(Mis)Reading and (Mis)Representation

NOTRE DAME, IN — Over 150 Notre Dame faculty call for Bishop Daniel R. Jenky’s resignation as a Notre Dame Fellow and Trustee upon their doctored version of  a homily by Bishop Jenky in which he criticized President Obama’s incursions on religious liberty.
In a letter to Fr. Jenkins and Board Chairman Richard Notebaert, over 150 Notre Dame faculty members have called for the resignation of Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, C.S.C., as a Fellow and Trustee because of a homily in which, they claim, the Bishop “described President Obama as ‘seeming intent on following a similar path’ to Hitler and Stalin.”

Our concern has always centered on the faculty. This episode intensifies that concern.

The professors’ misrepresentation of Bishop Jenky’s homily is scandalous, and the University’s limp response is both lamentable and telling.

The professors direct their fire at a passage in Bishop Jenky’s homily delivered during a “A Call to Catholic Men of Faith” event. His homily was, in sum, a stirring call for courageous defense of the Church against a range of attacks, including incursions on religious liberty by the Obama administration.

Bishop Jenky spoke against the background of the recent extraordinary call to arms by the bishops’ Committee on Religious Liberty in which the bishops catalog a series of alarming governmental restrictions of religious liberty.

In the passage triggering the faculty’s attack, Bishop Jenky drew upon the lessons of history in the suppression of religious liberty by Bismarck, Clemenceau, Hitler and Stalin.

Now, observe what Bishop Jenky actually said about Hitler, Stalin, and Obama and then what the Notre Dame professors claim he said:

Bishop Jenky:

Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services, and health care.

In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, Barack Obama — with his radical, pro abortion and extreme secularist agenda, now seems intent on following a similar path.

Not a whisper about anything Hitler or Stalin did other than their restrictions on the Church and religious liberty. Not a hint of anything Obama has done or may do other than his “violation of First Amendment rights.”

But you wouldn’t know that from the faculty’s gutted version of the homily. This is the whole of what the professors claim Bishop Jenky said:

[Bishop Jenky] described President Obama as “seem[ing] intent on following a similar path” to Hitler and Stalin.

With the license they have conferred upon themselves by this major surgery on the homily, they move on to link its residue with — guess — right! — genocide!

Bishop Jenky’s comments demonstrate ignorance of history, insensitivity to victims of genocide, and absence of judgment …. [W]e find it profoundly offensive that a member of our beloved university’s highest authority, the Board of Fellows, should compare the President’s actions with those whose genocidal policies murdered tens of millions of people, including the specific targeting of Catholics, Jews, and other minorities for their faith.

This defamatory wild swinging substitutes for addressing the merits of what Bishop Jenky said about the Obama administration’s assault on religious liberty and the warning history provides in the actions of Clemenceau, Bismarck, Hitler, and Stalin.

It is, accordingly, scarcely surprising that the faculty were unmoved by the subsequent statement of the obvious by a diocesan spokesperson:

Bishop Jenky gave several examples of times in history in which religious groups were persecuted because of what they believed. We certainly have not reached the same level of persecution. However, history teaches us to be cautious once we start down the path of limiting religious liberty.

One of the signatories explained, “Notre Dame is a place of civility, of discourse, of engagement.” This professor does not contribute by being party to this supremely uncivil shunning of discourse and engagement by way of a deliberate mischaracterization of Bishop Jenky’s homily.

Another signatory, an English professor, complained, “You cannot compare someone to Hitler and then note afterwards that you weren’t referring to … the death camps and all the rest.”

You can’t for people who can’t or won’t read. There is no “afterwards” about it.

It is hard to resist surmising that the faculty is acting simply out of resentment at the Bishop’s powerful criticism of President Obama. In retrospect, it would have been better had the Bishop not given them the chance to bang the “Hitler” and “Stalin” and “holocaust” drums; but how could he have anticipated such discreditable mischief coming from, of all places, Notre Dame?


Presented with this dodgy assault on Bishop Jenky, Father Jenkins and Mr. Notebaert ducked. As reported in The Observer, they responded:

As you might imagine, members of the Board of Trustees have taken positions on a wide array of issues through the years. When the person does not appear to be speaking on behalf of Notre Dame, as is the case here, it has been and remains our policy to refrain from comment.

But this will not do. The matter does not turn on whether Bishop Jenky was “speaking on behalf of Notre Dame,” but rather on the fact that a great many faculty are challenging the qualifications of Bishop Jenky to serve as a Fellow and on the Board.

There is precedent in such a situation, but not the policy Fr. Jenkins and Mr. Notebaert cite. It is, rather the precedent of the Roxanne Martino case.

In this highly publicized episode of but a year ago, we and many others urged that Roxanne Martino resign from the board because of her support of a pro-abortion organization. Fr. Jenkins and Mr. Notebaert were quick to spring to her defense. While she did in fact resign, they never wavered in their support.

Surely they should have done as much for Bishop Jenky, especially since the difference is that the criticism of Ms. Martino was solidly grounded whereas the criticism of Bishop Jenky is not only baseless but the product of deliberate miscasting of his homily by Notre Dame faculty.

The Bishop, a Notre Dame alumnus, is the highest-ranking C.S.C. in the country. He has faithfully served Notre Dame for many years, earlier as superior of the Holy Cross community and rector of the basilica and more recently as a Fellow and board member. He is assailed by faculty for what he said about the most significant battery of threats to religious liberty for many decades.

One can only speculate as to why Fr. Jenkins and Mr. Notebaert would defend Roxanne Martino’s qualifications but not Bishop Jenky’s.


Bishop Jenky has been ably defended from within Notre Dame by Fr. Wilson Miscamble, C.S.C., and Professor Emeritus Charles Rice. We urge you to examine Father’s interview and Dr. Rice’s article. Father Miscamble finds the letter “quite embarrassing because these academics disgracefully misused Bishop Jenky’s words by taking them out of context.” Professor Rice adds, “[A]ssuming that they actually read [the homily] before they distorted and denounced it.”

Further from Father Miscamble, a former chairman of the History Department:

I challenge the signatories to this letter … to point to one part of his homily that is historically inaccurate …. His homily was a courageous homily which pointed to a pattern of behavior of a number of regimes to limit religious freedom and to attack religious institutions.”

The new editor-in-chief of The Irish Rover, too, has published a thoughtful editorial supporting the Bishop, while the official student publication, The Observer, predictably even outdid the faculty in denouncing him. (The Observer has supported the honoring of Obama, the Vagina Monologues, and the demands of gays and their supporters.)

Other sound analyses include that of Matthew Franck in First Things (the faculty “engage in ritual denunciation, bullying, and a petulant tantrum meant to mau-mau Father Jenkins and the bishop … they should go back to school”); of Political Science student Theresa Franck (posted by Professor Richard Garnett of the Law School); and of law student Ryan Larson.

This reminds us that The Observer does not speak for all students and that, while 150 plus signatories is a distressingly large number and while the proportion of Arts & Letters signatories is especially worrisome — out of the 106 whose names are public 95 are from A&L — there are some 900 members of the faculty. Let us take comfort where we can.


The Notre Dame professor emeritus who assailed TFP Student Action for its criticism of the University’s funding and listing of summer internships in pro-abortion organizations has now doubled down in a vituperative response to our bulletin. There is really nothing more to say, and we don’t want to distract from the much more important faculty issue we discuss in this bulletin. But those who may be interested in the end to this sorry tale can click here here for the professor’s assault on us. (Unsurprisingly, she was a signatory to the faculty letter we discuss above.)


Support Bishop Jenky and all religious leaders who speak out against assaults on religious liberty by signing the Thomas More Society’s I Stand with Bishop Jenky Petition.

Notre Dame should issue a statement of support of Bishop Jenky by the Fellows and the Board of Trustees against the unprincipled attack by the complaining members of the Notre Dame Faculty. That is what a Catholic  university committed to the preservation of religious liberty would do in defense of those in its governance leading in this struggle. If you agree and would like to help with our mission of Catholic renewal at Notre Dame, please click here.

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