Statement to the faithful
April 21, 2009
Bishop John M. D’Arcy
Diocese of Fort Wayne - South Bend, IN
My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Recently, Father John Jenkins, CSC, in a letter of response
to Bishop Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix, who had written him, critical of
the decision to invite President Obama to speak and receive an honorary degree
of law at Notre Dame, indicated that it was his conviction that the statement
“Catholics in Political Life” (USCCB) did not apply in this matter. Father
Jenkins kindly sent me a copy of his letter, and also at a later meeting, asked
for a response.
In an April 15th letter to Father Jenkins, I responded to
Now the points made in his letter have been sent by Father Jenkins to the
members of the Notre Dame Board of Trustees and have been publicized nationally,
as well as locally in the South Bend Tribune. Since the matter is now public, it
is my duty as the bishop of this diocese to respond and correct. I take up this
responsibility with some sadness, but also with the conviction that if I did not
do so, I would be remiss in my pastoral responsibility.
Rather than share my full letter, which I have shared with some in church
leadership, I prefer to present some of the key points.
1. The meaning of the sentence in the USCCB document relative to Catholic
institutions is clear. It places the responsibility on those institutions, and
indeed, on the Catholic community itself.
“The Catholic community and 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.” —
“Catholics in Political Life,” USCCB.
2. When there is a doubt concerning the meaning of a document of the United
States Conference of Catholic Bishops, where does one find the authentic
interpretation? A fundamental, canonical and theological principal states that
it is found in the local bishop, who is the teacher and lawgiver in his diocese.
— Canon 330, 375 §§ 1 & 2; 380; 381 § 1; 391 § 1; 392, & 394 §1.
3. I informed Father Jenkins that if there was any genuine questions or doubt
about the meaning of the relevant sentence in the conference’s document, any
competent canonist with knowledge of the tradition and love for Christ’s church
had the responsibility to inform Father Jenkins of the fundamental principle
that the diocesan bishop alone bears the responsibility to provide an
4. I reminded Father Jenkins that he indicated that he consulted presidents of
other Catholic universities, and at least indirectly, consulted other bishops,
since he asked those presidents to share with him those judgments of their own
bishops. However, he chose not to consult his own bishop who, as I made clear,
is the teacher and lawgiver in his own diocese. I reminded Father Jenkins that I
was not informed of the invitation until after it was accepted by the president.
I mentioned again that it is at the heart of the diocesan bishop’s pastoral
responsibility to teach as revealed in sacred Scripture and the tradition.
(“Lumen Gentium,” 20; and “Christus Dominus,” 2.) I reminded him that it is also
central to the university’s relationship to the church. (“Ex corde ecclesiae,”
27 & 28; Gen. Norm., Art. 5, §§ 1-3.)
5. Another key point. In his letter to Bishop Olmsted and in the widespread
publicity, which has taken place as the points in the letter have been made
public, Father Jenkins declared the invitation to President Obama does not
“suggest support” for his actions, because he has expressed and continues to
express disagreement with him on issues surrounding protection of life. I wrote
that the outpouring of hundreds of thousands who are shocked by the invitation
clearly demonstrates, that this invitation has, in fact, scandalized many
Catholics and other people of goodwill. In my office alone, there have been over
3,300 messages of shock, dismay and outrage, and they are still coming in. It
seems that the action in itself speaks so loudly that people have not been able
to hear the words of Father Jenkins, and indeed, the action has suggested
approval to many.
In the publicity surrounding the points Father Jenkins has made, he also says he
is “following the document of the bishops” by “laying a basis for engagement
with the president on this issue.” I indicated that I, like many others, will
await to see what the follow up is on this issue between Notre Dame and
6. As I have said in a recent interview and which I have said to Father Jenkins,
it would be one thing to bring the president here for a discussion on healthcare
or immigration, and no person of goodwill could rightly oppose this. We have
here, however, the granting of an honorary degree of law to someone whose
activities both as president and previously, have been altogether supportive of
laws against the dignity of the human person yet to be born.
In my letter, I have also asked Father Jenkins to correct, and if possible,
withdraw the erroneous talking points, which appeared in the South Bend Tribune
and in other media outlets across the country. The statements which Father
Jenkins has made are simply wrong and give a flawed justification for his
I consider it now settled — that the USCCB document, “Catholics in Public Life,”
does indeed apply in this matter.
The failure to consult the local bishop who, whatever his
unworthiness, is the teacher and lawgiver in the diocese, is a serious mistake.
Proper consultation could have prevented an action, which has caused such
painful division between Notre Dame and many bishops — and a large number of the
That division must be addressed through prayer and action, and I pledge to work
with Father Jenkins and all at Notre Dame to heal the terrible breach, which has
taken place between Notre Dame and the church. It cannot be allowed to continue.
I ask all to pray that this healing will take place in a
way that is substantial and true, and not illusory. Notre Dame and Father
Jenkins must do their part if this healing is to take place. I will do my part.
Sincerely yours in our Lord,
John M. D’Arcy
More from our