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A call to the Notre Dame family

Matt Gelchion | Friday, April 27, 2012

I love Notre Dame deeply and for many reasons. Notre Dame aspires to create a sense of family among all those associated with Notre Dame. This is particularly fitting when one considers that our alma mater begins with the words, “Notre Dame, Our Mother.”

With this in mind, I read with great dismay that 95 professors had signed a letter calling for the University to publicly distance itself from the Most Reverend Daniel Jenky and requesting his resignation from the Board of Fellows. I was dismayed both by their mischaracterization of Bishop Jenky’s message and by the manner in which they expressed their frustration.

Bishop Jenky provided historical examples of leaders who attempted to minimize or eliminate the presence of the Catholic Church in their countries. First, Bishop Jenky highlighted Otto von Bismarck’s attempt to close Catholic institutions in Imperial Germany. Next, he noted that Georges Clemenceau sought the same in France during the early 1900s. Subsequently, he mentioned that Hitler and Stalin just barely tolerated churches remaining open and did not tolerate any competition in other realms of society. Bishop Jenky then contended that President Obama “now seems intent on following a similar path.”

I believe it is clear to anyone who reads the homily in full that the comparison is narrowly restricted to various leaders’ attempts to limit religious freedom, particularly among Catholics. If I were to write that both Hitler and Martin Luther King, Jr., demonstrated an incredible ability to mobilize people, surely it would be incorrect to suggest that I were equating Martin Luther King, Jr., who courageously advanced civil rights in this country, with Adolf Hitler. Context matters. The context of Bishop Jenky’s comments must be considered.

Nevertheless, I recognize it is certainly possible that some might reach a different conclusion. If so, I think it’s essential to remember that there is a right way of doing things, particularly in the context of a community or (ideally) a family. Publicly calling on the University to distance itself from Bishop Jenky’s comments and suggesting Bishop Jenky is no longer fit to serve on the Board of Fellows is not that way.

I can only imagine the faculty reaction if even a handful of students (never mind dozens) published a letter in The Observer imploring Fr. Jenkins and the University to disavow a professor’s remarks and requesting that the professor resign. Both students and faculty members alike would claim that such a letter reeks of self-righteousness and is not only utterly disrespectful but ultimately counter-productive. Instead, the disgruntled students would be encouraged to explore avenues that successfully addressed their concerns and did not involve targeted attacks on a member of the Notre Dame family.

I do believe it’s within the rights of faculty members to disagree with Bishop Jenky, but I hope if there were ever any question about the intentions of one of our own, we would seek first to understand rather than to publicly condemn. It is only with such faith in and respect for one another that we can live out the “Notre Dame family.”

Matthew Gelchion is a 2009 Notre Dame graduate. He can be reached at Matthew.J.Gelchion.1@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.