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Clarifying our objections

| Thursday, April 14, 2016

Along with 88 other students, I signed a letter published in the Observer on March 18 entitled “Objections to the Laetare Medal decision.” In that letter, we expressed our disappointment with this year’s Laetare Medal honorees, especially Vice President Biden. I write to continue the discussion sparked by our letter, with two main points of emphasis.

First, in light of criticisms directed at our letter since its publication, it is important to note that we were not motivated by partisan bias or political ideology. Our criticism of the University’s decision corresponded with that of Bishop Rhoades, who had released a statement on this topic prior to our letter.

Some critics have asserted that, if one is displeased with this year’s Laetare Medal honorees, one must oppose, in equal measure, the honoring of both Biden and Boehner. Such criticisms stem from misrepresentations or misunderstandings of the Church’s moral teaching and of the meaning of Catholic social teaching.

To equate Boehner’s positions on immigration and the environment, for example, with Biden’s positions on abortion and same-sex marriage is simply incorrect — doing so neglects the distinction between positive moral obligations and negative moral absolutes. The sanctity of innocent human life and the nature of marriage as an indissoluble bond between one man and one woman are fundamental teachings of the Church — abortion and marriage are non-negotiable issues. There are other issues, like immigration policy, environmental regulations and care for the poor, on which the Church permits prudential decision-making in light of broader principles, meaning that many policies or programs can be in line with Church teaching.

Second, despite the fact that 346 Notre Dame students have signed our letter as of April 12, Father Jenkins and the other Holy Cross Fellows of the University denied our requests for a meeting. On April 1, we sent our letter to the Fellows, requesting a meeting so that students could raise their concerns and hear the Fellows’ rationale for the decision. We wrote to the Fellows in light of the fact that their duties include ensuring “that the University maintains its essential character as a Catholic institution of higher learning.”

The University states that it has awarded the Laetare Medal to Biden and Boehner, in part, to recognize their willingness to work with opponents in pursuit of the common good. Despite disagreeing with the University’s decision, we wish to enter into the spirit of the award and converse productively with those responsible for the Catholic character of our University. Sadly, this seems impossible.

In a letter addressed to all co-signers of our letter, Father Jenkins stated that the Fellows of the University were not responsible for the Laetare Medal decision; in the end it was his own decision. While the Fellows would not meet with us, Father Jenkins promised he would clarify his decision for the entire campus community and wider public.

We responded to Father Jenkins, reissuing our request for a meeting, this time not to the Holy Cross Fellows as a unit but to each Fellow individually, including Father Jenkins in his capacity as President and as the person responsible for this decision. We were denied once again.

I am glad Father Jenkins will take steps to clarify his decision for the broader community and will consider the arguments put forward in our letter. But I am tremendously disappointed that our meeting requests — on behalf of so many Notre Dame students — were denied. Personal encounter is the best way to understand those who disagree with us and to work toward a greater understanding of the truth. I wish Father Jenkins and the Holy Cross Fellows had chosen to enter into the spirit of this year’s Laetare Medal and allow such a personal encounter with my fellow students and me. We are, after all, among those harmed by the scandal of Father Jenkins’ decision to honor Joe Biden with the most prestigious award for American Catholics.

Tim Bradley


April 12

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • Gary

    Thank you for having the courage to continue to communicate what is right! Father Jenkins made a mistake and he can correct it. Let’s pray and hope that he has the courage to do so.

  • Jack

    Fr Jenkins is a very busy man, so as far as student groups that want to see him, you are in the back of a very long line. And rather than any real discussion, this meeting would be based around you wanting him to rescind an award that places the university on an international level of discussion. This extra editorial may be your best effort, but it comes across as very presumptuous. don’t hold your breath.

    • John Robin

      You know what’s presumptuous? A Catholic who uses his position as a leader of a Catholic university to give a Catholic award to well-known Catholics who openly reject core moral teachings of the Church. And then holds himself above criticism when other Catholics object.

  • Johnny Whichard

    What would you fight for? KEEP PUSHING! 😀

  • Nightkin

    I do not believe that people were talking about Boehner’s positions on the environment and on immigration. I believe that people have a problem with this pro death penalty stance.
    I had also thought that the beliefs on divorce were as non negotiable as the beliefs on heterosexual marriage and abortion.
    If the stigma of divorce can be overcome, maybe the stigma of the others can be overcome as well?

    • MC

      The death penalty is different than abortion/euthanasia/embryonic stem cell research. And the Church still holds serious views on civil divorce.
      “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.” -Pope Benedict XVI

      • Nightkin

        Why is it different? Why are humans allowed to judge another person and condemn them to death? I thought that was god’s job?
        That seems very contradictory to me.

        • MC

          A person facing the death penalty often poses a threat to the lives of others, and in the case that the person does, the Church allows Catholics to make their own moral decisions about whether the death penalty is appropriate or not. The same reason Catholics can support certain wars and need not be not pure pacifists personally or politically.

          • Nightkin

            I thought god was the only infallible one? Most crimes cannot be proven 100%. So why does another human get to decide who is guilty or innocent. Your god is a monster…

          • MC

            John Robin pretty much answered this. Pretty straightforward honestly. Also, a religion that respects human agency obviously allows some kind of criminal system for the purpose of maintaining a functioning society.

          • Nightkin

            Again, it is not consistent or logical.

          • MC

            I’m not seeing the logical inconsistency. Care to point it out?

          • Nightkin

            I understand killing in self defense, but it doesn’t make sense to be against abortion, but supportive of the death penalty. I do not believe one can be pro life while condoning the death penalty. We have the means to keep criminals safely away from the public, and too many people have been exonerated for us to continue the death penalty.

          • MC

            There are cases where people would still consider the person to be a danger to others, even in prison. You are right that in most cases the person should be kept alive if the state has the ability to contain the threat he or she poses to others, but that is not always the case. Meanwhile, lives in vitro have not made any free choice to hurt others, nor do they pose a positive threat to society. The Church would not condone the death penalty for petty things, but because of cases of leaders of terrorist groups or powerful gangs, it will not outright ban the death penalty around the world.

        • John Robin

          Nightkin, Christians understand that we may not presume to judge the state of another’s soul, but we do have the right and duty to judge actions according to objective criteria. If I see a thug assaulting and robbing an old lady on the street, I am correct to judge that his actions are morally wrong as well as illegal. I may intervene with force, if necessary, to protect the victim. I may even use deadly force if I reasonably believe that it is necessary to save the life of the victim or myself. In doing so, I’m not “condemning” the thug, I’m merely doing what is necessary to stop the assault.

          I don’t claim to be infallible in such a judgement, because by nature I’m not infallible. But I’m permitted to make such a judgement nonetheless, and to act on it.

          • Nightkin

            Yes, justice is vital for a functioning society, but the death penalty is not. I am not talking about killing in self defense. I am talking about murdering someone in cold blood because they are perceived to have committed a crime.

          • Nightkin

            Like I said before, many crimes cannot be proven 100%. We might all think OJ did it, but do we really know? is it fair to presume we are infallible in that judgment and condemn someone to death?

          • John Robin

            Nightkin, that’s a fair question, and perhaps one of the more compelling arguments against use of the death penalty.

            However, this doesn’t address the case of deadly force used to stop a potentially fatal assault. Would you refuse to defend yourself or your family at home from an intruder carrying a gun, even if it means using deadly force?

          • Nightkin

            I would use deadly force to save my own. Then again, many people have used deadly force in situations where they might not have been in danger. Interesting to think about…

      • David Kashangaki

        and yet a consistent ethic on life would suggest that opposition to the death penalty is as important as abortion, euthanasia and all other issues pertaining to life!

        • MC

          Not according to certain church authorities, especially when the person poses a threat to the lives of others.

        • John Robin

          David, that’s simply not correct, and not at all logically consistent. That’s like saying that deliberately killing a baby is morally equivalent to using deadly force to stop a terrorist who is about to detonate a bomb in a shopping mall.

          Not all uses of deadly force are morally equivalent. There are times when one may have a moral right -even a duty- to kill.

  • João Pedro Santos

    “To equate Boehner’s positions on immigration and the environment, for example, with Biden’s positions on abortion and same-sex marriage is simply incorrect — doing so neglects the distinction between positive moral obligations and negative moral absolutes.”
    So, according to you, a woman making decisions about her own body or two people who love each other getting married is worse than deporting immigrants or denying climate change? Your priorities are really messed up, guys.

    • John Robin

      João, most Catholics probably are aware that the climate is naturally variable and has always been so. But many of us simply don’t agree with you that trying to manipulate the climate morally is as urgent as trying to protect the unborn from being deliberately killed.

  • Jack

    Sorry, but I do believe that ‘Fr.’ Jenkins is part of a new breed of globalist secular priest educators. The records show that Notre Dame is up to its neck- thanks to Fr. Ted…..and with all due respect – with the Rockefeller foundation, whose main concern is world population control…. whichever way works. Abortion, eugenics, and GMOs ( being developed to actually thwart conception.) And of course there is BIG $$ involved.

    ” On September 30, 2008, Father Hesburgh rejected more than 2,000
    years of Church teachings when he told a Wall Street Journal reporter that he had “noproblem with females” as priests in the Catholic Church. And in 2009, Father Hesburgh defied Bishop JohnD’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend and supported the honoring of President BarackObama at Notre Dame’s commencement ceremony. Bishop D’Arcy, who died earlier this year, drew national attention whenhe protested the honoring of the pro-abortion President Obama; Father Hesburgh rejected his authority and publicly supported Notre Dame’s decision to invite the president.”

    If you want to get into the weeds and understand WHY the Sycamore Trust, and Notre Dame’s Right to life Club as well other Catholic traditionalists have gotten into this struggle then you need understand the mind of Fr. Hesburgh and how his philosophy reverberated into Notre Dame’s future. You can start here.


    RDA class of 67 – great admirer of Fr. Bernard Lange

    • Tom Z.

      Class of ’67? Would have never guessed you were over 70 years old when you have such logical and forward-thinking opinions.

  • John Robin

    The opinions of commoners matter little to senators and kings …unless the commoners exert pressure on the flow of revenue.