Notre Dame president argues bishops' statement not for Protestants like Obama

Fr. John Jenkins CSC
Fr. John Jenkins CSC

.- Fr. John Jenkins, the President of the University of Notre Dame, has written a letter to the school's board of trustees, defending the university’s invitation of President Obama to the school’s May commencement ceremony. Fr. Jenkins argues in his letter that while many have criticized the school’s move, canon lawyers and the USCCB document, “Catholics in Political Life,” both support his action.

In the letter, posted in full on LifeSiteNews, Fr. Jenkins recalls the June 2004 USCCB statement on Catholics in political life and cites “two key sentences” that “have been frequently quoted” in criticism of Notre Dame's invitation to President Obama.

The first sentence is: “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.  They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

However, Jenkins explains, he interpreted the line to refer only to dissident Catholics, not Protestants such as President Obama. “Because the title of the document is ‘Catholics in Political Life,’ we understood this to refer to honoring Catholics whose actions are not in accord with our moral principles.”

“This interpretation was supported by canon lawyers we consulted, who advised us that, by definition, only Catholics who implicitly recognize the authority of Church teaching can act in ‘defiance’ of it,” he continues. “Moreover, fellow university presidents have told me that their bishops have told them that in fact it is only Catholic politicians who are referred to in this document.”

Fr. Jenkins does not address the close to 30 bishops who have interpreted the statement to include Protestants by condemning the Obama invite.

In his letter, Fr. Jenkins moves on to the next sentence in the bishops’ document: “They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

Fr. Jenkins defends his interpretation of the line by saying that in “every statement I have made about the invitation of President Obama and in every statement I will make, I express our disagreement with him on issues surrounding the protection of life, such as abortion and embryonic stem cell research.  If we repeatedly and clearly state that we do not support the President on these issues, we cannot be understood to ‘suggest support.’"

Finally, the document states that "we need to do more to persuade all people that human life is precious and human dignity must be defended.  This requires more effective dialogue and engagement with all public officials... ."  Fr. Jenkins notes that, “However misguided some might consider our actions, it is in the spirit of providing a basis for dialogue that we invited President Obama.”

“On May 17 we will welcome the ninth President who will receive an honorary degree from Notre Dame,” the priest-president concludes.  “It will be an important opportunity to bring the leader of our nation to Notre Dame, and, I hope, a joyful day for our graduates and their families.”


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