By Hilary White

ROME, April 2, 2009 ( – The head of the religious order to which the president of the University of Notre Dame, Fr. John Jenkins, belongs told in an exclusive interview today that the order has no plans to impose any disciplinary measures over the recent scandal.

The university, among the most important Catholic institutions of higher learning in the English speaking world, has caused dismay among Catholics and has raised the ire of many US bishops by its decision to invite President Obama to give the commencement address and to award him with an honorary law degree.

Critics have said that the invitation clearly violates a 2004 statement from the US Catholic bishops that specifies that no Catholic institution in the US should give prominent pro-abortion individuals “awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” Obama has been described by many pro-life advocates as the most pro-abortion president in US history.

Earlier this week prominent Notre Dame Law Professor Charles Rice wrote that Fr. Jenkins should resign over the scandal. “It implies no personal animosity to suggest that Fr. Jenkins and the other Fellows and Trustees responsible for this fiasco should resign or be removed,” he said.

Fr. Hugh Cleary, the Superior General of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, spoke to LSN today in Rome. When asked if it were possible to levy any formal canonical sanctions against Fr. John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, or any of the five members of the university’s board that belong to the order, Fr. Cleary responded, “I really don’t know.”

“We haven’t looked into it. It doesn’t seem like it’s the proper route to go,” he said. “Not now and maybe never.” He added that it “would be up to the bishops to do that. … For myself I feel that’s rather extreme. I hope they [the bishops] don’t do that.”

Fr. Cleary, who confirmed that he had known about the invitation before it was made public by the White House, also told LSN that he believed the university’s decision to invite President Obama could not be rescinded. “I don’t think you can dis-invite the president of the United States,” he said.

“The life issues are the most important issues, but there is a certain etiquette to be followed.”

On the question of whether Obama should have been invited to Notre Dame in the first place, he said, “I don’t know what to say about that.”

In an open letter to President Obama recently published in America magazine, Fr. Cleary invited the president to use his appearance at Notre Dame as a “teachable moment” to reconsider his position on abortion.

He wrote, “Through this open letter, I would like to take advantage of your appearance at Notre Dame to ask you to rethink, through prayerful wrestling with your own conscience, your stated positions on the vital ‘life issues’ of our day, particularly in regard to abortion, embryonic stem cell research and your position on the Freedom of Choice Act before Congress.”

Asked by LSN whether he thought it likely that an appearance at Notre Dame would change Obama’s mind on abortion, Fr. Cleary admitted it is unlikely.

While his letter in America magazine was warm in its overall praise of President Obama, Fr. Cleary wrote, “I am embarrassed to admit that I could not participate in the last election cycle.  I wanted to vote for you, but I just could not because of your position on abortion.”

He wrote that he is “finding it more and more difficult to vote for the candidates of our major political parties.”

“My friends tell me to vote by all means, vote for the lesser of the evils. Unfortunately today’s evils seem so much larger than my conscience can bear.” Among these Fr. Cleary listed, “abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, immigration, the economy, and housing for the poor, gun control, health care for the uninsured, the environment, and war for oil or weapons of mass destruction.”

In his interview with LSN Fr. Cleary also said that he objected to the “kind of expressions” being used to describe the Notre Dame case by some pro-life Catholics in the US, saying he was “surprised” at the level of anger.

He said that he believes that “sometimes the righteous anger is replaced with self righteous anger,” but wanted to be clear he was not referring to the bishops who had spoken against Obama’s appearance. He agreed, however, that such a reaction could be understandable in light of the magnitude of the evil of abortion.

Fifteen US bishops, including two cardinals and the archbishops of New York, Chicago and Oklahoma City, have condemned the decision to invite Obama. Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Phoenix diocese said in a letter to the university that the honour is “a public act of disobedience to the Bishops of the United States.”

A petition launched by the Cardinal Newman Society in protest against the invitation has been signed by more than 230,000 individuals. (To sign the petition, go to:

Read related coverage:

ND President’s Religious Superior Says Jenkins “Fulfilling Responsibilities” of President

Bishop Olmsted: Notre Dame’s Obama Honour “Public Act of Disobedience to U.S. Bishops”

Four More Bishops Make Thirteen Opposed to Notre Dame Obama Invitation