SOUTH BEND, Indiana, April 23, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - After an IRS complaint from an secularist group and other criticism, Peoria Bishop Daniel Jenky is now facing a petition by Notre Dame faculty to have him removed from the Catholic university’s board of fellows.
The action comes in response to a strongly worded homily denouncing President Obama’s HHS mandate, in which the bishop said that in his attacks on freedom of religion the president “seems intent on following a similar path” as past totalitarian dictators such as Hitler and Stalin.
After the remarks created a stir, drawing praise from pro-life advocates and denunciations from secularist groups and the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, the Diocese of Peoria emphasized that the bishop did not claim Obama’s infringements on religious freedom are comparable to that of Hitler or Stalin. Instead, they said, his comments were merely offered as “historical context … to prevent a repetition of historical attacks upon the Catholic Church and other religions.”
Nevertheless, fifty faculty members penned a letter Friday to university president Fr. John Jenkins and board chair Richard Notebaert claiming the charge was “profoundly offensive.”
“Bishop Jenky’s comments demonstrate ignorance of history, insensitivity to victims of genocide, and absence of judgment,” the professors wrote.
Bishop Jenky is a member of the Congregation of Holy Cross, which founded Notre Dame, and he is the sole bishop on both Notre Dame’s board of trustees and board of fellows.
In the homily, offered at the cathedral to a gathering of 500 Catholic men, the bishop urged the faithful to oppose President Obama’s “radical pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda” at the ballot box in November.
He insisted that Catholics must oppose the mandate because “no Catholic institution, under any circumstance, can ever cooperate with the intrinsic evil of killing innocent human life in the womb.”
The strong rebuke of Obama led to charges of partisanship, and the secularist lobby group Americans United for Separation of Church and State called for an IRS investigation, claiming that the bishop violated federal laws for tax-exempt charities.
In their letter, the Notre Dame faculty acknowledged that Bishop Jenky’s comments are protected under the First Amendment, but said they found it “profoundly offensive that a member of our beloved university’s highest authority, the Board of Fellows, should compare the President’s actions with those whose genocidal policies murdered tens of millions of people, including the specific targeting of Catholics, Jews, and other minorities for their faith.”
“We request that you issue a statement on behalf of the University that will definitively distance Notre Dame from Bishop Jenky’s incendiary statement,” they continued. “Further, we feel that it would be in the best interest of Notre Dame if Bishop Jenky resigned from the University’s Board of Fellows if he is unwilling to renounce loudly and publicly this destructive analogy.”
At the same time, the bishop has been defended by parishioners at the cathedral and even the mayor of Peoria.
“There’s nothing the bishop said that he intentionally meant to hurt folks in the Jewish community or any other community,” Mayor Jim Ardis, described as a practicing Catholic, told the Post-Dispatch. “I absolutely agree with what he said.”
“He was saying, ‘As Catholics, we need leaders to represent your values,’ ” Ardis added. “As time goes on, we see more and more of the government getting into the churches.”
In his homily, Bishop Jenky insisted, “this fall, every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic consciences.” Otherwise, he said, “by the following fall our Catholic schools, our Catholic hospitals, our Catholic Newman Centers, all our public ministries - only excepting our church buildings – could easily be shut down.”
Though the Church may lose the battle against the mandate, he said, “before the awesome judgement seat of Almighty God this is not a war where any believing Catholic may remain neutral.”
“The days in which we live now require heroic Catholicism, not casual Catholicism,” he added.
LifeSiteNews.com did not hear back from the University of Notre Dame by press time.
Phone: (574) 631-5000
Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend
915 South Clinton
P.O. Box 390
Fort Wayne, Indiana 46801
Phone: (260) 422-4611
Fax: (260) 969-9145
Most Reverend Daniel R. Jenky C.S.C.
Spalding Pastoral Center
419 NE Madison Avenue
Peoria, IL 61603-3719
Phone (309) 671-1550
Fax (309) 671-1576