Students’ Open Letter to Notre Dame’s Administration


Notre Dame students want their school to explain why it is doing precisely what it told the courts would violate its conscience and give scandal to them Click To Tweet

While some Notre Dame students are calling for the removal of 12 iconic murals of Christopher Columbus that have been on campus since 1884, others are demanding that the administration set the record straight about its Catholic values. In an open letter to the school’s president, vice-president, and administration, the editorial staff of The Irish Rover wants to know which version of the truth they’re expected to believe, the version Notre Dame swore to in court — that having any role in the provision by its health insurance contractors of free abortiacients and contraceptives to students and employees would violate its “sincerely held religious beliefs” — or the version it’s acting out on campus now by having its health insurance contractors continue doing just that even though the Trump administration authorized Notre Dame to stop it. Why, the students wonder, is the university doing precisely what it told the courts would violate its conscience and give scandal to students? The students ask, “Is Notre Dame no longer committed to the Catholic values that it testified to holding?” Surely they are entitled to an answer. They have yet to receive one.

The Irish Rover is an independent and indispensable student publication at Notre Dame that was established to help preserve the school’s Catholic identity. Its talented staff combines reports on campus news, with an emphasis on events that relate to the university’s Catholic identity, with investigative reporting and thoughtful and often hard-hitting editorials. The Rover is essential reading for all who value Notre Dame as a Catholic university. You can sign up for free emails here, or you can purchase a subscription to the print edition here.


In 2013, the University of Notre Dame filed a lawsuit against the Obama Administration over the so-called ‘contraceptive mandate’ of the Department of Health & Human Services, which requires employers to cover contraceptive and abortifacient drugs under their insurance plans at no cost to employees.

Though Notre Dame was granted an accommodation by the Obama Administration, it filed suit against the Obama Administration, arguing that the accommodation was not sufficient. Abortion and contraceptives were so morally reprehensible, Notre Dame argued, that it was inconsistent with its Catholic identity to provide contraceptive or abortion inducing drugs, even through their third party provider, Meritain.

While Notre Dame’s lawsuit was ultimately unsuccessful, just last month, President Trump expanded the religious freedom accommodation, relieving the University of Notre Dame and other similar organizations from the contraceptive mandate.  Upon President Trump’s expansion, Notre Dame sent an email to faculty, staff and students announcing that they would no longer cover contraceptives under the university health plan.

However, within a week, the University reversed that announcement. In a statement to NPR, the administration explained Notre Dame’s decision,

recognizing, however, the plurality of religious and other convictions among its employees, it [Notre Dame] will not interfere with the provision of contraceptives that will be administered and funded independently of the University.

This reversal has left many dumbfounded—shocked that after a long and costly lawsuit in which Notre Dame asserted that it was against its Catholic values to play any part in providing contraceptives and abortifacients to employees and students, it would abruptly reverse course and willingly participate in such action.

Below, we have attached several selections from a sworn affidavit of Notre Dame’s Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves in its 2013 appeal to the Supreme Court, University of Notre Dame v. Burwell. In his affidavit, Affleck-Graves argued that the Catholic character of Notre Dame prevented it from providing contraceptive and abortifacients because to do so would compromise its Catholic values. In the affidavit, Affleck-Graves wrote that “if I [Affleck-Graves] were called upon to testify to them, I [Affleck-Graves] could and would competently do so.”

Four years later, the Rover calls upon President John Jenkins, CSC, Affleck-Graves, and the administration to respond to Affleck-Graves’ 2013 statements. Do Jenkins, Affleck-Graves, and the administration now claim that these same statements are untrue? Is Notre Dame no longer committed to the Catholic values that it testified to holding?

From the affidavit of John Affleck-Graves:

I, John Affleck-Graves, being duly sworn, declare and state as follows:

10. Notre Dame provides a distinctive voice in higher education that is at once rigorously intellectual and unapologetically committed to the moral principles and ethics of the Catholic Church.

12. In accordance with the Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Notre Dame believes and teaches that “besides the teaching, research and services common to all Universities,” it must “bring[] to its task the inspiration and light of the Christian message.” “Catholic teaching and discipline are to influence all university activities,” and “[a]ny official action or commitment of the University [must] be in accord with its Catholic identity.” “In a word, being both a University and Catholic, it must be both a community of scholars representing various branches of human knowledge, and an academic institution in which Catholicism is vitally present and operative.”

14. One outgrowth of belief in human life and dignity is the Church’s well – established belief that “[h]uman life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception.” CCC 2270. As a result, the Church believes that abortion is prohibited and that it cannot facilitate, endorse, or appear to endorse the provision of abortion-inducing products. CCC 2271 – 72.

17. It is a core tenet of Notre Dame’s religion that abortion, contraception, and sterilization are serious moral wrongs.

18. Notre Dame’s religious beliefs regarding the sanctity of human life and the dignity of all persons are deeply and sincerely held.

19. Additionally, the Catholic moral tradition forbids “scandal,” which in the theological context is defined as encouraging by words or example other persons to engage in wrongdoing. “Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter.” CCC 2284. Scandal is particularly grave when associated with those “who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others.” CCC 2285. Scandal in this sense can be caused not only when an individual or institution deliberately acts to commit or condone some wrongdoing, but also when it appears to do so through its actions. It is Notre Dame’s sincerely held religious belief that it cannot become entangled with, or appear to facilitate, endorse, or accept, that which it believes to be contrary to Catholic faith.

20. Notre Dame’s Catholic beliefs, therefore, prohibit it from paying for, facilitating access to, and/or becoming entangled in the provision of abortion-inducing products, contraception, sterilization, or related counseling (the “objectionable products and services”).

42. Thus, the U.S. Government Mandate, even in its revised form, forces Notre Dame to violate its religious beliefs by making Notre Dame the vehicle by which “free” abortion-inducing products, contraception, sterilization, and related counseling would be delivered to Notre Dame’s employees and students. The U.S. Government Mandate violates Notre Dame’s right of conscience by forcing it to participate in an employer – based scheme to provide insurance coverage to which it strenuously objects on moral and religious grounds.

46. Some have argued that the accommodation in the Final Rule does not compel Notre Dame to act against its beliefs because third parties are purportedly “arranging” the “payments.” However, what is germane is that in both scenarios, Notre Dame’s decision to provide a group health plan, and execution of the self – certification, triggers the provision of “free” objectionable coverage to Notre Dame’s employees in a manner contrary to its beliefs. The provision of the objectionable products and services is directly tied to Notre Dame’s insurance policies and Notre Dame’s self – certification, and the objectionable “payments” are available only so long as an employee or student is on Notre Dame’s health plans. Thus, Notre Dame’s employee and student health plans are the vehicle by which “free” abortion-inducing products, contraception, sterilization, and related counseling would be delivered to Notre Dame’s employees and students.

47. Moreover, the Final Rule compels Notre Dame to pay for, facilitate access to, and/or become entangled in the provision of objectionable drugs and services in ways that will lead many to think Notre Dame condones these services, and hence undermines the role of Notre Dame, a Catholic educational institution, to educate others on a matter of religious and moral significance. It is incumbent upon Notre Dame to extricate itself from any process that leads others to violate the faith. The accommodation does not extricate Notre Dame from the process. The Mandate and its “accommodation” would thus involve Notre Dame in scandal in a manner that would violate its religious beliefs.

50. Similarly, to avoid scandal, Notre Dame cannot appear to endorse the litany of concepts that underlie the U.S. Government Mandate and that are contrary to its religious beliefs: e.g. , (i) that it is a moral societal goal to encourage a reduction in the overall cost of health care by reducing the number of mothers or children who may require expensive post childbirth care, (ii) that pregnancy is a condition for which there should be “preventive services”, and (iii) that increased access to contraception, sterilization, and/or abortion – inducing drugs as proposed by the Government necessarily improves public health.

51. It is Notre Dame’s sincerely held religious belief that it cannot become entangled with, or appear to facilitate, endorse, or accept, that which it believes to be contrary to the Catholic faith. The U.S. Government Mandate requires Notre Dame to subsidize the objectionable products and services and directly participate in a way that causes scandal. Thus, Notre Dame believes that its participation in the U.S. Government Mandate would cause scandal and therefore Notre Dame cannot comply with the Mandate consistent with its religious beliefs.

54. 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, including by contracting with a third party that will, as a result, provide or procure the objectionable products and services for Notre Dame’s employees and students.

57. The U.S. Government Mandate, therefore, imposes a substantial burden on Notre Dame’s religious beliefs.

/s/ John Affleck Graves




Sworn to and subscribed before me this 9th day of December, 2013

Leave a Reply

Let us know what you think about the issues we’ve raised in this bulletin in the “Leave a Reply” section below.

Every Penny Helps!

If like us, you want to see an authentic Catholic renewal at Notre Dame, please take a minute to review our 2016 Annual Report and consider making a year-end donation to Sycamore Trust.

Annual Report & Request

21 Responses to “Students’ Open Letter to Notre Dame’s Administration”

  1. Cathy Richard Class of '88 January 13, 2018 at 1:35 pm

    Students, thank you for standing up against the forces that are attacking our University. Know that we, alumni, support and pray for you and the University.

  2. STEVEN MARTINEK (ND 1971, NDL 1974) January 2, 2018 at 6:54 am

    “Come Holy Spirit” inspire my humble words and guard against hyperbole or vitriol. The Left, Progressives, Secularist, exemplified by men like Saul Alinsky, are all acolytes of Satan, intent on the destruction of true community of the Faithful. Their tools and weapons are efficacious, strong, and often subtle as a stiletto. They seize, articulate, and control the public narrative to suit and serve their agenda. We of simple true Faith are branded as boorish or Neanderthal if we resist the call to indiscriminately accept, include, and ultimately extol all the deviance and evil of mankind, while being told to eschew any prudential discernment or judgment against same. Jenkins and the modernists at Notre Dame are “fitting” stewards in modernity. They are able and eager to “fit” their analyses and views and judgment and instincts to the new heretical secular model–and they are not alone, or in minority. Rather, sadly, they echo and channel the leaders in politics, government, media, USCCB–and the Vatican itself. That said, I continue to contest lumping Father Ted in with the fruits now growing on the vine he planted. We must pray, pray, pray–and take every opportunity to witness to the ND administration and Development folks our earnest, sincere, sad discontent with the path they are wandering down.

  3. I believe that the Catholic contingency of the University deserve an explanation from the board and/or administration as to what is clearly a reversal of policy on this important issue.

    John Tracy 62

  4. Charles A Donahue January 1, 2018 at 1:53 pm

    Strong Catholic LEADERSHIP at Notre Dame has been missing for a decade or more. It’s time for a change at the presidential and board levels. The faculty needs to be vetted for anti-Catholic members and the hostile people need to go! If no one else wants to say it, I will: The culture war is raging and it seems Catholics just want to ignore it. The culture war includes destruction and dissolution of all things religious, not just Catholic. But to the enemy, everything Catholic is the big prize, the main target. Because if Catholic teachings can be eradicated, other organized religions will be easy pickins.

    Notre Dame should be the place where the serious fight must be engaged. The help of Our Lady, our Blessed Mother will assure victory. Our Lady of Victory, pray for us. Charlie Donahue

    • william dodd '62 January 2, 2018 at 5:57 am

      The unfortunate reality is that Catholic leadership has been missing at Notre Dame since Father Hesburgh took the helm in 1952 and over six decades and successfully implemented his plan to secularize our University. Fathers Malloy and Jenkins have followed in lockstep with the Hesburgh plan. These three men in 66 years have overturned our school’s commitment to identify with and to educate students in the Catholic faith that was established by Father Sorin in 1842 and preserved by the thirteen dedicated men who followed him ending with Father John J. Cavanaugh in 1952.

      It is now time for Notre Dame alumni and alumnae, in concert with Bill Dempsey and his Sycamore Trust, to raise our voices so loudly as to bring about leadership changes that will reverse Notre Dame’s secularization and return it to its Catholic origins established by Father Sorin.

      All should remember that, not only did Father Hesburgh abolish Notre Dame’s commitment to our Catholic faith, but, with the Land O’ Lakes initiative which he personally orchestrated, he was able to persuade the leaders of every major Catholic university in the United States to follow the path that he had adopted for Notre Dame. Father Hesburgh, knowing that it would take more than a few years to implement his plan, was able to convince the Congregation of the Holy Cross to cancel the six-year term limit for office of the president of the University of Notre Dame. This gave him over 35 years until his ‘retirement’ in 1987 to deploy his program. And then over the 28 years that followed until his death in 2015 he hand picked two president successors, Board of Trustees members, and faculty who would protect his undertakings, and even expand them as Father Jenkins is demonstrating.

      It is time for the changes at Notre Dame that Bill Dempsey and the board of the Sycamore Trust are advocating.

  5. Jerome Trautschold January 1, 2018 at 1:39 pm

    I sent the following letter to Fr. Jenkins, via email. It pretty much sums up my feelings on this:
    Dear Father Jenkins,

    I found your letter, which I just received, to be disingenuous at best, and hypocritical and sacrilegious at worst. For you to quote Matthew 1:23 and at the same time offer the Notre Dame students abortifactants and contraceptives is beyond belief. I hope that you and the Board of Trustees will prayerfully have a change of heart and do what you said in your lawsuit the University must be allowed to do, i.e., remove the provision for these products from those approved for distribution by your insurers.

    Not wishing to judge you or the Trustees, you have your own consciences to deal with this, you must at least realize that you are giving scandal by continuing to do what you are currently doing.

    Prayerfully yours,

    Jerome F. Trautschold, Jr. Class of 1959

    Until now, I have no response or reaction from Fr. Jenkins. What is he afraid of??

  6. Who are the members of this University’s
    board of directors?
    It would be interesting to read their biographies.
    Both the open letter of the students and the letter to Fr. Jenkins from the renowned historian Fr. M are perfectly clear about the scandal and error of the latest Decision made by the board and Fr. Jenkins. I am not an alum But am a sister of an Alum ’57, I experience the loss of the University’s focus on teaching Catholic morals grievous . To suggest that a Catholic university accepts and promotes abortifacients and contraceptives is a frightening step in a dark direction.
    So now we have the fulfillment of the wolf in sheep’s clothing.
    Mary Hourigan Hoff

  7. I look at Our Lady/Notre Dame atop the Golden Dome -formerly the visual focal point of our campus (now the stadium has that honor) and see how she crushes the Serpent’s i.e. Satan’s head and I wonder: What is it that Fr. Jenkins, the Administration, some of the faculty and some of the students just don’t get? Let us pray daily for our Alma Mater. Notre Dame du Lac pray for us.

    Timothy McKeogh ‘80, ‘81 MA

  8. Why does Father Jenkins answer this question? Isn’t that the role of a priest, to help people understand? One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is understanding, people are only asking Father Jenkins to allow this gift to flow thru him. I don’t understand his behavior and especially why he thinks he has NO DUTY to respond to a request for help to understand. Denying anyone the gifts of the Holy Spirit cannot be consistent with the true Catholic church, does he even agreed with such a statement?

  9. When you realize the trustees and leadership all lean left, it makes sense. This is not a mystery nor even unexpected. They are not interested in what you think, or principles or tradition. They are a “means to an end” mentality and their “end” is a golden calf, whether that be power, cash or respect at dinner parties w their elite circle of progressive friends.

  10. Bill Nelson BSME 54 December 30, 2017 at 8:23 pm

    Bill Nelson ,54

    I personally saw this coming when a new young priest Father Ted hired a Public Relations firm out of Chicago in the early 1950’s to promote his quest for the presidency of Notre Dame. He promised to make Notre Dame the Harvard of Catholic Universities. What most Notre Dame students and families didn’t understand that the mission of the school changed. He changed the rules of the CSC order so that he didn’t have step down from his position in six years like all previous Notre Dame Presidents because of cannon law restrictions. He immediately began his quest to secularize Notre Dame by removing any and all CSC fathers that he thought were not on his team. There was a least one survivor, his name was father Keller* who had been given life tenure by Cardinal O’Hare when he was President of Notre Dame in the 1930’s. He was my mentor and we had daily contact for over the five years that I spent on campus. Over the last several decades I have witnessed the ongoing secular action to minumize Catholic values and staff. Father Jenkins has sold the soul of the Unversity to the interests oF the modernists that teach “The end justifies the means” . Harsh as that may seem, everyone should study what was happening behind closed doors. If you really want to know how the university was being taken over I suggest you view a EWTN video “A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing” which is documentary on Saul Alinsky who wasn’t a very nice person but a close associate of Father Ted. The Chicago values replaced the Notre Dame values and their interests were well represented on the governing board of Notre Dame directors. Likely the only way to get the university back on track is to demand that Father Jenkin resign. Bill thanks for all your hard work and wonderful follow up on the situation.

    * Father Keller was the one that promoted the Fatima Shrine and raised the funds to make it happen. The location of the shrine was reflection of the regards he was given by Father Ted.

  11. I have long admired the IRISH ROVER’s “barks” alerting us to the university’s actions which weaken its Catholic identity. The latest action defies the Magisterium as well as its own previous legal position. Where is the truth and logic? Must they be sacrificed to serve the great secular god, diversity? Is this worthy of a great Catholic university let alone a secular one? One wonders why the local religious authorities and those of the Congregation of the Holy Cross are silent. Is silence acquiescence? Let’s hope not.
    Thank you Sycamore Trust and IRISH ROVER for your efforts.

  12. “…recognizing, however, the plurality of religious and other convictions among its employees, it [Notre Dame] will not interfere with the provision of contraceptives that will be administered and funded independently of the University.”

    In recognizing, regardless of truth value, the plurality of religious and other convictions among its employees, a Catholic University is still obligated to witness to our Catholic Faith and thus the fact that private morality and public morality, cannot serve in opposition to one another, but are complementary. A Catholic conscience must first and foremost be in communion with Christ and thus His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

    “54. 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, including by contracting with a third party that will, as a result, provide or procure the objectionable products and services for Notre Dame’s employees and students.”

    To facilitate access to contraception would be proximate cooperation with the provision of contraception.

    It appears that coercing the facilitating of access to contraception, abortion, and related counseling services that violate our Religious Liberty, still need to be addressed with the Trump Administration.

  13. I really believe Father Jenkins must answer this mystery. I can not understand it.. John P. Burdick ’59

  14. James J.Holstein,M.D. December 30, 2017 at 11:52 am

    The statements in the affidavit clearly state the moral foundation of the Catholic teachings regarding the matters of abortion, contraception and scandal associated with the real or perceived endorsement of these inherently evil practices.
    To fundamentally alter that position compromises the posture of the University as a primarily Catholic university.

    Although I am not a Notre Dame, alum I am a graduate of a Catholic university ( Villanova) and I value my Catholic education and faith. I strongly believe that the present position of the administration does significant damage to the university and compromises its’ role as a teacher of the Catholic faith and morals and diminishes the ability to provide a clear, truly Catholic education to the student body. One would wonder if the student body would not rethink the value of attending Notre Dame, if they are being deprived exposure to a clear demonstration of the Catholic faith in action. Is that not the primary reason for the existence of a Catholic university?

  15. Kathleen McAllister December 30, 2017 at 11:03 am

    Notre Dame has been for many years on the slippery slope of being CINO (Catholic in name only). As are so many other “Catholic” schools.
    Students are more interested in removing American history than in abiding by the Magesterium of the church. The nonsense about Columbus is preposterous and we have a Pope who encourages this. He’s just a politician and nothing more. His meandering comments have nothing to do with saving souls, thus creating an atmosphere that is purely left wing propaganda.
    Students everywhere have no true Catholic guidance. And Notre Dame should be ashamed of this latest heretical stance

  16. Does ND no longer hold to the values to which it testified?

  17. william and Martha Dodd December 30, 2017 at 10:29 am


    Thank you for your continuing work to bring the light of truth on the unending stream of misrepresentations regarding our Catholic faith made by Father Jenkins and his associates from the platform of Notre Dame. Fortunately they are temporal and temporary ministers of our University. Mary is its permanent overseer and is helping you with your mission to make Notre Dame Catholic again.

    Be assured that your efforts on her behalf will bear fruit and that men and women of integrity will soon be given charge of the University again.

    May God bless you for your dedication.

    Our prayers for you and the Sycamore Trust,

    Martha and Bill and family

  18. This is another example of the current Administration’s efforts to move the University away from its stated mission and beliefs, to a very liberal position, in order to satisfy the non-Catholic and far left members of its faculty. Father Jenkins has been making these types of moves ever since he became President and brought some “like thinkers” on to the Board. This is all being done under the pretense of making Notre Dame a “great university”. It may be that Father Jenkins and his cohorts were not aware that Notre Dame always was a “great Catholic university”, with a very clear mission established by Father Sorin.

  19. I am appalled that the University of Notre Dame could even consider having any part in the distribution of any plan or procedure that would interfere with or prevent human pregnancy. Respect for human life at all stages from conception to natural death is at the foundation of the Catholic faith, where human life is considered a gift from God. How can Notre Dame justify its support of supplying contraceptives and abortifacients within the health care policy it provides to its employees and students?

  20. I smell a rat here. How was this decision to reverse ND’s position made? Who advocated the change to Fr. Jenkins? Let’s see the paper/cyber trail on these contacts. Remember this one from the Liberal doctrine: “Open decisions, openly arrived at.”