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Jenkins announces pro-life Task Force

Aaron Steiner | Friday, September 18, 2009

University President Fr. John Jenkins said Wednesday that Notre Dame will take steps “to witness to the sanctity of life” in light of the controversy that resulted from President Barack Obama’s Commencement visit last May.

In an e-mail message to the Notre Dame community, Jenkins announced the formation of the Task Force on Supporting the Choice for Life and wrote of his intention to join Notre Dame students in the national March for Life event in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 22.

Jenkins wrote that the Task Force has been asked to “consider and recommend to me ways in which the University, informed by Catholic teaching, can support the sanctity of life.”

The University, its administration and Jenkins specifically faced criticism last spring after inviting the pro-choice president to campus to deliver the Commencement address and receive an honorary degree.

Jenkins also wrote in the e-mail that he hoped the Notre Dame community might “overcome divisions to foster constructive dialogue and work together for a cause that is at the heart of Notre Dame’s mission.”

The Task Force, according to the e-mail, has already begun considering ways to foster “serious and specific discussion about a reasonable conscience clause, the most effective ways to support pregnant women … and the best policies for facilitating adoptions.”

The Task Force is co-chaired by Margaret Brinig, professor of law and associate dean at the Law School, and John Cavadini, professor of theology and director of the Institute for Church Life.

Brinig said the Task Force has met and is currently learning about what University programs and groups deal with life issues.

“We want to work with many of the groups on campus, especially the students,” she said. “In other words, we want to build off some pieces that are already in place.”

Brinig said it is too early to see what kinds of recommendations the Task Force will make.

“We have talked about initiatives that would be internal to Notre Dame, things that might draw outsiders to us and ways that the larger Notre Dame community could witness to its support for life,” she said.

Mary Daly, a senior and leader within ND Response, a student group that formed last spring to protest the University’s decision to invite Obama, said she was pleased with the announcement from Jenkins.

“It was a good step in the right direction for Fr. Jenkins and the University,” she said. “It’s pleasing to see that now we might be able to expect more direct involvement and support from the University administration and Fr. Jenkins himself.”

Daly was the author of an April 2009 letter on behalf of ND Response to Jenkins that asked him to “formally support pro-life initiatives on campus through financial and personnel resources” and also invited him to participate in the national March for Life, which a number of students, including Daly, march in annually.

“We’ll be glad to have him join us,” Daly, former president of Notre Dame Right to Life, said. “We’ve been going for over 15 years as a club.”

Law professor Rick Garnett called the creation of the Task Force and Jenkins’ intention to participate in the March for Life “positive and welcome developments.”

Garnett spoke publicly last spring about the Obama invitation, expressing concerns with the decision. He said Thursday the announcement was a “renewed, energetic, and public commitment by Notre Dame to the pro-life cause” and said he hoped the announcement would be welcomed by those who disagreed with the University’s decision.

“The creation of this Task Force is the kind of concrete and visible step that, I believe, the University needed to take in order to make more clear its commitment to the pro-life cause,” he said.

Garnett added that he believes Jenkins sees the Task Force as “one of many appropriate steps” that Notre Dame should take.

The Task Force also includes members of Notre Dame’s faculty, administrators and one student representative.