeking to influence those in governance by investigating and reporting truthfully and fearlessly on actions and policies that collide with and undermine the university’s Catholic identity. It took decades for the situation to deteriorate to the extent it has. It will take a comparably long time to recover, if recover Notre Dame does. That’s because all depends in the end on the composition of the faculty. Reform must come through a change in hiring policy designed to restore Cathoic faculty to a predominant position.

  7. Dennis Mackin July 13, 2016 at 3:15 pm

    I came to Atlanta almost 50 years ago. Some colleagues said that without football a Notre Dame Education was unimportant. I replied that I had sought a Catholic education. Having made my share of mistakes along the way I still have been able to rely on my education such that from my perspective I have not often shamed ideals I learned at Notre Dame. However, I can no longer hold it out as a paragon of Catholicism. Indeed, I think that the recent actions of Fr. Jenkins have caused many faithful Catholics to reject it as a font of Catholic teaching.

  8. Sounds like a popularity contest look at us ND we get the big guys here. But at what cost. I am a labor and delivery RN live in fear of my conscience protection. I have spent my life first doing no harm to any life. Where is my support.

  9. Excellent, prompted me to donate to Sycamore Trust.

  10. walt osgood '62 - '65 July 13, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    The only factor that the University understands is $$$$$$$$……I went to ND on an athletic scholarship…I’ve always felt that I should repay ND….I accomplished that, plus a few more $$$$$…….I’ve given my last dollar to the University….NO MORE….

  11. “And for what? To convert the Laetare Medal into a civics award to politicians whom no one would call distinguished but who have generally (though certainly not always) been affable with opponents and generally (though certainly not always) inclined toward compromise rather than conflict.”

    I’m glad you mentioned this, as it reflects my reaction to the news of Biden and Boehner being chosen for the award: All it took to be awarded one of the highest honors for a Catholic in America is to have been a bit less of a jerk occasionally than one has come to expect from a politician. If this is the best that the Church in America can inspire… good grief.

  12. Joe Schaefer universal City TX '59 July 13, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    Could it all be about Federal Funding?

  13. Margaret Butler July 13, 2016 at 10:34 am

    The heart of the matter is that Notre Dame is a large jewel in Satan’s bag of conquests. Our society needs a exorcism. We have allowed ourselves to be lulled by the Obamic lies of hope and change. These drugs have been fed to us in teaspoons, so we won’t reject their sulfuric taste from Hell. There is no Hell, right?
    Instead of doning our armour for battle and fight for our Christian souls we slink away hoping someone else will fight for us.. We don’t want to fight, we want it to be easy. Hey, I gotta go. My favorite show is on TV.
    Wake up America!

  14. Remember Paul Newman (Frank Galvin) in “The Verdict ” : “This is the case, there is no other case”.:
    At Notre Dame there is one issue and the remainder are vastly subordinate, the provision of abortion causing drugs to students and employees that starve innocent unborn children to death. How many have perished since January of 2014
    so the Irish can avoid government mandate fines, with the active consent of Jenkins and the Board of Trustees, and the
    passive assent of all Notre Dame, the Catholic Church, and thousands of so-called Right to Life organizations.
    The primary consequence is staggering. Before Notre Dame’s policy became practice,. Our Blessed Mother
    and Her Son fled campus faster than they fled Nazareth and Herod’s government mandate policy. Without them,
    The Golden Dome, Basilica, and Grotto are nothing more than secular tourist attractions, and will remain so until the
    current policy is aborted, and Our Leaders return.
    May life again be sacred at Notre Dame. William J. O’Connor
    Hammod, Indiana

  15. George O’Leary mis-stated his academic background on his resume and was notoriously de-hired by Notre Dame. Joe Biden mis-stated his academic background on his resume and became vice-president. I must respectfully point out that Joe Biden is not an honest man. His history of pathological dishonesty is far too extensive to list here. Just do a web search on “Lyin’ Joe Biden.”

  16. ‘Freedom of conscience’ reigns supreme at Notre Dame. Thus, one would think, and hope, that much more attention would be given to proper Catholic formation. Perhaps there is a glance, or two, in that direction, but the obvious focus is riveted on the secular. To claim to be “Catholic”, and not “secular” is manifestly disingenuous.

  17. The University was founded in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who points only to her Divine Son, savior of the world. It’s raison d’etre, from the beginning, was the same as that of the Church – the salvation of souls. Beginning with Father Hesburgh and augmented under his two successors, the University has abandoned any pretense that it exists for the salvation of souls, in favor of a never-ending lust for prestige. Forget the disconnect between the two documents; the real disconnect comes from the University abandoning why it came to be in the first place.

  18. This is an excellent recap to a whole sorry chapter. Thank you Sycamore Trust!

    Has thought been given to the possibility that awarding the Laetare Medal to Vice President Biden was a purposeful precursor to removing some of the grounds for opposition and reducing the volume of the opposition from orthodox Catholic quarters and perhaps the pro-life movement or other advocacy organizations as well should Notre Dame decide it wants to honor the next President of the United States next year, whoever that person may be and whatever their public differences with Catholic doctrine may be? Even given a President who is running harder than President Obama did in 2008 on their pro-abortion position and was for four years the champion of President Obama’s nearly predominant foreign policy of leveraging much (most?) aid to developing and third world countries on rejection of multiple tenets of Catholic teaching on sexual morality . . . or one who has effectively belittled numerous tenets of Church teaching in his personal life, public statements over several decades, and some patterns in his business dealings, has Notre Dame coerced the silence of many of the bishops who objected to the honorary degree and speaker’s podium provided to President Obama and their equally concerned successors?

    How many bishops may be concerned but feel uncomfortable, perhaps even out of order, objecting to an invitation to a non-Catholic as the commencement speaker and the recipient of an honorary degree because they did not weigh in publicly and vociferously on the awarding of the Laetare Medal, a specifically Catholic award specific to one’s service to the Church in their field, to Biden?

    Was the Biden award also designed to discourage public objection to and protest of a Presidential degree and commencement address in 2017 by making the subdued public and pro-life response this year the recent memory as opposed to the very strong and sustained response to the Obama award, capped by the two year long saga of the Notre Dame 88?

    • John, we meant to suggest something of the sort, though not with such precision, in our concluding words: “It suggests Father Jenkins may have seen benefit in demonstrating Notre Dame’s absolute independence of its bishop and willingness to disregard criticism by “too Catholic” alumni and pro-life and pro-marriage organizations and laity. This is a deeply worrisome affair.” This echoes Alexandra DeSanctis’s suggestive comment that Fr. Jenkins may have acted “deliberately.” Of course he did, but I take her to have meant he may have suffered no regrets but rather in a way welcomed the opportunity to demonstrate his independence of his bishop and resistance to protesting alumni, students, pro-life Catholics and organizations, and any others. The question is prompted especially because of the availability of so many much more suitable recipients of the award.

  19. Jim Thunder '72 July 13, 2016 at 6:21 am

    This is the first I’ve seen that the faculty objected to the Biden (and Boehner?) award. Maybe I’ve just missed it. Maybe there is a silver lining here.

    What faculty organization made the objection? Is there a date? a link? a statement? for this objection.

    • Jim, we did not say that the faculty objected, but rather that Fr Jenkins rejected the faculty committee’s recommendations. We don’t know how the committee members reacted when Fr Jenkins told them of his choice. He said simply that he talked to them, not what they said. One might infer that they concurred, or on the contrary that if they had Fr Jenkins would have said so. In the Observer article linked to our bulletin in support of our statement, the Observer reported: “Each year, a committee provides recommendations to Jenkins, who is free, but not required, to select an honoree from the list of suggestions. Biden and Boehner were not on this year’s list of proposed recipients, but Jenkins chose to award the medal to the two individuals after discussing the matter with the committee, he said.”

  20. Gerald Wester July 13, 2016 at 6:13 am

    Pride is at the root of almost all evil. In this case, Fr Jenkins would apparently desire recognition and approval from his secular cohorts rather than be faithful to Ex Corde Ecclesiea. This apparent contempt for Church teaching authority has/is undermining and scandalizing the faithful. Please keep your spotlight shining on the evil acts emanating from Fr Jenkin’s and by extension the Holy Cross hierarchy’s cooperation with this evil while hiding from sight behind the mother of Christ.Thank you for your efforts.

  21. I live in the greater Washington, DC area and from my observationGeorgetown is no longer considered a major Catholic University. It has become another secular university like Duke or the University of Chicago. If Notre Dame loses its Catholic identity, it will not have both the power and prestige it has today.

    When I was a student at Notre Dame in the late 1950’sand early 1960’s, Notre Dame awarded the Patroit of the Year award. It may be time to revisit this award. As a Catholic, one has to divide civic leader from Catholic leader. VP Biden is the former.
    In many ways, VP Biden possesses many of the talents of former President Ford. He is honest and respected by his fellow elected officials. To close, I will cite one of Jesus’ passages,” Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God was is God’s.”
    Joe Libby 61

  22. Michael P. Bresnan July 13, 2016 at 5:17 am

    I find it curious that above this box it states “No comments yet.” Knowing that I have left a comment on VP Biden I find it strange that there are no comments shown. I would very much like to read the comments of those who were also as incensed as I was. Where may these comments be seen?

    • You were actually the first person to comment on this bulletin which was distributed only an hour ago. However, if you’re interested in reading the comments from the last two bulletins which deal with the same topic (“Graduate Like A Champion” and “Grave Moral Reservations Won’t Stop Us) go to the Bulletin Archive section on this site. It’s on the menu below “Bulletins” at the top of this page. Since launching our new website, we haven’t had the level of activity on our commenting section as we did on our old site which was starting to fall apart on us. We’re assuming the decline is just an factor of people getting used to the different look and feel of the new site. Therefore I appreciate your comment in particular which I read also as an encouragement for others to share their thoughts on this site.

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