Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fr. Jenkins Speaks

When I got home this evening, I found I had recieved an email from Fr. John Jenkins, CSC, President of Notre Dame. This letter was sent to all students, as far as I can tell. I will put the text here, without any additional emphasis or inline commenting.

Dear Members of the Notre Dame Family,

Coming out of the vigorous discussions surrounding President Obama’s visit last Spring, I said we would look for ways to engage the Notre Dame community with the issues raised in a prayerful and meaningful way. As our nation continues to struggle with the morality and legality of abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and related issues, we must seek steps to witness to the sanctity of life. I write to you today about some initiatives that we are undertaking.

Each year on January 22, the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, the March for Life is held in Washington D.C. to call on the nation to defend the right to life. 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. We will announce details as that date approaches.

On campus, I have recently formed the Task Force on Supporting the Choice for Life. It will be co-chaired by Professor Margaret Brinig, the Fritz Duda Family Chair in Law and Associate Dean for the Law School, and by Professor John Cavadini, the Chair of the Department of Theology and the McGrath-Cavadini Director of the Institute for Church Life. My charge to the Task Force is to consider and recommend to me ways in which the University, informed by Catholic teaching, can support the sanctity of life. Possibilities the Task Force has begun to discuss 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 facilitating adoptions. Such initiatives are in addition to the dedication, hard work and leadership shown by so many in the Notre Dame Family, both on the campus and beyond, and the Task Force may also be able to recommend ways we can support some of this work.

I also call to your attention the heroic and effective work of centers that provide care and support for women with unintended pregnancies. The Women’s Care Center, the nation’s largest Catholic-based pregnancy resource center, on whose Foundation Board I serve, is run by a Notre Dame graduate, Ann Murphy Manion (’77). The center has proven successful in offering professional, non-judgmental concern to women with unintended pregnancies, helping those women through their pregnancy and supporting them after the birth of their child. The Women’s Care Center and similar centers in other cities deserve the support of Notre Dame clubs and individuals.

Our Commencement last Spring generated passionate discussion and also caused some divisions in the Notre Dame community. Regardless of what you think about that event, 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. We will keep you informed of our work, and we ask for your support, assistance and prayers. May Our Lady, Notre Dame, watch over our efforts.

In Notre Dame,

Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.

An interesting letter, to say the least. We have been waiting for years to have our school's President to lead us in a march for life. Pictures hanging all over campus attest to the protests Fr. Hesburgh led. The ND Right to Life student group gets so little support from the university, we can only hope that this might mark a sea change. Only time will tell.

It is interesting that this seems to reflect some of the demands made by ND Response (which I criticized here). They wanted to see Fr. Jenkins lead the students in the march for life, they wanted to see an institutional commitment to support life. These are little steps.

It is interesting to consider that these changes didn't come from "dialogue" with the University, but rather from the (might I say again, imprudent) demands of a student group. Now, these "demands" were really reasonable, and in fact, were, for the most part, things that a Catholic University should be doing anyways.

We can hope that this is a first, though perhaps small, step toward regaining the Catholic identity of the University. After all that has come down on this issue, a little good news is always nice.

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