Open Letter To Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.
University of Notre Dame President
With copies to the Fellows and Trustees of the University
Dear Father Jenkins:
We write as alumni, others of the Notre Dame family, and friends of the University to tell you of our disappointment in your intervention in the Presidential campaign to censure Lou Holtz for his criticism of Joe Biden, a disappointment that has deepened since President Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court and Biden and Senator Harris have taken the lead in opposing her confirmation.
To us, your interposition was surprising, unnecessary, and unwarranted.
It was surprising because we know of no past parallel, certainly none during your tenure.
You were silent just a few weeks ago when Notre Dame faculty Fellow Pete Buttigieg savaged President Trump during the Democratic convention.
Nor did you distance Notre Dame from faculty member Dr. Matthew Ashley, former chair of the Theology Department, when he joined a statement charging Trump with “a fundamental contempt for what it means to be a Christian.”
Nor have you disclaimed assaults on Trump by “Catholics for Biden” whose co-chairs include faculty member Denis McDonough, former chief of staff for President Obama, and Carolyn Woo, former dean of Notre Dame’s business school.
Nor was there anything about the Holtz talk that called for you to single him out. Your expressed concern that people might think “the University endorses [Holtz’s] views” because of “his use of the University’s name” was transparently infirm.
A quarter century has passed since Holtz left Notre Dame, and his “use of the University’s name” was merely by way of a passing reference to the inscription “trust, commitment and love” on a sculpture of him on campus and to his exhortation to his Notre Dame players to make a lasting contribution.
Surely Holtz’ interview response to your professed concern was right:
Everybody knows I’m not a representative of Notre Dame.
And, finally and most importantly, your criticism was groundless. You misread what Holtz said, and what he said was right.
These were his words:
The Biden-Harris ticket is the most radically pro-abortion campaign in history. They and other politicians are Catholics in name only and abandon innocent lives. President Trump protects those lives.
This was your reproof:
[W]hile we may judge the objective moral quality of another’s actions, we must never question the sincerity of another’s faith, which is due to the mysterious working of grace in that person’s heart.
But Holtz didn’t remotely hint that Biden doesn’t believe he’s Catholic, that he’s just faking it, much less that he was without any faith at all. As Holtz said about your accusation:
I understand Biden’s a fine young man. I can’t tell what’s in his heart, but I can tell his actions are not in accord with what I understand is Catholicism.
Holtz was simply saying in commonplace hyperbole what countless other Catholics have said, namely, that Biden’s claim to be steadfastly loyal to the Church is demonstrably baseless, irrespective of what he thinks about it.
As every informed American knows, Biden publicly and unequivocally rejects the Church’s historic and fundamental teachings on abortion, sex, and marriage. He professes “strong support” for Roe v. Wade and backs public financing of abortion; he officiated at a same-sex marriage in his home; and he pledges to eliminate the protection the Trump administration has given religious organizations like the Little Sisters of the Poor and Notre Dame from being forced to provide free abortifacients to employees and students.
Nevertheless, Biden is attempting to attract Catholic votes by repeatedly proclaiming his unqualified dedication to the Church. Thus, in response to Holtz, he declared:
I’ve been a practicing Catholic my whole life. I practice all the elements of my faith.
This is so spectacularly false that one wonders how Biden can bring himself to say it. But it has been a pervasive Democratic campaign theme, and Holtz cannot justly be faulted for calling out this fabrication.
In these circumstances, and considering also your lamentable selection of Biden as a recipient of the Laetare Medal and your appointment of Pete Buttigieg to the faculty even as he campaigns for Biden, your motivation in censuring Holtz appears to us, and we’re sure to countless others, to have been to support Biden’s candidacy.
If you think this is unfair, we suggest you should do something about it. You could, for example, accept Holtz’s explanation of his intention and acknowledge the truth of what he said about Biden’s rejection of fundamental Church teaching. We do not understand why you didn’t do that in the first place even as you leveled your “don’t judge” criticism against Holtz.
You could also – and in our view should as a priest advising your congregation — draw attention to the bishops’ guide for Catholic voters, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” underscoring the bishops’ key declarations that “the threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority” and that it is “impermissible” to vote for a candidate who, like Biden, supports “intrinsic evils” such as abortion and same-sex marriage except for “truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences.”
In closing, we stress that we are especially dismayed because you directed your criticism at a man who has meant so much to Notre Dame.
With his contagious enthusiasm, his fierce loyalty to the school, and his rare coaching talent, Holtz brought to the University one of the most sparkling and exuberant periods of football in its history. And since his departure from Notre Dame, Holtz has done so much for so many through his generosity and deep and vibrant Catholic faith that the President will shortly confer on him the nation’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Lou Holtz is a man of whom Notre Dame can and should be uncommonly proud. Whatever you decide to do respecting what we say – we are frank to say we are not optimistic – we hope you will at least in time publicly offer him your congratulations and attend the award ceremony. We are confident you will agree that this would be the gracious thing to do.
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