Yesterday, something very good happened and the University of Notre Dame was part of it. As you are no doubt aware, Notre Dame, the Archdioceses of New York and Washington and 40 other Catholic institutions joined in a lawsuit against the Obama Administration's unconstitutional abridgement of religious liberty via the HHS mandate.
Led by Cardinal Dolan, the US Bishops have been rock solid on this issue and they continue to impress. It is immensely gratifying to say that while this steadfast resistance to such infringement might not have been expected from the Bishops just a few short years ago, we have almost come to expect it now and that is amazing in and of itself. The Holy Spirit can truly work wonders.
Much more of a surprise is the participation of Notre Dame in the lawsuit. While much of the student body and faculty maintain a strong Catholic identity, the school administration's commitment to Catholic teaching and Catholic identity has become suspect over the last several years as a result of several controversial moves by Fr. Jenkins and the Notre Dame Board. Chief among these controversies is the choice of the Notre Dame administration to have the virulently pro-abortion President Obama as commencement speaker in 2009 and to honor him with an honorary degree.
After the announcement about the HHS mandate and the subsequent non-accommodating accommodation, Father Jenkins at Notre Dame made a series of ambivalent and tepid statements about the mandate. As a result, it was unclear whether Notre Dame would sit on the sidelines during the most crucial battle between the Church and an overreaching State or perhaps even capitulate.
So it is that many Catholics understandably reacted with relief and gratitude at the announcement that Notre Dame will participate in the crucial lawsuits necessary to defeat this unconstitutional infringement of religious liberty. I too am relieved and grateful.
That is the good news.
The not so good news is contained within Fr. Jenkins letter announcing the legal challenge.
In his announcement, Fr. Jenkins strongly makes the point that this issue is not about contraception, but rather about fundamental religious liberty. About that he is very right. However, within his statement are a few lines that seems to legitimate the idea that Catholics can 'conscientiously' use birth control and that Notre Dame 'respects' this decision.
Let me say very clearly what this lawsuit is not about: it is not about preventing women from having access to contraception, nor even about preventing the Government from providing such services. Many of our faculty, staff and students — both Catholic and non-Catholic — have made conscientious decisions to use contraceptives. As we assert the right to follow our conscience, we respect their right to follow theirs. And we believe that, if the Government wishes to provide such services, means are available that do not compel religious organizations to serve as its agents. We do not seek to impose our religious beliefs on others; we simply ask that the Government not impose its values on the University when those values conflict with our religious teachings. We have engaged in conversations to find a resolution that respects the consciences of all and we will continue to do so.
I am sorry as I truly hate to rain on anyone's parade, but how can a Catholic make a 'conscientious" decision to use birth control (which may very well include abortofacients) and why would the President of the most prestigious Catholic University in the land take pains to make sure that we know he 'respects' it.
I don't respect it.
The inclusion of this statement is completely unnecessary to the point Fr. Jenkins is trying to make and serves only to muddy the waters about what a Catholic can do 'in good conscience.' Any Catholic who does, does so with a malformed conscience.
On any other day and in any other context, if Fr. Jenkins or the President of any other Catholic University issued such a poorly worded and ethically muddled statement, that president would rightly be criticized. Just because Fr. Jenkins and Notre Dame are doing the right thing with regard to the lawsuits, I don't think they should get a free pass on such a statement.
I applaud Fr. Jenkins and Notre Dame for doing the right thing in opposing the HHS mandate, but I call on Fr. Jenkins to clarify his language so that we know that Notre Dame understands that birth control can never be used conscientiously and that we do not respect it.