By Kathleen Gilbert

SOUTH BEND, Indiana, April 22, 2009 ( – Bishop John D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, whose diocese includes the University of Notre Dame, has issued a letter refuting University president Fr. John Jenkins’ justification of honoring Obama at this year’s commencement exercises.

A letter to the school’s board of trustees from Fr. Jenkins was obtained exclusively and published by earlier this month. In the letter the president attempted to justify the school’s plan, in light of a statement from the USCCB against honoring pro-abortion politicians, to give a platform and an honorary law degree to President Obama on May 17. 

Jenkins’ comment was a response to several bishops who have condemned the invitation by pointing to the 2004 USCCB document “Catholics in Political Life,” which states: “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.” 

The University president told trustees that he considers the invitation to honor Obama to be faithful to the “letter and the spirit” of the document, because in his opinion the document only forbids honoring pro-abortion politicians who are Catholic.  (

In a statement dated yesterday, Bishop D’Arcy wrote that he had a duty to “respond and correct” Fr. Jenkins’ letter to the board since it has become public.  “I take up this responsibility with some sadness, but also with the conviction that if I did not do so, I would be remiss in my pastoral responsibility,” he added.

In the published summary of his letter to Fr. Jenkins, D’Arcy criticized the president for interpreting the document without consideration for D’Arcy’s authority as bishop: “When there is a doubt concerning the meaning of a document of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, where does one find the authentic interpretation? A fundamental, canonical and theological principal states that it is found in the local bishop, who is the teacher and lawgiver in his diocese.” 

Bishop D’Arcy informed Fr. Jenkins, who claimed to have consulted canon lawyers on the Obama invitation: “If there was any genuine questions or doubt about the meaning of the relevant sentence in the conference’s document, any competent canonist with knowledge of the tradition and love for Christ’s church had the responsibility to inform Father Jenkins of the fundamental principle that the diocesan bishop alone bears the responsibility to provide an authoritative interpretation.”

The bishop refuted the line held by Fr. Jenkins that the invitation to Obama does not “suggest support” for his actions because Jenkins has expressed his disagreement with Obama on life issues.

“The outpouring of hundreds of thousands who are shocked by the invitation clearly demonstrates, that this invitation has, in fact, scandalized many Catholics and other people of goodwill,” said Bishop D’Arcy, who noted he has already received over 3,300 messages of “shock, dismay and outrage” over the invitation.

“It seems that the action in itself speaks so loudly that people have not been able to hear the words of Father Jenkins, and indeed, the action has suggested approval to many,” he said.

The bishop also commented on talking points on the controversy that were issued to the Notre Dame board of trustees. The talking points had also been obtained and published exclusively by LSN, before being picked up by the mainstream media.

Bishop D’Arcy asked Fr. Jenkins “to correct, and if possible, withdraw the erroneous talking points,” saying they are “simply wrong and give a flawed justification for his actions.”

“I consider it now settled – that the USCCB document, ‘Catholics in Public Life,’ does indeed apply in this matter,” said Bishop D’Arcy, who indicated that the invitation would not have happened had he been consulted. 

“Proper consultation could have prevented an action, which has caused such painful division between Notre Dame and many bishops – and a large number of the faithful,” he said.

The bishop concluded with a pledge “to work with Father Jenkins and all at Notre Dame to heal the terrible breach, which has taken place between Notre Dame and the church. It cannot be allowed to continue.

“I ask all to pray that this healing will take place in a way that is substantial and true, and not illusory. Notre Dame and Father Jenkins must do their part if this healing is to take place. I will do my part.”

To see Bishop D’Arcy’s full statement:

Fr. Jenkins recently dug in his heels on the invitation, saying Obama’s presence would be a “tremendous event” for Notre Dame despite strong condemnations and calls to revoke the honor from 42 U.S. bishops and hundreds of thousands of petitioning Catholics. (petition:

See related coverage:

ND President Jenkins: “We Are Tremendously Proud” to Honor Obama at Notre Dame

Canon Lawyer: Notre Dame Prez Reasoning “Too Bizarre for Words”

Leaked: ND Prez Comment on USCCB Document Prohibiting Honoring Pro-Abortion Politicians

Revealed: Obama Commencement Talking Points for University of Notre Dame Trustees

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