Notre Dame Pres Jenkins: Visit to Notre Dame was Good for Obama
By Kathleen Gilbert
SOUTH BEND, Indiana, June 3, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) - In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, University of Notre Dame president Fr. John Jenkins said that he thought inviting President Obama to the school's commencement last year influenced the president for the better, and dismissed the heavy criticism over the invitation as a "scorched-earth strategy toward disagreement."
After Notre Dame invited President Obama to give the commencement address and receive an honorary law degree in May 2009, the school received a deluge of protests from a total of 80 active U.S. bishops and over 360,000 petitioning Catholics. The school's own bishop, Fort Wayne-South Bend's Bishop John D'Arcy, boycotted the event, as did Mary Ann Glendon, a former ambassador to the Vatican slated to receive the Laetare Medal that day.
Asked by Fain if he felt the University had "benefitted from the entire experience," Jenkins said that he thought the event might have influenced Obama for the better - although it was unclear in what respect.
"We're very clear about our convictions, we're very clear about why we honored the president, and I think from that event came some discussion that was beneficial on these divisive issues. I think the president heard things that he wouldn't otherwise have heard and maybe subsequently made statements that he wouldn't otherwise have made, and that's for the good," said Jenkins.
In his commencement speech, the pro-abortion president counseled Notre Dame graduates on how to approach the abortion debate without "demonizing" the opposition.
The Notre Dame scandal was perpetuated after several pro-life activists peacefully protesting Obama's presence on campus were arrested, and many, now known as the "ND 88," continue to face trespassing charges with a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. Witnesses attest that only individuals protesting Obama's presence were arrested, whereas other trespassing persons supporting the invitation were allowed to roam free.
Although the case is technically out of Notre Dame's hands, Fr. Jenkins continues to refuse to request leniency for the arrestees, to the astonishment of pro-life leaders. Contrary to Jenkins' claim that the school was merely following protocol, a recent investigation by the alumni watchdog group Sycamore Trust found that previous pro-gay and anti-military protesters were handled much more leniently by the school.
Jenkins went on to say that "what disturbed me most" about the event was "that I think some implied that if you don't condemn those with whom you disagree, if you show an openness to listen and to honor them for what is honorable in their lives, you're somehow capitulating: you are somehow failing to stand for those values."
"I think its a general phenomenon in society that's maybe taken up here where there's sort of scorched-earth strategy toward disagreement," said the university president. "You just try to demolish your opponent: character, beliefs, knowledge, whatever, and that again gets you nowhere, and it just becomes a stalemate."
William Dempsey, president of the Sycamore Trust, wondered what change Jenkins hoped to have effected in Obama, whom some have called the most pro-abortion president in history.
"Whatever Father Jenkins might have meant by referring in the most general terms to 'things [the President] wouldn't have heard' and 'statements he wouldn't otherwise have made,' he does not suggest that the President actually did anything he otherwise wouldn't have done," Dempsey told LifeSiteNews.com Thursday. "Surely it is unrealistic to suppose that the President might change his long-held pro-abortion views because of his being awarded an honorary degree and spending a few hours at the University giving the commencement address."
Dempsey argued that it "is beside the point to speak of the virtues of 'respecting' and 'listening to' persons with whom one disagrees." "The objection was not to that, but to the conferring of honors upon the President in contravention of the policy adopted unanimously by the nation's bishops," he said.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in the document "Catholics in Political Life" issued in 2004, stated that "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."
See numerous LifeSiteNews articles on the Notre Dame award to President Obama.