Thursday, September 17, 2009

Notre Dame's President Jenkins Announces Pro-Life Initiative; Will Also Attend March for Life [UPDATED]

Perhaps Notre Dame President John Jenkins has decided to finally get around to having Notre Dame put its money where its mouth is in regard to the university's alleged "commitment" to promoting the sanctity of life.

From the South Bend Tribune:
SOUTH BEND — In the aftermath of the controversial commencement visit by President Barack Obama, the University of Notre Dame's president plans to participate in the March for Life in January in Washington, D.C.

The Rev. John I. Jenkins, the university president, announced Wednesday in an e-mail to the campus community that he will participate in the Jan. 22 march. He encouraged others to join him.

A March for Life is held each January in the nation's capital on the anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

"I plan to participate in that march. 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," Jenkins wrote in the e-mail.

Jenkins this month formed a campus Task Force on Supporting the Choice for Life. It will be co-chaired by Margaret Brinig, a law professor and associate dean at Notre Dame Law School, and John Cavadini, a theology professor, chair of the theology department and director of the university's Institute for Church Life.

Other task force members are: Mary Ellen Konieczny, an assistant professor of sociology; the Rev. William Lies, executive director of the Center for Social Concerns; the Rev. Mark Poorman, vice president for student affairs; Frances Shavers, chief of staff and special assistant to Notre Dame's president; Todd Woodward, associate vice president for marketing communications; and Notre Dame senior Kathleen Kelley.

Jenkins has charged the task force to consider and recommend ways that Notre Dame, informed by Catholic teaching, can support the sanctity of life.

Possibilities the task force has begun to discuss, Jenkins wrote, 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 encouraging adoptions.
My Comments:
Good for President Jenkins. I mean that. Perhaps some good will accrue from Notre Dame's decision to honor the pro-abortion President Obama. Perhaps Notre Dame will take up the challenge issued by Bill McGurn and others earlier this year to be a "witness" for human life (see links at the bottom of this post).

And perhaps we'll actually get to see a commercial during halftime of a Notre Dame football game touting the university's newfound "commitment" to promoting the sanctity of life. For that possibility, however, I wouldn't hold my breath.

The American Papist has more on this story, including the text of President Jenkins' email announcement.

And here's the response of the Cardinal Newman Society to President Jenkins' announcement.

Also posted at First Thoughts.

More from LifeNews:
South Bend, IN ( -- In apparent attempt to regain favor with pr-life Catholics upset that Notre Dame invited pro-abortion President Barack Obama to give its commencement address and gave him an honorary degree, university president John Jenkins says he will attend the 2010 March for Life.

Jenkins is also setting up a task force to promote the pro-life perspective on campus.

The Jenkins missive is already drawing a poor response from pro-life Catholics turned off by his actions during the Obama graduation scandal.

"Apparently the irony was lost on Jenkins that while he will be preparing to protest against Roe v. Wade, the actual Roe, Norma McCorvey, will be preparing for her criminal trial for protesting at Notre Dame after she was arrested under orders from Father Jenkins," notes pro-life advocate Robert Cox.

Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of Thomas More Society and a 1965 Notre Dame graduate, said he was very encouraged to read Father Jenkins' email.

"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," he said.

"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 said.
Dropping the charges against the protesters would be a good start to finding some common ground. Besides, it is probably in Notre Dame's best interest to avoid making martyrs out of the 88, and certainly to avoid the additional bad publicity that would accrue to the university from the protesters' criminal trials.

Ed Morrissey: "Does Notre Dame teach irony?".

I think charity demands that those who are calling into question the sincerity and good faith of President Jenkins' pro-life initiatives - as well as his decision to take part in the March for Life - need to tone it down a little and give him the benefit of the doubt. The caution and skepticism is understandable, but let's remember that any recognition of the importance of the pro-life agenda is something of a victory.

Which is why I find myself in wholehearted agreement (as I usually do) with Notre Dame Professor of Law Rick Garnett, who writes at Mirror of Justice:
... As I have stated before, I do not believe that, on balance and all things considered, it was appropriate for Notre Dame to honor President Obama with a ceremonial degree or with the role of commencement speaker. (It is, obviously, appropriate for Notre Dame to engage in "dialogue" and "debate" with the President, and with anyone else.) And, I do not agree with Michael Sean Winters that it was "throw[ing a] canard" to worry that Notre Dame's decision to honor the President in this way "undercut the school’s commitment to the pro-life cause." No one who knows Fr. Jenkins doubts his own commitment to that cause, and to human dignity, but it is not unreasonable to think that Notre Dame's public, institutional activity and commitment on this front have sometimes been unven, and lagged behind where they should be.

In any event, I believe that those of us who opposed the invitation last year, and who very much want Notre Dame to be what she should be, and what the world needs her to be, should welcome Fr. Jenkins' announcement. Are the initiatives he described "enough"? No, but I assume that Fr. Jenkins does not regard them as "enough." Should their announcement end the discussion about whether Notre Dame's leaders are correct in (what seems to be) their understanding of academic freedom, the nature of a university, or the appropriate relationship between a Catholic University and the "institutional" Church? I don't think so.

Yes, Notre Dame needs to do more. The Administration and University leaders need to embrace and celebrate -- publicly and enthusiastically -- the work and witness of pro-life students and faculty, of programs like the Center for Ethics & Culture, of pro-life policies and proposals. It should never be possible for a reasonable observer to think that Notre Dame cares passionately about energy conservation but reservedly or half-heartedly about the need -- the moral imperative -- to use the law (and other policy tools) to protect unborn children.

All that said . . . this is a good thing. I'd like to see Notre Dame's pro-life critics -- that is, those of her critics who recognize her importance and who want her to be what she is called to be -- give Fr. Jenkins and this task force (full disclosure: Prof. Brinig, one of the co-chairs, is my friend) the benefit of assuming good faith, welcome and engage their work, and -- as needed -- charitably call on them to do more.

There is a picture, often celebrated at Notre Dame, hanging in the student center, of Fr. Hesburgh standing at Dr. King's side, hand-in-hand, calling for civil rights. I am indulging the hope that, before too long, there will be a similarly prominent picture displayed of Fr. Jenkins alongside Notre Dame's inspiring pro-life student group at the March for Life. Just a symbol? Merely a picture? Perhaps. But I think it would be one of those pictures that's worth a lot.
(emphasis added)


UPDATE #6 (18 September)
Now to throw some cold water on this. I stand by my previous comments (and those of Prof. Garnett) that President Jenkins' initiative should be viewed as a positive development and that, rather than focusing on negativity towards Jenkins and Notre Dame, pro-lifers should embrace this effort.

However, I also believe that it is important to charitably point out - as Prof. Garnett suggests - where more can be done.

In that vein, I am linking to a very informative post at All Hands on Deck!, which provides the text of a letter from Bill Dempsey, Notre Dame Class of 1952, and President of the Sycamore Trust, in response to Fr. Jenkins:
... Certainly Fr. Jenkins's commitment to lead the ND contingent at the March for Life is praiseworthy. It seems to me that it is really the obligation of a priest/President of Notre Dame, but the depressing fact is that it has never been done before. Father Jenkins deserves thanks.

But that is a one-time affair. The rest is not heartening. The most troubling sign is the obviously deliberate exclusion from Task Force membership of anyone associated with the ND organizations that have been unashamedly and actively pro-life: the Center for Ethics & Culture and the ND Fund for the Protection of Human Life. Nor was the student representative chosen from the leadership of the student RTL organization or from anyone active in last year's student alliance protesting the honoring of the President, ND Response. It is hard to resist the inference that this is as a move toward marginalizing the Center and the Fund, neither of which receives any University support the way it is.

This is no reflection on those who have been appointed. Insofar as I know of them, they are worthy appointees, able and pro-life. But that does not erase the implication of the exclusion of all representatives of the existing centers of pro-life activities.

The next troublesome element is the specified agenda as it stands so far. Surely it is no accident, though it is to me surprising, that the listed subjects the committee is working on are identical with the agenda given in his speech by President Obama.

Here is what Obama proposed and Fr. Jenkins lists for study:

(1) Obama: "Let's make adoption more available." Jenkins: "the best policies for facilitating adoption."
(2) Obama: "a sensible conscience clause." Jenkins: "a reasonable conscience clause."
(3) Obama: "care and support for women who do carry their children to term." Jenkins: "the most effective ways to support pregnant women."

it is unsettling but instructive that this announcement comes a day after Fr. Jenkins's' annual address to the faculty in which he described his goals for the year, which included increasing female and minority faculty representation but not a word about the most crucial problem facing the university, the loss of Catholic identity through the failure to hire enough Catholics to restore the predominance required by the Mission Statement. This is a striking falling away from his wonderful inaugural address. The fact that ND did nothing to serve the pro-life cause until forced by the reaction to the Obama incident testifies to the fact that, without a predominance of committed Catholics on the faculty, any pro-life efforts launched under pressure will in time fade away. The risk, and surely it is real, is that this new initiative and the publicity ND is generating about it will deflect attention from the fundamental problem besetting Notre Dame.

But I return to where I began: A project that deliberately excludes from participation those who have courageously manned organizations standing against the prevailing faculty attitude toward the pro-life cause ought be regarded with suspicion.
(emphasis not mine)

I must say that I, too, noted the exclusion from the Task Force of the more important and established pro-life voices at Notre Dame, such as the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture (whose website is linked in my sidebar). We're not talking about Operation Rescue here. The Center for Ethics and Culture is an organization that takes seriously all aspects of the Culture of Life - (dare I say?) they promote a "consistent ethic of life". Bypassing such established pro-life organizations that are already doing the work on campus is a somewhat troubling sign.

Still, I think the proper approach is to encourage President Jenkins to move his initiative forward by including such voices. I hope that will happen.

Previous Pro Ecclesia posts on this subject:
Notre Dame's Missing Witness [UPDATED]

Notre Dame Should Be a Witness for Human Life

The REAL Beneficiaries of Abortion (Hint: It Ain't Women Who Are the Ones Being "Liberated")

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At 9/17/2009 12:57 PM, Blogger Christine the Soccer Mom said...

Great! N.D. has an enormous group there every year, and they are the happiest bunch of kids, I think!

At 9/17/2009 10:36 PM, Blogger Mr. H. said...

Bill Dempsey, ND Class of 1952, provides important background and context, including an observation that the most important pro-life organizations on campus are notably excluded from the proposed initiative:

At 9/18/2009 7:50 AM, Blogger Jay Anderson said...

Thanks, Mr. H. I'm going to do another update with a link to your post.

To tell you the truth, I had noticed - and was troubled by - the fact that Jenkins excluded the most active and established pro-life voices from the Task Force. The first thing I did after hearing the news of Jenkins' initiative was to go to the website of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture (which I have linked in my sidebar) to see what was said about the initiative there. Nothing.

The fact that Jenkins has bypassed that worthy pro-life organization in his efforts is, in my view, a troubling sign.

At 9/18/2009 11:13 PM, OpenID ehahooh said...

I applaud Fr. Jenkin's decision to join the March for Life in person this year. I am pleased that forming a task force shows initiative, and will likely assist the pro-life cause.

But let's be clear what kind of assistance to expect. It is a Task Force for Supporting the CHOICE for Life. The name (and the goals) suggest to me that the sanctity of life is still subordinate to the choice of the mother. However, if we hold that compassion for the mother is part of our motivation for opposing abortion, and it is, then their initiatives are a necessary part of the pro-life movement.
I am happy for the potential contributions of the task force; although, I am saddened that it seems to accept a women's "RIGHT" to NOT choose life.

At 9/21/2009 8:58 PM, Blogger Mr. H. said...

Charles Rice, ND Professor of Law Emeritus and author of the newly published "What Happened to Notre Dame?", has released an open letter to Fr. Jenkins.

Details here:

At 9/26/2009 8:02 AM, Blogger Hope said...

See how Georgetown and Belmont Abbey College, as Catholic colleges, have taken the lead in offering unwed pregnant students the resources they need to choose life and complete their educations:

At 10/02/2009 9:08 AM, Blogger Hope said...

"WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Lacy Dodd, a 33-year-old banking professional and mother of one, knows precisely where supporters and opponents of legal abortion can find common ground..." News Brief Here:

At 10/02/2009 9:11 AM, Blogger Hope said...

"WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Lacy Dodd, a 33-year-old banking professional and mother of one, knows precisely where supporters and opponents of legal abortion can find common ground. It's on nearly four acres donated by the Benedictine monks of Belmont Abbey in Belmont, N.C., where Room at the Inn, a Charlotte-based pregnancy resource center, hopes to build the nation's first campus-based maternity and after-care residence for pregnant college students."

News Brief Here:

At 10/02/2009 9:15 AM, Blogger Hope said...

"WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Lacy Dodd, a 33-year-old banking professional and mother of one, knows precisely where supporters and opponents of legal abortion can find common ground. It's on nearly four acres donated by the Benedictine monks of Belmont Abbey in Belmont, N.C., where Room at the Inn, a Charlotte-based pregnancy resource center, hopes to build the nation's first campus-based maternity and after-care residence for pregnant college students."


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