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Notre Dame and the Catholic conscience

Octavia Ratiu | Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dear Fr. Jenkins,

As a recent Notre Dame graduate of the Program of Liberal Studies and Pre-Med, I feel I have a unique voice in the intersection of the humanities and science. Catholic citizens have a special call to preserve the dignity of life despite our culture of death. Government interference on these sorts of issues ought to be prevented at all costs. Our very freedom as religious citizens is at stake. It cannot be tolerated simply because the unique mission of the Church is to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.

The Founding Fathers carefully constructed this country such that religious freedom and responsible government could coexist. Like Aristotle and others in the Western tradition, they held rationality above all other virtues and encouraged individual liberty and responsibility in the citizenry along with good education. The implications of our current poor education system are grave — poverty, illiteracy and apathy concerning public affairs and the state abound, resulting in a stunted national dialogue in which angry screaming suffices for public discourse. This is no environment in which to encourage honest discussion of things like justice, freedom and virtue.

This is where the HHS Mandate enters the conversation. I am not a naysayer. I do think that, despite these unfortunate circumstances I laid out above, we ought to strive to be good citizens. Notre Dame is a pillar of stability in a university culture that suppresses anything other than secular liberalism. This will not change. From what I understand, you, Fr. Jenkins, have often been caught in between the factions of these fierce culture wars, inviting President Obama to be commencement speaker in 2009 yet wavering on GLBTQ representation in student groups over the years.

These situations must be difficult and I cannot relate to what you have gone and continue to go through. I applaud your forbearance in expressing your concern with “a number of unclear and unresolved issues” in your official statement regarding the mandate. However, now is the time to assert yourself as a prominent figure amongst American Catholics. Now is the time to respectfully yet firmly tell our President that he makes a grave mistake by impinging egregiously on religious freedom — the founding creed of our country — with this HHS Mandate.

Too much blog space has been devoted to covering this issue, so I will not go into the arguments for or against it. I only urge you to take great caution in the decision that faces you now. You are a representative of the Catholic Church, indeed one of the most influential figures in our day and age. That is a heavy weight to bear. The American Catholic Church depends on your support. The lives of the unborn depend on it. Our very faith as it plays out in these modern times depends on it.

As renowned apologist G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” Will you be lauded for your decision to oppose this mandate? Probably not. Will you be respected for your forbearance in reasserting the authority of the Church on moral issues that stem from the doctrine itself? I believe yes. Despite the acerbic liberal secular rejection of any theological arguments explaining human nature and how we ought to live, we can prevail. The only way to do this, however, is to remain believing in the world but not of it, following only the light of Christ and trying to beckon others into it.

Notre Dame is a shining beacon of faith, hope and love. Take away how she represents the Church and you take away the very spirit of Our Lady. You take away what She represents. You take away the tradition and generations of graduates who are proud to be part of the Fighting Irish nation.

Please, Fr. Jenkins, listen to us. We are not against you. We want to help you. We want you to show the same charity and virtue in this decision that Christ shows to us at every moment of every day. And who are we, limited mortals as we are, to deny the call to Christ?

(To read this letter online, please visit dearfrjenkins.tumblr.com)

Octavia Ratiu


Class of 2011

Feb. 24