Notre Dame Washes its Hands

The Notre Dame Board of Trustees holds its Fall meeting on October 16th. We have sent to the Trustees the same analysis of the secularization of the University that we provided the Fellows in August, together with a summary of that analysisand comments on several new events. They include Father Jenkins’s announcement of pro-life initiatives and his washing the University’s hands of the trespass prosecutions of the pro-life protestors. We discuss these matters below and provide contact information for those who may wish to e-mail or write the Trustees.


In our letters we stress again the fundamental problem: the disappearing Catholic faculty. There are no longer the “preponderant number” of committed Catholics that the Mission Statement declares essential to the University’s Catholic identity.

Just as The Vagina Monologues and the Queer Film Festival were symptoms of this diminishing Catholic presence, so, too, was the honoring of President Obama. While some courageous faculty members gathered with protesting students at the Mass and Rally on the quad, most joined in the exuberant reception of the President. Shortly thereafter, according to Professor Alfred J. Freddoso, the faculty accorded Father Jenkins “three standing ovations at the annual faculty dinner following commencement.” He adds, “While various low-level administrators were circulating…encouraging faculty members to applaud loudly and often, most faculty members needed little such encouragement.” Introduction to Rice, “What Happened to Notre Dame?” pp. xiv-xv.

The principal point of our letters is that it is the fiduciary duty of the Trustees to insure that enough Catholics are hired to comply with the Mission Statement. This is not a matter of discretion. That is because the University’s Statutes require that it be Catholic (Section V.e) and the Mission Statement declares that this in turn requires the “continued presence of a predominant number of Catholic intellectuals.” There is nothing in any constitutive document permitting those in governance to subordinate this requirement of Catholic identity to some other goal, either academic or social.

In supplementing our August letter, we note in particular Father Jenkins’s apparent continuing retreat from his admirable early declarations about the importance of hiring more Catholics. In his recent annual address to the faculty, Father Jenkins stressed the need for hiring more women and minorities but said not a word about hiring more Catholics. This, too, was warmly received, for it plays to the faculty’s expressed preferences.


In our August letter, we anticipated some pro-life move by the University in reaction to the outcry over the Obama episode. We also indicated that a test of the University’s seriousness of purpose would be whether it enlisted the “instrumentality ready at hand,” the Notre Dame Fund for the Protection of Human Life, “an organization that is respected and trusted by pro-life alumni and groups and that has the potential to become the country’s most important pro-life intellectual center.”

As we expected, Father Jenkins did announce a pro-life initiative. But his announcement is deeply disappointing. The reasons are set forth in an email analysis by Bill Dempsey, part of which is incorporated in an Open Letter to Father Jenkins by Dr. Charles E. Rice that we discuss below. Those reasons, briefly stated, are these:

First, Father Jenkins excluded from the Task Force anyone associated with either the Fund or the other unapologetically pro-life faculty organization, the Center for Ethics & Culture. He even decided not to choose as the student member anyone from the leadership, or even the membership, of the student Right to Life organization.

Second, the issues that Father Jenkins said are being discussed are, almost literally and quite precisely, identical to those proposed by President Obama: conscience clause, aid to pregnant women, and end-of-life questions. This cannot have been accidental. These issues are as suitable for a secular as for a Catholic university. None goes to the issue as to which the Church stands in opposition to President Obama and the pro-abortion and pro-choice forces: the grave immorality of abortion. None goes to the proper role of the university: to teach its students. The need is pressing. A recent survey disclosed that the percentage of pro-choice students rose from 31% to 42% after four years at Notre Dame.

This is a dispiriting launch.


Father Jenkins also said he will join the March for Life. It is telling that this will be the first time a Notre Dame president has participated and also that it comes in the wake of widespread criticism. Still, Father Jenkins’s announcement would, of course, ordinarily be welcome. Unhappily, as Dr. Rice points out in his Open Letterand as we do to the Trustees, Father Jenkins’s gesture will be seriously compromised by the ongoing trespass prosecutions of the pro-life demonstrators.

Whatever one may think of civil disobedience or of the tactics of persons like Randall Terry, these defendants as a group are appealing in mission and dedication. Dr. Rice recounts the distinguished career of 79-year old Father Norman Weslin and writes that others include “Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff inRoe v. Wade, who has become pro-life and a Catholic..,retired military officers, mothers of many children, a Catholic nun in full habit, Christian pastors, several Ph.Ds, and Notre Dame grads.” Surely it strikes a sour note to see that at Notre Dame’s behest the transfigured Roe plaintiff is to be criminalized for carrying the pro-life flag to the Notre Dame campus.

We have written both the University’s General Counsel and Father Jenkins urging that the University suggest to the prosecutor that these cases be dismissed. We take no position on the legal or factual issues involved. We speak only of the action appropriate to a Catholic institution. As we wrote, “Now there is an opportunity to make up some ground by evidencing compassion to dedicated pro-life advocates…rather than seeming to be indifferent at best and vindictive at worst.”

The University’s uniform response has been that it is not party to the cases and therefore cannot dismiss them. Of course not, but this is simply an evasion. As we wrote: “No one will believe, nor should they, that it is beyond Notre Dame’s power simply to let the prosecutor know that Notre Dame has no wish to have these proceedings continue while acknowledging that the decision is entirely his.” We add that it’s hard to believe that the prosecutor would wish nevertheless to subject the County to the costs of an avalanche of jury trials and appeals.

Eighty-eight of the defendants (not including Randall Terry) are being represented by several Notre Dame graduates, Tom Dixon of South Bend and Thomas Brejcha and Peter Breen of the Thomas More Society of Chicago. Mr. Brejcha’s Open Letter to Father Jenkins has drawn widespread attention. For complete information, see the Society’s Free the 88 site. For a petition for leniency, see theDrop the Charges web site.


In response to our suggestion, a large number of Sycamore supporters wrote the Fellows. The other members of the Board should also have your views. The University does not make it easy. It no longer discloses even the city of the member. We have done our best to compile both mailing and e-mail addresses and we provide them here, but there will surely be some errors. We ask that you will tell us about any you discover.

The time before the October 16th meeting is short, but if you would like to write and cannot do so now, by all means do so later.


Finally, a reminder that you can receive a 15% discount on Charlie Rice’s illuminating study of Notre Dame, with a like amount going to Sycamore Trust, by using the promo code word SYCAMORE in ordering from the publisher, St. Augustine’s Press. Introduced by a penetrating forward by Professor Fred Freddoso, this book is required reading for all those concerned with Notre Dame’s prolonged and pronounced drift away from its Catholic roots.

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