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In the wake of President Obama’s controversial visit to the University of Notre Dame, there has been mixed reaction to Father John Jenkins’ announcement that he will participate in the March for Life in Washington.
BY THOMAS UEBBING
The controversy over the University of Notre Dame’s
honors to pro-abortion President Obama at its May 17 commencement has led some
pro-life advocates to question whether the university is pro-life — or even
it appears Notre Dame is trying to take the high ground.
Cross Father John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, announced in a Sept. 16
e-mail to the university community that he plans to attend the March for Life
in Washington next January and hopes to offer a Mass for Life there. He also
recently formed a Task Force on Supporting the Choice
Jenkins praised Women’s Care Center, “the nation’s largest Catholic-based pregnancy-resource center, on whose foundation board I
Rice, professor emeritus of law at Notre Dame, wrote an open letter on Sept. 21
to Father Jenkins, expressing appreciation for his efforts but questioning
their sincerity and effectiveness. He suggested that Notre Dame permit an
on-campus office of the Women’s Care Center.
actually is under discussion. Women’s Care Center’s president, Ann Murphy
Manion, a 1977 Notre Dame graduate, said that “the Women’s Care Centers had
some meetings with Father Jenkins recently, and I think he is very sincere
about wanting to do more in the area of pro-life, do more to affirm life. And
one of those initiatives … might be a campus presence, although that has not
thinks “that there is a need for life-affirming services; I guess the question
would be whether or not that ought to be on campus or off campus. We currently
serve Notre Dame students.”
also mentioned the “need for more awareness” on campus of life issues from a
positive perspective. She is a strong believer in “one-on-one care” and thinks
Father Jenkins is more of that mind in his approach to pro-life work.
Women’s Care Center was founded by Janet Smith, who at the time was a Notre
Dame professor. She said that when she was getting the project started, “Notre
Dame did give a remarkable amount of help.”
many believe Smith was denied tenure at Notre Dame because of her outspoken
opposition to the university’s invitations to dissident theologian Hans Küng
and pro-abortion politician Mario Cuomo as well as her support for the Church’s
teaching on contraception.
noted the absence from the task force Father Jenkins formed of anyone
associated with the Notre Dame organizations that have been vocally pro-life,
including the Center for Ethics and Culture, the Notre Dame Fund for the
Protection of Human Life, and ND Response, the student group that protested the
honors given to Obama. Rice concurred with William Dempsey of the Sycamore
Trust, which monitors and promotes Catholicity at the university: “It is hard
to resist the inference that this is a move toward marginalizing the center and
the fund, neither of which receives any university support the way it is.”
The Notre Dame 88
of the reaction to Father Jenkins’ e-mail referred back to the protests on
campus before and during Obama’s visit — and the question of whether Father
Jenkins can or should drop charges against 88 persons who were arrested.
took Father Jenkins to task over Notre Dame’s statement that the protesters
were arrested for trespassing and not for expressing their pro-life position.
is misleading,” he said. “This is not an ordinary case of trespass. … Those 88
persons … were arrested not because they were there, but because of who they
were, why they were there and what they were saying. Other persons with
pro-Obama signs were there but were not arrested and not disturbed. Serious
legal and constitutional questions are involved.
would be a mockery for you to present yourself now at the march, even at the
invitation of Notre Dame students, as a pro-life advocate while, in practical
effect, you continue to be the jailer, as common criminals, of those persons
who were authentic pro-life witnesses at Notre Dame,” Rice wrote.
Dame spokesman Dennis Brown said the university has no response to Rice’s open
One of those arrested was Norma
McCorvey, the plaintiff in the Roe v. Wade case that
legalized abortion who has become pro-life and a Catholic. She reacted strongly
to Father Jenkins’ announcement that he plans to attend the March for Life, an
event that exists, ironically, because she was the original “Jane Roe.” But she
declined comment other than to express the hope that he will ask the prosecutor
to drop the charges.
a website called ReplaceJenkins.com applauded the university president’s
efforts, but asked, “Why protest outside the White House,
when you now have an open dialogue with President Obama?”
a Sept. 21 posting, ReplaceJenkins.com concluded by challenging Father Jenkins
to fund the Notre Dame Fund to Protect Human Life and the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture which
post also asked, “When can we expect you to humbly and sincerely approach
Bishop [John] D’Arcy to request his counsel on how Notre Dame can atone for its
insult to his authority and heal the damage done by its willful disregard of,
and disassociation with, the Catholic Church?”
has confirmed $13.9 million withheld in previously planned donations to the
university because of the Obama invitation.
Jenkins is trying to bring healing to the situation. He concluded his e-mail,
“Regardless of what you think about [the Obama invitation], I hope that we can
overcome divisions to foster constructive dialogue and work together for a
cause that is at the heart of Notre Dame’s mission.”
remains to be seen whether Father Jenkins’ initiatives play out as positive
steps forward or lead to more awkward and problematic situations.
Thomas Uebbing writes from
South Bend, Indiana.