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D’Arcy disputes Jenkins’ argument

Aaron Steiner | Thursday, April 23, 2009

Local Bishop John D’Arcy released a statement Wednesday critical of University President John Jenkins’ argument that Notre Dame has not violated a statement made by U.S. bishops, saying the University has committed a “terrible breach” by inviting pro-choice President Barack Obama to speak at Commencement.

A line from “Catholics in Political Life,” a statement released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in 2004, states: “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

Some critics of the University’s decision have referenced the document in public statements.

But Jenkins wrote in a letter to University Trustees earlier this month that administrators have “tried to follow both the letter and the spirit” of the document’s recommendations.

The letter, which has been circulated on the internet, was “private correspondence” between Jenkins and the Trustees, University spokesman Dennis Brown said. Brown confirmed the content of the letter as coming from Jenkins’ office.

The letter from Jenkins states: “Because the title of the document is ‘Catholics in Political Life,’ we understood this to refer to honoring Catholics whose actions are not in accord with our moral principles. This interpretation was supported by canon lawyers we consulted, who advised us that, by definition, only Catholics who implicitly recognize the authority of Church teaching can act in ‘defiance’ of it.”

Jenkins also wrote that he consulted with other university presidents, whose bishops have come to the same interpretation.

D’Arcy’s statement Wednesday was a summary of points he included in an April 15 letter to Jenkins, he wrote.

D’Arcy said in the statement that the meaning of the sentence in the document is clear, and the University’s interpretation was wrong.

He also said Jenkins should have consulted with him if there were questions about the document’s interpretation.

“The failure to consult the local bishop who, whatever his unworthiness, is the teacher and lawgiver in the diocese, is a serious mistake,” D’Arcy wrote.

Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the USCCB, told The Observer Wednesday that the interpretation of the line in question is “up to the local bishop,” stating that interpretation of any USCCB statement falls to diocesan bishops.

Walsh said the statement was written in 2004 by the Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians. She said the Task Force was dissolved after the statement was released, having been approved for publication by the full body of bishops at a June 2004 meeting.

“The [task force] was formed in 2004 and it was prompted by the heated public controversy over Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry’s church standing in light of his consistent support for permissive abortion laws,” Walsh said.

“The discussion centered on whether Catholic politicians who take such a stand should take communion,” she said.

The document states, in relation to the controversy that prompted its creation, that decisions to deny a Catholic politician communion based on political actions “rest with the individual bishop in accord with the established canonical and pastoral principles.”

The statement also says the bishops will “counsel Catholic public officials that their acting consistently to support abortion on demand risks making them cooperators in evil in a public manner.”

Brown said that Jenkins has been in correspondence with D’Arcy about matters related to the Obama invitation, but said they are “private communications.”

“As we always have, we will continually to speak privately with Bishop D’Arcy on this matter,” Brown said.

D’Arcy announced in a March 29 statement he would not attend the May 17 Commencement ceremony, writing, “Notre Dame must ask itself, if by this decision it has chosen prestige over truth.”