The Board of Trustees of the University of Notre Dame has elected Fr. John I. Jenkins, CSC, to a second five-year term as university president. While Notre Dame officials praised him for his commitment to the Catholic character of the school, others have questioned the direction of the prestigious school.
Fr. Jenkins’ tenure has featured continued controversy over the school’s Catholic identity, especially concerning the invitation to President Barack Obama to speak at the university's commencement ceremony and to receive an honorary degree.
Critics had charged the action violated the U.S. Catholic bishops’ 2004 instruction in “Catholics in Political Life” which held that university honors are not to be given to pro-abortion politicians.
Trustee Chairman Richard C. Notebaert said in his Oct. 16 announcement of Fr. Jenkins’ re-election said that the priest has demonstrated “inspiring and innovative” vision and leadership.
“Building upon the foundation set by his Holy Cross predecessors, he is making the aspirations of this University a reality. The Fellows and Trustees look forward to continuing our work with him in service to Our Lady’s University,” he stated.
The trustees in a separate resolution spoke of their “respect and full confidence” in Fr. Jenkins, saying he has advanced the university’s mission to “attain the highest standards of excellence in teaching, scholarship and research in a community of learning where truth is informed by belief and where, specifically, the Catholic faith and intellectual tradition are celebrated and lived.”
The Fellows of the University expressed their “appreciation” for what they said was Fr. Jenkins’ commitment to the “Catholic character of the university.”
Fr. Jenkins said he was “humbled” by the re-election.
“With the support of our Trustees, I will continue pursuing the goals I cited at my inauguration four years ago – offering an unsurpassed undergraduate education, becoming even more pre-eminent as a research university, and ensuring that our Catholic character informs all that we do,” he commented.
Patrick J. Reilly, president of the Manassas, Virginia-based Cardinal Newman Society (CNS), was critical of Fr. Jenkins’ re-election.
“Notre Dame has suffered terribly in recent years because of a lack of leadership and commitment to its Catholic identity,” he commented, charging that Fr. Jenkins has displayed “public disrespect.”
In Reilly’s view, Fr. Jenkins has allowed “repeated scandals” such as the honors for President Obama and the performances of The Vagina Monologues. The CNS characterized Notre Dame’s bestowal of an honorary degree upon President Obama as being in “direct defiance” of the U.S. bishops.
Bishop John M. D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend published a pastoral reflection in the August 31 issue of the Jesuit-run America Magazine concerning both the Obama degree controversy and the controversy over the Vagina Monologues.
"Although he spoke eloquently about the importance of dialogue with the president of the United States, the president of Notre Dame chose not to dialogue with his bishop on these two matters, both pastoral and both with serious ramifications for the care of souls, which is the core responsibility of the local bishop," he wrote.
"Both decisions," Bishop D’Arcy revealed, "were shared with me after they were made and, in the case of the honorary degree, after President Obama had accepted."
The bishop also criticized the university’s Board of Trustees for saying “nothing” about the Obama controversy at its spring meeting.
“When the meeting was completed, they made no statement and gave no advice. In an age when transparency is urged as a way of life on and off campus, they chose not to enter the conversation going on all around them and shaking the university to its roots,” he wrote, urging the board to “take up its responsibility afresh, with appropriate study and prayer… with greater seriousness and in a truly Catholic spirit.”
CNA contacted the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend for comment on Fr. Jenkins’ re-election but did not receive a response by deadline.