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President Biden Dodges President Jenkins

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US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden return to the White House from a weekend at Camp David in Washington, DC, USA, May 23, 2021 [Notre Dame’s Commencement Weekend] [Photo via Newscom]
President @JoeBiden averted pro-life backlash but embarrassed @NotreDame by his last-minute rejection of Father Jenkins’s wrong-headed invitation to be Commencement speaker. #GoCatholicND Click To Tweet

Most readers know that President Biden was not this year’s Notre Dame Commencement speaker, but many may not know that Father Jenkins did invite him. The White House disclosed the invitation, dissembling as to the reason, while the University refused to comment. 

What follows is an account of this episode and the dozens of reports attributing Biden’s dodging the invitation to concern about a pro-life backlash, a concern raised by Sycamore Trust’s Open Letter to Father Jenkins signed by almost 5,000 alumni, parents, students, and others of the Notre Dame family. 

Sycamore Trust’s Open Letter to Father Jenkins

Upon learning from an interview of Father Jenkins that he was considering inviting Biden to be Notre Dame’s 2021 Commencement speaker, we published a series of bulletins describing Biden’s hostility to fundamental Church teachings. See here and here and here. And we invited Notre Dame alumni and others of the Notre Dame family to sign an Open Letter to Father Jenkins urging him not to issue the invitation. 

The letter began with the declaration by the nation’s bishops that

Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.

“Biden is such a person writ large,” our letter continued. 

He rejects Church teachings on abortion, marriage, sex and gender and is hostile to religious liberty. He embraces the most pro-abortion and anti-religious liberty public policy program in history. The case against honoring him is immeasurably stronger than it was against honoring President Obama, an action that alienated countless Catholics and brought upon Notre Dame the harsh criticism of 83 cardinals, archbishops and bishops.

Nearly 5,000 alumni, parents, students and others signed. 

A Different Commencement Speaker 

After a very long delay, the University announced the Commencement speaker, and it was not Biden. 

In the past, Notre Dame announced its speaker in March, occasionally in early April. This time, March passed, and then April, with no word but much speculation about Biden. 

Finally, a scant twelve days before Commencement, the University announced that the speaker would be Jimmy Dunne, a financier and Notre Dame trustee. 

Biden’s absence was “no loss,” reported Wall Street Journal editor-at-large Gerard Baker, who was at Notre Dame for the graduation of his daughter. 

Jimmy Dunne, a former principal of investment bank Sandler O’Neill, talked movingly about what he had learned of service and duty that day when almost half of his staff were killed in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Then Carla Harris, a top executive at Morgan Stanley and perhaps the most successful black woman on Wall Street, gave a spellbinding oration on her receipt of the university’s Laetare Medal that shook down the very thunder from the sky in its inspirational élan.

The Biden Invitation, its Declination, and White House Dissembling

While the university (understandingly) refused to say whether Biden had been invited, the White House confirmed that he had been but was unable to accept because of “scheduling.”

Fake news.

Biden’s official schedule for Commencement weekend put him and his wife at Camp David with nothing on the agenda, as a number of reports about his absence noted. See, e.g., here and here.

Almost all of the accounts of this episode attributed Biden’s absence to White House worry about a pro-life “uproar” or “backlash,” and the Sycamore Trust Open Letter was often identified as the cause.

We have collected in the Appendix links to dozens of these reports. Here are several headline examples:

Certainly, Biden’s appearance would have been politically risky. The Sycamore Trust Open Letter presaged a replay of the outcry against Notre Dame’s honoring of President Obama in 2009, when 83 cardinals, archbishops and bishops censured Notre Dame, students organized a rally and Mass on campus attended by Notre Dame’s bishop, and photos of pro-life demonstrators being hauled off in police wagons appeared in newspapers across the country. 

If Biden’s decision makes sense, what of Father Jenkins’s?

The Invitation – Scandal and More

Father Jenkins’s decision to honor Biden is a good deal more objectionable even than was his decision to honor President Obama. Biden’s opposition to Church teaching is more wide-ranging and intense than was Obama’s. More, Biden is a Catholic, and he won’t let anyone forget it. (“The next Republican that tells me I’m not religious I’m going to shove my rosary beads down their throat.”)

The invitation, accordingly, signaled not only that Notre Dame does not view the Church’s teachings on abortion, marriage, sex and gender with the gravity the Church assigns to them, but also that the Biden brand of Catholicism, in which one can actively oppose those teachings and remain a faithful Catholic, is perfectly all right with Notre Dame.

And if it is all right with the leading Catholic university in the country, why not with everyone?

But there is more, for this episode sheds light on the root cause of the weakening Catholic identity of Notre Dame in recent years – the sharp decline in Catholic representation on the faculty that has been Sycamore’s principal focus since its founding.

It is unlikely in the extreme that Father Jenkins would have invited Biden if he had thought a large body of faculty would object.

But he had had nothing to fear. Only a relative handful of faculty stood against the Obama invitation, and while surely there were more that disapproved but kept quiet about it, there is no reason whatever to think there would have been more vocal opposition to Biden than to Obama.

More broadly, it is instructive to consider Professor Emeritus Alfred J. Freddoso’s explanation of why he was unsurprised at Father Jenkins’s invitation to Obama. What he wrote then in his introduction to the late Professor Charles Rice’s book “What Happened to Notre Dame” is as apt today as it was then. 

Over the past 30 years, Dr. Freddoso wrote, he had witnessed

[t]he University’s steadily intensifying and often frustrated aspiration to be regarded as a major player on the American educational scene; …the easy transition from a faculty dominated by ‘progressive’ Catholics to a faculty more and more dominated by people ignorant of the intellectual ramifications of the Catholic faith; the concomitant marginalization of faculty who professed allegiance to, or even admiration for, the present day successors of the apostles; and a succession of high level administrators lacking in a philosophical vision of Catholic higher education and intent on diffusing throughout the University a pragmatic mentality at once both bureaucratic and corporate.

Conclusion

In 2009, Notre Dame’s bishop, the late Most Rev. John M. Darcy, charged Father Jenkins and his associates with choosing “prestige over truth.” Twelve years later, they tried it again – but failed. The White House, not wanting to be thought to have been passed over by Notre Dame, let it be known that it was Biden who did the passing over. Instead of prestige, the administration reaped embarrassment and the disrespect of Catholics who cherish the Church’s teachings on life, marriage, and religious liberty.

Appendix

Reports of Biden’s non-appearance

Pro-abortion “Catholic” Biden turns down Notre Dame commencement speech invitation (LifeSiteNews)

See also Florida Catholic, Boston Pilot, Deacon’s Bench, Catholic News Agency

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12 Responses to “President Biden Dodges President Jenkins”

  1. Paul V Coleman July 12, 2021 at 2:48 pm

    Jenkins commencement invitation to anti-Catholic Biden says more about Jenkins than it does about poor hapless Biden.

  2. Neil Connelly July 12, 2021 at 1:57 pm

    It is abundantly clear, and has been for many years, that Fr. Jenkins is not interested in promoting Catholic principles at Norte Dame. He is only interested in the almighty dollar. So long as people like Jimmy Dunne, and the other wealthy members of the Board of Trustees, support with their money the corporate, secular principles espoused by Fr. Jenkins, our alma mater will continue its descent into mediocrity.

  3. Steve Martinek '71, '74 (earlier times and values) July 10, 2021 at 12:31 pm

    To Riely’s rhetorical “Why?” Why did so many learned Jews, students of the Book and of the prophecies, men who surely could see that Jesus fulfilled them and was the Messiah, reject Him and call for His crucifixion? Most were good men. I think it was more fear than anger or envy–as I suspect it may be for good men like Dunne. Fear of becoming irrelevant or losing honor or prestige or significance. I believe our Bill Dempsey is a counter-example with “true grit” and spiritual, intellectual, and personal integrity, a man with the courage of his convictions. Instead of basking in his golden years as a well-respected successful attorney, Bill chooses to “rock the boat” and constantly hol up a mirror of Catholic shortcomings in front of Jenkins and other luke-warm faux catholics. On earth, there is no upside for Bill (nor would there be for Dunne, nor is there for Vigano, Voris, or Altman). Some are called to sacrifice and strength–some are not. All I Got (AIG) Steve

  4. john t riely, ND, 1981 July 10, 2021 at 12:10 pm

    I have a slightly different assessment of the Biden-Jenkins bromance. A friend directed me to a video of Jimmy Dunne as the principal speaker at ND’s recent commencement. It was an excellent selection as Mr. Dunne delivered an address which was very well done in both delivery and substance. Mr. Dunne’s personal story is compelling. He rebuilt his company after suffering unimaginable losses both financially and in terms of human lives. He made sure the wives, the sons and the daughters of those who perished were taken care of financially including the setting up of college scholarships. One of those scholarship recipients who lost a father in the 9-11 attacks was announced as graduating from ND that day. I am sure not an eye remained dry with that proclamation. Mr. Dunne’s philanthropy towards ND is also well known as, among many other gifts, he paid for a men’s dormitory to be built on campus and has been very generous with other aspects of the university. His largess has earned him a seat of the ND Board of Trustees. I possess no knowledge of the Bd. of Trustees inner workings but ND’s governing documents give the BofT primacy in the overall direction of the University. I have little doubt ND’s balance sheet would impress even the most savy Wall Street financier but it is difficult for me to believe that Jenkins’ leftward, progressive and woke march with ND is being done with the acquiescence of men like Dunne. If it is, the question that then begs an answer is, why?

  5. John McNamara July 7, 2021 at 7:31 pm

    From Life News.com article dated July 7 by Micaiah Bilger:

    Ohio pro-life leaders called for an investigation Wednesday after a second-trimester aborted baby’s body was discovered in a dumpster at a northeastern Ohio abortion facility. During a press conference, Denise Leipold, executive director of Right to Life of Northeast Ohio, said a pro-life volunteer found the baby’s mangled body in the trash about a month ago at the Northeast Ohio Women’s Center in Cuyahoga Falls. The volunteer with Citizens for a Pro-Life Society found the baby’s body wrapped in a blood-stained surgical sheet with its left leg, left foot and right hand fully intact, Leipold said. Other parts of the baby’s body were badly mangled and crushed, the results of a brutal dismemberment abortion, according to state pro-life advocates.
    Pro-life advocates estimated the baby was between 16 weeks and 17 weeks gestation, and a photo displayed at the press conference showed that the baby’s foot was about 1 inch long. Northeast Ohio Women’s Center advertises abortions up to 15.6 weeks on its website.

    Pro-life advocates are working with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to determine if the abortion facility also violated the Ohio Unborn Child Dignity Act, a 2020 law that requires abortion facilities to provide a humane burial or cremation for aborted babies. Northeast Ohio Women’s Center and its staff have a long history of health and safety violations, and pro-life leaders urged state authorities to investigate the latest findings. Monica Migliorino Miller, director of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, expressed disgust that children are violently killed and then treated like trash at abortion facilities. “This baby found in the NEOWC trash has suffered the greatest injustice that can be inflicted upon any human being,” Miller said. “The child is a rejected human person, rejected by his or her own mother, sliced apart in an unspeakable act of violence, and then literally treated as trash! We must expose this atrocity. It is so painfully obvious that such killing should be a crime and made illegal.”

  6. John McNamara July 6, 2021 at 10:30 pm

    From Life News.com, July 5, 2021, article by Micaiah Bilger:

    “The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation plans to spend another $1.4 billion over the next five years to prevent families from having children. The Gates’ philanthropy organization has been a huge supporter of contraception and abortion for decades, sending millions of dollars to pro-abortion groups like Planned Parenthood, the Population Council and MSI Reproductive Choices (formerly Marie Stopes International). Last week, it announced plans to spend another $1.4 billion through 2026 on promoting family planning across the world, according to the Catholic News Agency.

    Many of the richest people in the world donate to pro-abortion groups.

    According to Capital Research Center, Warren Buffett’s Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation donated $4 billion to abortion advocacy groups between 2000 and 2018. The largest recipients include Planned Parenthood, Marie Stopes International and the National Abortion Federation.

    George Soros, Michael Bloomberg, the David and Lucille Packard Foundation (run by the heirs of one of the founders of Hewlett Packard), and others have given many millions more. CNA recently reported the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos also recently donated a “significant multi-million dollar gift” to a pro-abortion progressive group.

    An estimated 46.2 million unborn babies were aborted in the world in 2020, including nearly 1 million in the United States. These babies were unique, living human beings who deserved a right to life. So many babies, mothers and fathers could be saved from the pain and regret of abortion if only people like Gates, Buffett and Soros chose to use their money to help people. Instead, they are funding the largest killing industry in the world.”

    From Life News.com, July 6, 2021 article by Micaiah Bilger:

    “The University of California San Francisco, a hub for all things abortion in the U.S., is harvesting aborted babies’ genitalia and other organs for research, according to documents obtained by pro-life advocates.The Daily Wire reports Pro-Life San Francisco made the gruesome discovery in documents that it requested through the California Public Records Act. UC San Francisco is a public, taxpayer-funded university.”

    Notre Dame has an endowment of $11 billion. Imagine what could be started, if a fraction of that endowment was used to educate young people about what really happens in an abortion, rather than congratulating and toasting politicians who support this multi-billion dollar enterprise. It really makes you scratch your head what Jenkins was thinking inviting Biden to Notre Dame for graduation and why someone who could challenge Jenkins, like Monk Malloy, who isn’t going to be transferred by
    Jenkins to some remote outpost in Bangladesh, stays silent. How do they think they will be judged by God? From what I have read, God wasn’t created by man in the image and likeness of a dollar sign.

  7. James Pettengill July 6, 2021 at 7:33 pm

    What happened to Notre Dame??? The same crap that happened to the rest of the Church is what happened … obviously; sadly.

  8. Taking The Word Of God into one’s heart, “Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity”, is the “litmus test”.

    Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.”

    Our fundamental moral principles come from God, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Through The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, The Author of Love, of Life, and of Marriage, and thus The Author of our unalienable Right to Life, to Liberty, and to The Pursuit of Happiness, the purpose of which can only be, what God intended.

    To deny that God, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Through The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, Is The Author of Love, of Life, and of Marriage, by rendering onto Caesar or oneself, what has always and will always belong to God, is to deny The Divinity Of The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

    Christ Has Revealed Through His Life, His Passion, And His Death On The Cross, that No Greater Love Is There Than This- To Desire Salvation For One’s Beloved. The Sacrifice Of The Cross, Is The Sacrifice Of The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity.

    To honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles that come directly from The Word Of Perfect Love Made Flesh, is not just to renounce a Religious Principle, but in essence, it is to apostatize from and thus renounce He Who Is Perfect Love Incarnate, due to a failure to Love According To The Word Of God, and desire Salvation for God’s Beloved.

    “Hail The Cross, Our Only Hope.”

    “Caritas In Veritate; Veritas In Caritate”, Through The Unity Of The Holy Ghost. Amen.

  9. Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.”

    Our fundamental moral principles come from God, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Through The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, The Author of Love, of Life, and of Marriage, and thus The Author of our unalienable Right to Life, to Liberty, and to The Pursuit of Happiness, the purpose of which can only be, what God intended.

    To deny that God, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Through The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, Is The Author of Love, of Life, and of Marriage, by rendering onto Caesar or oneself, what has always and will always belong to God, is to deny The Divinity Of The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

    Christ Has Revealed Through His Life, His Passion, And His Death On The Cross, that No Greater Love Is There Than This- To Desire Salvation For One’s Beloved. The Sacrifice Of The Cross, Is The Sacrifice Of The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity.

    To honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles that come directly from The Word Of Perfect Love Made Flesh, is not just to renounce a Religious Principle, but in essence, it is to apostatize from and thus renounce He Who Is Perfect Love Incarnate, due to a failure to Love According To The Word Of God, and desire Salvation for God’s Beloved.

    “Hail The Cross, Our Only Hope.”

    “Caritas In Veritate; Veritas In Caritate, Through The Unity Of The Holy Ghost. Amen.

  10. Steve Martinek We were ND '71, '74 July 6, 2021 at 5:47 am

    Hard-fought, hard-won miraculous victory for Faith, dogma, Truth, and Sycamore Trust. In humble respect and awe, I remain yours in the true Notre Dame of yore, Steve Martinek ’71, ’74.

  11. Daniel Mitchell July 5, 2021 at 7:49 pm

    Jesus is very clear,” luke warm and I spew you out.” (100% all in or 100% all out) no sort of Catholic. Abortion is the litmus test on being a Catholic or not.

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