Following Obama controversy, Notre Dame president announces pro-life initiatives

Following Obama controversy, Notre Dame president announces pro-life initiatives

Fr. John I. Jenkins
Fr. John I. Jenkins


Months after President Barack Obama’s controversial commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame, university president Fr. John I. Jenkins, CSC, has announced several campus pro-life initiatives. He also said he will attend the March for Life in Washington D.C.

Writing in a Thursday e-mail to Notre Dame faculty, students and others associated with the school, Fr. Jenkins said that he has formed the Task force on Supporting the Choice for Life to consider and recommend ways in which the university can support the sanctity of life. The task force will be co-chaired by Professor Margaret Brinig, the associate dean for Notre Dame’s Law School, and Professor John Cavadini, the chair of the Theology department.

“Possibilities the Task Force has begun to discuss include fostering serious and specific discussion about a reasonable conscience clause; the most effective ways to support pregnant women, especially the most vulnerable; and the best policies for facilitating adoptions,” he said, reporting that the task force may also recommend ways to support present pro-life work.

President Jenkins said he plans to participate in the January 22 March for Life in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s abortion decision Roe v. Wade.

“I invite other members of the Notre Dame Family to join me and I hope we can gather for a Mass for Life at that event,” he wrote, adding that further details will be announced as the date nears.

Fr. Jenkins also encouraged support for the Women’s Care Center, which he described as the nation’s largest Catholic-based pregnancy resource center on whose foundation board he serves. The president of Notre Dame said the center has had proven success in offering “professional, non-judgmental concern” to women with “unintended pregnancies” and in helping them through their pregnancy and supporting them after birth.

Thomas Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, told that the email from Fr. Jenkins was a welcome change.

"Every statement or signal we had received from Notre Dame officials since last May had been hostile at worst and at best seemingly indifferent toward those in the pro-life movement who felt that the university had turned away from the pro-life movement or, worse, rebuked it," commented Brejcha, a 1965 graduate of Notre Dame.

“It remains to be seen whether Father Jenkins is prepared to follow up this announcement with another decisive, positive and concrete step in the right direction -- calling a halt to the ongoing prosecution of those arrested last May,” he added.

Eighty-eight pro-life protesters, including Norma McCorvey, who was “Jane Roe” in Roe v. Wade, were arrested for trespassing on the Notre Dame campus the day of President Obama’s commencement speech. Some pro-life leaders have appealed to the university to drop the charges, but Fr. Jenkins has not replied to the pleas.

Patrick J. Reilly, President of the Cardinal Newman Society, the organization that gathered more than 300,000 signatures opposing Jenkins’ invitation to President Obama, responded to the announcement of new pro-life initiatives by saying that further steps “to atone for (Notre Dame’s) shocking betrayal of the U.S. bishops and the Catholic Church last spring” are needed.

Reilly proposed that Fr. Jenkins should first “acknowledge the scandal of publicly honoring a staunchly pro-abortion public official as commencement speaker and recipient of an honorary degree, and apologize to the U.S. bishops, the 2009 Notre Dame graduates, and all faithful Catholics.”

On the matter of the close to 100 pro-lifers who were arrested at Notre Dame, Reilly said Fr. Jenkins should “drop criminal charges against those who, through peaceful and civil disobedience, protested last May’s commencement ceremony” and “develop firm policies to prevent such scandal in the future.”

Finally, Reilly took issue with the fact that the recently created Notre Dame Fund to Protect Human Life was not mentioned by Fr. Jenkins announcement of new pro-life efforts.