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Catholic Education Daily


ARCHBOLD: Father Jenkins, the Hero?

Campus Notes Opinion, 1/31/12 By Matt Archbold, Campus Notes Reporter Father Jenkins, history is calling. There are moments when one person standing up and yelling “stop” is all that’s necessary to radically alter current events. History often celebrates those who respond to history’s call as “heroes.” Those who fail to rise to the moment become footnotes. For Father John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, now is the time to be a hero. Fr. Jenkins is ideally suited to be the focal point of resistance against the recent religious intolerance of the Obama administration. That’s precisely because he was the target of much criticism in 2009 for his invitation to President Obama to be honored at Notre Dame’s commencement ceremony. It puts Fr. Jenkins in a unique position to stand up to the violations of religious liberty without being accused of anti-Obama politics. To be sure, Notre Dame’s leader has been vocal about the Health and Human Services mandate that forces most, perhaps all, Catholic colleges and universities to insure both employees and students for sterilization and contraception, including abortifacients. In September he wrote HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to protest the mandate (albeit recommending a slight expansion that would not have been helpful). He has joined with the U.S. bishops and Catholic organization leaders in public statements. But words are no substitute for action—as Fr. Jenkins should have learned during the 2009 commencement debacle. Critics accused Fr. Jenkins of ignoring the plight of the unborn in honoring a pro-abortion rights President, but Father insisted on “dialogue.” That word has become something of a punchline for many, because it too often stands for appeasement. Perhaps Fr. Jenkins believed the words that scrolled down the teleprompter more than President Obama himself did when he vowed to pursue “sensible” conscience protections. Clearly, for President Obama those words were simply that—scrolling words on a teleprompter. For him they were applause lines before a fawning Catholic audience. Certainly President Obama can be persuasive, even to those with open eyes. Archbishop Dolan met with President Obama in November and said that he left the meeting “a bit more at peace [about religious liberty] than when I entered” and that he believed the president to be “very open to the sensitivities” of Catholics about religious liberty. It gave us some peace, because if Fr. Jenkins’ embrace of President Obama caused us to distrust him, we knew that Catholics could have no stronger defender than Archbishop Dolan in talks with the President. But we’ve discovered that all dialogue is monologue to President Obama. And now Archbishop Dolan has been “betrayed” by Obama. Those who believed that Obama believed the words he was saying have all been betrayed. Even if one fervently believes in the healing power of dialogue, at some point you must ask, “Well, what has dialogue achieved?” In the case of Barack Obama, nothing. Recently, HHS eliminated a grant to Catholic programs that aid victims of human trafficking because Catholic programs don’t refer for abortions. Now, HHS is mandating that Catholic colleges and institutions pay for sterilization procedures and contraceptives including abortifacients. What Fr. Jenkins once may have believed about Barack Obama is now impossible to believe. The scales should have fallen off all eyes by now. To not see this by now would be willful blindness. Notre Dame, the most well-known Catholic university in America, has a chance now to act like the premiere Catholic university in America. Fr. Jenkins needs to sue. He needs to seek legislative solutions. He needs to stand up and tell Obama that Notre Dame will not comply with his mandate. Not now. Not ever. The President of Belmont Abbey College Bill Thierfelder told reporters he would sooner close the college down than submit to the HHS mandate. But Belmont Abbey can be viewed as an anomaly. Imagine if Fr. Jenkins said the same thing. Imagine the effect of that kind of Christian witness. If Notre Dame submits on this issue, other Catholic institutions will become more than willing to comply with the HHS on this issue. But if Notre Dame takes a strong Catholic stance on this issue, it could remind people that some things are worth fighting for. It would pressure other Catholic universities to stand up and do the same. Notre Dame must show the world that it is Catholic first. Might it put grants in jeopardy? Yes. Might it open the university to myriad punishments from the federal government? Absolutely. But being a follower of Christ has never been about escaping consequences. We must be Catholic first. The time to dialogue is over. Fr. Jenkins has the ability of making a change by taking a stand and yelling “Stop!” A group of alumni published an editorial in the student newspaper The Observer pleading with Fr. Jenkins to defy the mandate. Defend the freedom of religion. Act like the premiere Catholic university in America. They said, “There may come a point when the government attempts to force the University to change, either through a revocation of federal funding or through the courts. If that day comes, we will be standing beside you.” As Kathleen Sebelius said plainly, “We are at war.” The secularists march boldly under the banner of “Hope” and “Change” behind their leader Barack Obama. Whose banner will the Catholics march under? It can be Notre Dame’s. It should be Notre Dame’s. Anything less than full-throated defiance is a default on the obligations of being a Catholic university. Fr. Jenkins, history is calling. What say you?

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