By Patrick B. Craine

SOUTH BEND, Indiana, September 16, 2009 ( – Notre Dame's President Fr. John Jenkins, who was the subject of heavy criticism earlier this year for honoring pro-abortion President Barack Obama at the university's commencement ceremonies in May, has issued a letter to the Notre Dame community outlining various pro-life initiatives the university will be undertaking.

In his letter, Fr. Jenkins expresses a desire that the community “overcome divisions” stemming from the Commencement scandal “to foster constructive dialogue.”  While some of the most vocal opponents of the scandal have indicated that they are encouraged by Fr. Jenkins' statement of support for the pro-life cause, they insist that Jenkins' desire is impossible to achieve while the university president refuses to request leniency for the 88 peaceful pro-life protesters that the university had arrested on the day of the commencement.

“Coming out of the vigorous discussions surrounding President Obama's visit last Spring, I said we would look for ways to engage the Notre Dame community with the issues raised in a prayerful and meaningful way,” writes Fr. Jenkins. “As our nation continues to struggle with the morality and legality of abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and related issues, we must seek steps to witness to the sanctity of life.”

Fr. Jenkins outlines two new measures the university will be adopting.  First, Jenkins himself will be participating in the January 22nd March for Life in Washington, D.C. He also extended an invitation to the Notre Dame community to join him.

Second, he says that he has recently initiated a 'Task Force on Supporting the Choice for Life', “to consider and recommend to me ways in which the University, informed by Catholic teaching, can support the sanctity of life.”  The topics he lists that the task force has already begun discussing are: “fostering serious and specific discussion about a reasonable conscience clause”; “the most effective ways to support pregnant women, especially the most vulnerable”; and “the best policies for facilitating adoptions.”

Jenkins points out that he is on the Board of the Women's Care Center, a Catholic pregnancy resource center, and that such centers “deserve the support of Notre Dame clubs and individuals.”

“Our Commencement last Spring generated passionate discussion and also caused some divisions in the Notre Dame community,” he concludes. “Regardless of what you think about that event, I hope that we can overcome divisions to foster constructive dialogue and work together for a cause that is at the heart of Notre Dame's mission.”

Thomas Brejcha, President & Chief Counsel of the pro-life law firm, the St. Thomas More Society, told that he was “encouraged” by Jenkins' expression of support for the pro-life cause.  However, Brejcha also indicated that unless the university seeks leniency for the arrested protesters, who face heavy fines and jail time, any attempts at healing divisions are unlikely to succeed.

In June, the Society joined the defense of the arrested protesters.  Two weeks ago, Brejcha issued an open letter calling on Fr. Jenkins to seek to drop the charges.

“Every signal we've had so far has been either hostile or at best indifferent to these folks who've been arrested,” Brejcha said.  “We'd like to hope that this is a signal that [the university] might be turning a corner and moving toward the stronger pro-life position that certainly they've shown in the past.”

Brejcha noted that up until this point all the university had done was profess their pro-life values.  “Actions speak louder than words,” he said.  “So we're looking for action.”

Brejcha said he is pleased that Fr. Jenkins will be joining the March for Life, but pointed to commentary on the Society's new website, which highlights the irony of the situation:  “Apparently the irony was lost on Jenkins that while he will be preparing to protest against Roe v. Wade, the actual Roe, Norma McCorvey, will be preparing for her criminal trial for protesting at Notre Dame after she was arrested under orders from Father Jenkins who has, so far, refused to drop the charges brought against McCorvey and the rest of the 'ND 88'.”

“I just think that Notre Dame is in a position here that is untenable,” said Brejcha, “in terms of being … the complaining witness against all these very dedicated pro-life folks who dared to cross the line, so to speak, and speak out on the sanctity of life.  They just should drop the charges.  It doesn't make any sense.  There's really nothing for them to gain by pressing these cases.”

Patrick Reilly of the Cardinal Newman Society, an organization dedicated to the renewal of America's Catholic colleges, issued a press release today in response to Fr. Jenkins' letter.

“These are welcome steps in the right direction,” Reilly said about Fr. Jenkin's pro-life initiatives, “the sort of activities that Catholics should expect from any Catholic college or university – but there are serious steps that Notre Dame should take immediately to atone for its shocking betrayal of the U.S. bishops and the Catholic Church last spring.”

Reilly lists four such steps, including dropping the criminal charges against the protestors. Reilly also says that Jenkins should apologize for the scandal generated by honoring Obama, should develop policies to prevent such scandal in the future, and should “support the Notre Dame Fund to Protect Human Life, already established by the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture and excluded from mention in Father Jenkins' announcement of new pro-life efforts.”

“There is much more that should be done to renew and strengthen Notre Dame's Catholic identity,” Reilly says. This includes “ensuring fidelity to Catholic teaching in the classroom, increasing Catholic faculty, and restoring authentic academic freedom.” However, “the above actions would help indicate the seriousness of Father Jenkins and the Notre Dame trustees in upholding the mission of 'Our Lady's University.'”

LSN contacted Notre Dame for comment but did not hear back by press time.

See related coverage:

88 Pro-Lifers Arrested at Notre Dame Still Facing Jail Time: Thomas More Lawyer Again Asks Fr. Jenkins for Leniency