Last Friday, May 8, I and others concerned with Notre Dame’s scandalous invitation and extension of an honorary degree to Barack Obama were engaged in peaceful, prayerful witness to truth on the Notre Dame Campus. We walked onto the campus praying the rosary and pushing strollers that illustrated the Church’s teaching with respect to the objective evil of abortion. At the behest of Father John Jenkins, the President of the University, we were detained by the UND police and turned over to the civil authorities. At the time of our arrest we were not defying civil law, but obeying the laws of God and the directives of the Church and its leadership. We sought to counteract the scandalous impression given by University authorities that it is compatible with Christian faith and Catholic teaching to honor and hold up as an example of good conduct someone who has made himself the focus of abortion evil in the world today.
Yesterday I sent a letter to David Tyson, the Provincial Superior of the Indiana Province of the Congregation of Holy Cross urgently requesting a hearing at which I and the others injured by Father Jenkins’ abuse of his authority can present our grievances and seek relief. Unlike Father Jenkins, we are acting with respect for Christ’s instruction that people of faith should work out their differences within the communion of the faithful before calling upon civil authorities who may or may not act with respect for the laws of God and the teachings of the Church. This is why I sought to meet with Father Jenkins before I joined in the spiritual rescue efforts occasioned by the University’s scandalous behavior. He did not respond to my request. In this he displayed the same obdurate indifference to spiritual considerations that has exemplified his conduct throughout this scandalous affair. He has encouraged a bunker mentality within the University of Notre Dame community, by treating other members of the Body of Christ, even those in communion with the Holy See, as if we are “outsiders”.
This mentality contradicts the “emphasis on Community in Catholicism” cited in the University’s mission statement but utterly ignored in the actions ordered by Father Jenkins and his colleagues. Archbishop Burke of the Vatican and the American bishops who have asked that the invitation and honorary degree be withdrawn; the hundreds of thousands who have signed the petition with the same plea; the millions of Catholics and prolife Christians they represent: though part of the Church communion, the body of Christ or the community of the faithful, all are apparently to be treated as criminals if they dare to set foot on the Notre Dame campus to question the University administration’s will and judgment.
Where is the humility that should characterize Christian leadership? Where is the love toward other believers that should give glory to God? Instead of ordering arrests and persecution, a true Catholic and Christian heart should seek to converse in order to instruct (if there is misunderstanding) or to learn. Instead Father Jenkins has reacted with a harshness that bespeaks fearful guilt, using force to dispose of opposition. If, despite the opinion of the Vatican, the bishops and so many of the laity, he and his colleagues are right to honor evil, why are they afraid to deal openly and respectfully with both the Church authorities and fellow believers who disagree?
They react with forceful abuses of their authority because they cannot properly defend their action in terms of the laws of God and the teachings of the Catholic Church. They therefore substitute force for persuasion. In this too they honor evil, by imitating its methods.