CNA sought comment from the University of Notre Dame, its Department of Gender Studies, and the Reilly Center but did not receive a response by publication.
According to Dempsey, the failure to express the Catholic position on abortion is “contrary to the policy of the university” set out in the Common Proposal of Chairs of the College of Arts and Letters and then university president Father John I. Jenkins, CSC. The 2006 agreement places on academic departments and their chairs the responsibility to provide a forum for multiple viewpoints and, where relevant, “appropriate balance” to present Catholic views.
“When a panelist or panelists expresses views contrary to important Catholic Church teaching, the obligation of the sponsoring department is to ensure that the Catholic Church’s position is presented,” Dempsey said. “That has not been done.”
He deemed it “an empty gesture” to claim the reproductive justice panels are balanced by other pro-life events on campus. For Dempsey, this failure to follow policy means that the sponsors support the expression of positions contrary to Church teaching. It means “that an important component of the university is itself opposed to Catholic Church teaching.”
“The Dobbs decision has opened a severe fault line at the University of Notre Dame, as I expect it has in Catholic institutions across the country,” Dempsey told CNA. Though a “significant” number of Notre Dame faculty oppose Church teaching, that was largely irrelevant under Roe v. Wade. For Dempsey, the newly open divisions “undermine the Catholic identity of the university,” a situation that would be prevented if the university required departments to follow the terms of the Common Proposal.
“The Church’s position on abortion is that it is the highest order of evil to take the lives of innocent human beings,” he emphasized. “As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has said, this is the preeminent issue in American public life today.”
He supported the exploration and even expression of views contrary to Catholicism on campus, “provided that the position of the Catholic Church is given equal treatment, so to speak.”
The university was the focus of major controversy among Catholics when it hosted the strongly pro-abortion rights President Barack Obama as a speaker for its May 2009 commencement ceremonies. Following the controversy, the university launched multiple pro-life initiatives.
Ken Hallenius, communications specialist at the university’s De Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture, told CNA the center does not comment on events sponsored by other university departments.
Hallenius said the center has sponsored “multiple pro-life events, lectures, panel discussions, and conferences” in the last year. Its upcoming events include the Notre Dame Vita Institute, an intellectual formation program for pro-life leaders, to be held on campus June 11–16. On April 29, it will present the Notre Dame Evangelium Vitae Medal to Princeton law professor Robert P. George.
Kevin J. Jones is a senior staff writer with Catholic News Agency. He was a recipient of a 2014 Catholic Relief Services' Egan Journalism Fellowship.