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The Notre Dame Flap

Bishop Bernard Harrington
Bishop of Winona, MN

The Courier (
Diocese of Winona

May 7, 2009

Like so many bishops of the United States, I have written to Father John Jenkins, CSC, President of the University of Notre Dame, to express my disbelief and disappointment that the administration of the University of Notre Dame has invited President Obama to address the graduating class and then to bestow an honorary degree upon him. President Obama has been blatantly proabortion in the first few weeks of his new administration with the lifting of the ban on federal funding of abortions and approving with federal funds embryonic stem cell research. He is also “on record” that he approves the “Freedom of Choice Act” (FOCA) and he is seriously considering lifting the exemption of conscience clause from those in the medical field who oppose abortion.

The Bishops of the United States in June 2004 asked Catholic universities and other Catholic institutions not to give public honors or to permit pro-abortion politicians a public platform. The University of Notre Dame, which has considered itself a leading Catholic institution of higher learning, is choosing to defy the bishops of the United States and turn its back on the Catholic community in its continual defense of the right-to-life. The university’s stance is similar to that of Catholic politicians who say that they are pro-life and then support legislation and vote for programs that foster abortion. It is hard to believe that the University of Notre Dame has chosen “political rightness” over principle and truth.

Shortly after the election of Pope Benedict XVI, the president of the university asked the Pope what the university could do for his papacy. I am sure that Pope would now tell Father Jenkins the same thing that Pope Benedict XVI told Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives.

Bishop John D’Arcy, bishop of Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend in which Notre Dame is located, stated that he will not be present at this year’s graduation for the first time since becoming the local bishop in 1985. He states very clearly that if he attended the ceremony, he would be implicitly approving of what President Obama has done and would certainly give scandal and bad example to the Catholic community. I think that the University has to judge itself in the same light of truth and justice.

No matter what the President of Notre Dame says, the invitation and bestowal of an honorary degree upon President Obama is a “no-win situation” for the Catholic Church of the United States and in particular, a losing situation for the University of Notre Dame.

It might be a little too dramatic to say that Our Lady of the Golden Dome is hanging her head in shame, but there is no question that hundreds of thousands of “ loyal Irish” supporters are angered, dumbfounded and disappointed in this administration’s decision.

Good Shepherd Sunday Sunday, May 3, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, is Good Shepherd Sunday, a day of prayer for vocations. The annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations, started by Pope Paul VI, is always celebrated on the 4th Sunday of Easter. The day offers Catholic laity, religious and clergy an opportunity to remember and to pray for those who have already responded to God’s call to priesthood and consecrated life.

This year, Pope Benedict XVI invites the entire People of God to meditate on the theme: “Faith in the divine initiative – the human response.” The Pope reminds us to “Pray therefore to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest (Matt 9:38). ” I want to thank the many groups of faithful who remember to pray for vocations daily, if not frequently. I encourage once again those who come to Eucharistic adoration, either Perpetual Adoration or Parish Weekly Adoration to pray for our seminarians and for an increase in religious and priestly vocations in our diocese. I especially want to thank the members of the four Diocese of Winona Serra clubs (Mankato, Owatonna, Rochester and Winona) and the group that is forming in Austin for their support in fostering vocations. A link to the Pope’s message can be found at Be sure to include at all Masses a special prayer for vocations.

Support Catholic Charities Appeal On Mother’s Day weekend, May 9-10, the annual collection for support of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Winona will take place in our parishes as a second collection. I ask that you continue to be supportive of Catholic Charities in our Diocese.

Catholic Charities has offices located in Worthington, Mankato, Owatonna, Albert Lea, Austin, Rochester and Winona. Last year, more than 4,700 persons residing in 2,100 households in southern Minnesota were served by Catholic Charities staff. Fortyseven percent of these families had annual incomes at or below $25,000 – truly the poor in our diocese.

Many individuals of the diocese have been asked to support Catholic Charities through the Catholic Charities Spirit Circle. I thank you for such generous support. Now, I hope that all Catholics will join in and contribute to the annual collection of Mother’s Day weekend.

These are difficult economic times. These are the times that Catholic Charities especially reaches out to help so many who are in need of help. Help for unwed mothers, families in crisis, isolated and frail senior citizens, refugee families and the uninsured are just a few of those who come for help. Just last week, Catholic Charities of Winona responded with food for the displaced people of St. Charles at the time of the devastating fire. It is especially in times like these that we need to support the work of Catholic Charities.

“As the Spirit Goes” – The End of the Road

For the past ten and one half years, I have been writing a monthly article for the Courier “As the Spirit Goes.” This is my last official article for the Courier as I “pass the crosier” to Bishop John Quinn this May. I believe that only three times, twice because of hip surgeries and once because of studying Spanish in Mexico, have I missed this monthly commitment. I am well aware of how many of the faithful – clergy and laity – read this article monthly and I am deeply humbled by that fact. I have had to struggle with some heavy topics: the morality of the war in Iraq, embryonic stem cell research, the immigration issue, and the intrinsic evilness of abortion and Catholic politicians. I have been mindful that it is necessary to preach the gospel “in and out of season.” On a lighter note, I have written about Ma Harrington’s Macaroni and Cheese, the trimmings of the Rosary, and getting my own deer on I-90. I thank you for your faithfulness and willingness to hear what the Bishop of the Diocese of Winona has to say on everyday issues.

I pray that you will be supportive of Bishop Quinn in the years to come. Next to my priesthood, it has been the greatest blessing in my life to be Bishop of the Diocese of Winona. I am blessed to celebrate my fiftieth anniversary of priesthood with a diocesan celebration on May 7 and bring to a close my time as the seventh bishop of Winona.

I have been mindful of my time as your bishop that I bring “life that you may have it more abundantly!” On the day of my Episcopal Installation in January of 1999, I facetiously referred to myself as “Bernie the Spirit” vs. “Jesse the Body” who was also sworn in that same day. I have attempted to bring the Spirit, both in Sacrament and Word, throughout the Diocese. There have been some great laughs (especially in Confirmation ceremonies), some big disappointments and momentous challenges. Through all this, it is still a blessing to be among your midst and I look forward to coming and helping out in your parishes in the months and years to come. My old Irish dad, Jack Harrington, would end each visit with this simple blessing:

“Good Bye, Good Luck and God Bless!” 

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