By Kathleen Gilbert

SOUTH BEND, Indiana, August 26, 2009 ( – Fort Wayne-South Bend Bishop John D'Arcy, whose diocese includes the University of Notre Dame, has penned a column calling on the University, its president, and board members to answer for their decision to honor a pro-abortion president – without notifying or seeking guidance from their local prelate.

When Notre Dame published its decision to honor President Barack Obama with the commencement address and an honorary law degree on May 17, Bishop D'Arcy voiced his opposition early on, vowing to boycott the ceremony and questioning whether the school had placed “prestige over truth.”

“Does a Catholic university have the responsibility to give witness to the Catholic faith and to the consequences of that faith by its actions and decisions-especially by a decision to confer its highest honor? If not, what is the meaning of a life of faith?” wrote Bishop D'Arcy.  “And how can a Catholic institution expect its students to live by faith in the difficult decisions that will confront them in a culture often opposed to the Gospel?”

D'Arcy's column will appear as the cover story of the Jesuit journal America, which took a perspective favorable of Obama amid the scandal.  D'Arcy touched briefly on the journal's bias, saying that the intense pro-life Catholic backlash to the honor was “not about what this journal called 'sectarian Catholicism.'”

“Rather, the response of the faithful derives directly from the Gospel. In Matthew's words, 'Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good works, and glorify your heavenly Father' (5:13),” said the bishop.  Over 360,000 petitioners and 80 active U.S. bishops voiced opposition to the honor.

The South Bend bishop pointed out the words of Pope Benedict XVI, who enjoined American Catholic educators in April to “ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice.”  “This requires that public witness to the way of Christ, as found in the Gospel and upheld by the Church's magisterium, shapes all aspects of an institution's life, both inside and outside the classroom,” said the pontiff.

D'Arcy asked: “In its decision to give its highest honor to a president who has repeatedly opposed even the smallest legal protection of the child in the womb, did Notre Dame surrender the responsibility that Pope Benedict believes Catholic universities have to give public witness to the truths revealed by God and taught by the church?”

The University's persistent sponsorship of “The Vagina Monologues,” a lewd play extolling lesbianism and sexual promiscuity, was “another serious question of witness and moral responsibility,” according to the bishop.

“Although he spoke eloquently about the importance of dialogue with the president of the United States, the president of Notre Dame chose not to dialogue with his bishop on these two matters, both pastoral and both with serious ramifications for the care of souls, which is the core responsibility of the local bishop,” said D'Arcy.   The bishop said he was notified of both decisions only after the fact.

D'Arcy noted his responsibility, while not interfering with internal governance, to encourage Catholic institutions in his diocese to “give public witness to the fullness of the Catholic faith.”

“The diocesan bishop must ask whether a Catholic institution compromises its obligation to give public witness by placing prestige over truth,” he said.  “The bishop must be concerned that Catholic institutions do not succumb to the secular culture, making decisions that appear to many, including ordinary Catholics, as a surrender to a culture opposed to the truth about life and love.”

The bishop also called upon the University board of trustees, who ignored the scandal brewing on campus in the weeks before the Obama honor, to step up to the plate.

“I firmly believe that the board of trustees must take up its responsibility afresh, with appropriate study and prayer,” wrote D'Arcy.  “They also must understand the seriousness of the present moment.

“Like bishops, [board members] are asked to leave politics and ambition at the door, and make serious decisions before God,” he said. “In the case of Notre Dame, they owe it to the Congregation of Holy Cross, which has turned this magnificent place over to a predominately lay board; they owe it to the students who have not yet come; they owe it to the intrepid missionary priest, Edward Sorin, C.S.C., and the Holy Cross religious who built this magnificent place out of the wilderness.

“They owe it to Mary, the Mother of God, who has always been honored here.

“Let us pray that they will take this responsibility with greater seriousness and in a truly Catholic spirit.”

D'Arcy concluded by challenging Catholic universities to answer whether they consider it their responsibility to give witness to the Catholic faith, and to make clear their relationship to the Church and their local bishop.

He also presented an ultimatum between the infamous 1967 Land O' Lakes statement – in which Notre Dame led several other Catholic universities in declaring independence from Church authority – and John Paul II's apostolic constitution on Catholic universities, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, which outlines Catholic schools' obligation to align with the moral and doctrinal teachings of the Church.

“Where will the great Catholic universities search for a guiding light in the years ahead? Will it be the Land O'Lakes Statement or Ex Corde Ecclesiae?” he asked.

“On these three questions, I respectfully submit, rests the future of Catholic higher education in this country and so much else.”

Click here to read Bishop D'Arcy's column in full.

See related coverage:

Notre Dame's Bishop on Obama's Pro-Abortion Views: “No One Is Allowed to Say Who Sits at Table of Life”

Notre Dame's Bishop Will Not Attend Obama-Honoring Graduation, Criticizes University's Decision