Bishop John M. D’Arcy, whose diocese encompasses the University of Notre Dame, has issued a statement saying that President Fr. John Jenkins, CSC has given a “flawed justification” for the university’s commencement invitation to President Barack Obama and should have consulted with his bishop before inviting the pro-abortion rights politician.
Bishop D’Arcy said a U.S. bishops’ document regulating such honors “does indeed apply” to the invitation.
In an April 21 statement, Bishop D’Arcy reported that Fr. Jenkins had sent him a copy of a letter to Bishop of Phoenix Thomas J. Olmsted. Bishop Olmsted had written to Fr. Jenkins earlier, charging that the invitation of Obama to speak and receive an honorary law degree at Notre Dame’s commencement is a violation of the U.S. Bishops' 2004 statement “Catholics in Political Life.”
Fr. Jenkins, in his letter to Bishop Olmsted, reportedly argued that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) document “Catholics in Political Life” did not apply to the invitation to the U.S. president. The university president sent a copy of the letter to Bishop D’Arcy.
Bishop D’Arcy said that because the matter was now public, it was his duty as bishop to “respond and correct” as part of his “pastoral responsibility.”
Presenting points from his own April 15 letter to Fr. Jenkins, Bishop D’Arcy said the teaching of “Catholics in Political Life” is “clear” and places the responsibility on Catholic institutions, and the Catholic Community as a whole, not to honor those who “act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.”
He said doubts concerning the meaning of a USCCB document should be referred to the local bishop for authentic interpretation.
“The diocesan bishop alone bears the responsibility to provide an authoritative interpretation,” Bishop D’Arcy wrote.
The bishop underscored that Fr. Jenkins had indirectly consulted other bishops when he consulted presidents of other Catholic universities and asked them to consult their own bishops.
“However, he chose not to consult his own bishop who, as I made clear, is the teacher and lawgiver in his own diocese. I reminded Father Jenkins that I was not informed of the invitation until after it was accepted by the president,” Bishop D’Arcy wrote, adding that the local bishop’s responsibility to teach is “central” to the university’s relationship to the Church.
“The failure to consult the local bishop who, whatever his unworthiness, is the teacher and lawgiver in the diocese, is a serious mistake,” the bishop said.
“Proper consultation,” he added, could have prevented the action and the “painful division” it has caused between many bishops, the school, and a “large number” of the faithful.
The bishop also took issue with Fr. Jenkins’ contention that his invitation to President Obama did not “suggest support” for the Obama’s actions, since Jenkins said he had spoken to Obama about their disagreement.
Bishop D’Arcy said the “outpouring of hundreds of thousands” of people who were shocked by the invitation “clearly demonstrates” that the invitation has scandalized many Catholics and others.
“In my office alone, there have been over 3,300 messages of shock, dismay and outrage, and they are still coming in,” the bishop wrote. “It seems that the action in itself speaks so loudly that people have not been able to hear the words of Father Jenkins, and indeed, the action has suggested approval to many.”
“It would be one thing to bring the president here for a discussion on healthcare or immigration, and no person of goodwill could rightly oppose this,” he continued. “We have here, however, the granting of an honorary degree of law to someone whose activities both as president and previously, have been altogether supportive of laws against the dignity of the human person yet to be born.”
Bishop D’Arcy reported that his letter to Fr. Jenkins asked for a correction and, if possible, a withdrawal of the “erroneous talking points” which appeared in the South Bend Tribune and in other media outlets.
“The statements which Father Jenkins has made are simply wrong and give a flawed justification for his actions.”
The bishop said he now considered the application of “Catholics in Public Life” to be “settled.”
Calling for division to be addressed through prayer and action, he pledged to work with Fr. Jenkins and all those at the university to heal the “terrible breach which has taken place between Notre Dame and the Church. It cannot be allowed to continue.”
Bishop D’Arcy concluded his letter with an appeal for prayers for “substantial and true, and not illusory” healing.”
“Notre Dame and Father Jenkins must do their part if this healing is to take place. I will do my part.”