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May 22, 2018 (Sycamore Trust) – Notre Dame had it right in its lawsuit against the Obamacare contraceptive mandate. There, Dr. John Affleck-Graves, the University's Executive Vice President, swore to the court that compliance with the mandate would “violate Notre Dame's religious beliefs” because it would cause scandal, especially to its students:

The Catholic moral tradition forbids “scandal,” encouraging by words or example other persons to engage in wrongdoing. Scandal is particularly grave when associated with those “who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others.” [Compliance] will lead many to think Notre Dame condones these services, and hence undermines the role of Notre Dame…to educate others on a matter of religious and moral significance.

Therefore, he concluded:

It is incumbent upon Notre Dame to extricate itself from any process that leads others to violate the faith.

Now, in a stupefying pivot, Father Jenkins has decided that it is incumbent upon Notre Dame to do precisely the opposite. Whereas under the Obamacare mandate Notre Dame's insurers had been providing contraceptive coverage on their own, under Father Jenkins's plan Notre Dame will itself provide the coverage.

The malign influence Father Jenkins's action will have is presaged by the reaction so far on campus.

Give an Inch, Take a Mile

Less than a week after Father Jenkins's decision was announced, a student group entitled Irish 4 Reproductive Health (“I4RH”) distributed over 1,000 condoms to Notre Dame students at the Main Circle, the entrance to campus.  I4RH advertised the condom distribution widely via its Twitter page.

It was National Condom Week. It was also Junior Parents' Weekend.

The condoms were provided by Planned Parenthood, with which Irish 4 is affiliated. Irish 4 describes itself as “intersectional, sex-positive, gender-affirming, LGBTQIA+-affirming, and anti-racist.”

In a letter to the Observer lauding Father Jenkins's “huge step,” I4RH argued he should go further and “provide free condoms, or at least condoms available for purchase on campus.” Otherwise, the group maintained, he will be discriminating against men, who do not take oral contraceptives, and women who are not on Notre Dame's health plan.

Most recently, Ir4RH has intensified its campaign by launching a petition to secure to “everyone in the Notre Dame community” access to all FDA-approved forms of contraception, including the many iterations of the pill, the ring, IUDs, implants, emergency contraception, and non-prescription barrier methods.”

Echoing I4RH, Emily Garrett, President of Feminist ND, called for   “comprehensive access to contraception on campus.” Worried that ND might exclude IUD's (it hasn't), she wrote:

So many of my friends have gotten an IUD or want to get one. There's people that want that type of convenience, to know that you're covered without having to remember to take a pill.

Another student, imaginatively citing the Bible's Song of Songs in support of student sexual gratification, pointed out that Notre Dame “already suggests using condoms to prevent STDs, so providing them for free seems to be the next logical step.”  She is forthright about the reason:

Notre Dame students have sex, and a considerable amount of it. On campus, off campus and basically anywhere they want. Thus, we demand the University gives us the ability and tools … necessary to make our own decisions about our bodies.

Father Jenkins has given an inch – a rather large inch at that – and now those pushing a more liberal approach to sexuality will attempt to take a mile. No wonder, given Father Jenkins's remarkable trail of irresolution.

The Other Side

Still, Catholic student leaders critical of Father Jenkins's decision have not been silent

For example, in a compelling open letter to Father Jenkins, Hailey Vrdolyak, president of the Law School's St. Thomas More Society (and recipient of Sycamore Trust's 2016 Student Award), pointed out how his action has already prompted “many students [to call] upon the University to provide them with simple contraceptives.”

These groups rightly argue if those covered by Notre Dame's insurance have the ability to make their own choices about contraception, why cannot all students make this same choice?

She went on to underscore the calamitous consequences of the scandal Father Jenkins is causing by “blurr[ing] very clear lines of Catholic teaching.”  “You are,” she wrote, “called upon to guide students entrusted to your care,” but “you have failed in this duty by sowing confusion.”

Citing Pope Paul VI's warning about how promotion of contraception leads to illicit sex “and a general lowering of moral standards,” Ms. Vrdolyak concluded with a  passage from Humanae Vitae that should be especially troubling to those responsible for the scuttling of Notre Dame's long-stablised policy:

Human beings – and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation – need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law.”

Others have weighed in as well.

  • Notre Dame's Students for Child Oriented Policy (SCOP)  declared its disappointment in the University's “shocking decision to even more closely entangle itself in and become the primary agent of the provision of contraceptives,” a decision that “flies in the face of the University's sworn testimony in court.”
  • The president of ND Right to Life denounced Father Jenkins's decision  as “directly against the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the club held meetings in front of the Main Building every Friday  to pray the Angelus for the school's Catholic identity.”
  • In a detailed analysis, the Liturgical Director of Children of Mary declared Notre Dame's decision to be “against Catholic faith and teachings” and one that “ought not to be lauded, but condemned.”

Father Jenkins on Scandal

When Notre Dame was denied an injunction and Notre Dame's insurers began supplying contraceptive coverage, Father Jenkins said:

I don't see this as a scandal because we are not giving out contraceptives.

Now Notre Dame is, most emphatically, giving them out. One may perhaps hope that Father Jenkins's vision will be restored before his decision takes effect in July.


Please join us in person or online at Reunion 2018 for a discussion of “The Church and Notre Dame” by Father Wilson Miscamble, C.S.C., Sarah Drumm ('18), Kevin Angell ('20), and Bill Dempsey ('52).

An award-winning historian and former chair of the History Department and Rector of Moreau Seminary, Fr. Miscamble, our principle speaker, has been a central figure in the debate about Notre Dame's Catholic identity. He has recounted the earlier history of that debate in his book “For Notre Dame: Battling For the Heart and Soul of a Catholic University,” and at our breakfast he will discuss the current challenges to Notre Dame's Catholic identity and ways to meet them.

Fr. Miscamble will be joined by Sarah Drumm, the past President of the student Right to Life club, Kevin Angell, the past Managing Editor of The Irish Rover and current Deputy Grand Knight of the Notre Dame Knights of Columbus, and Bill Dempsey, the President of Sycamore Trust.

The Church and Notre Dame
Saturday June 2, 2018
Conference Center at McKenna Hall
Room Lower Level
Complimentary breakfast opens at 7:15 a.m.
Program 8:00 am – 9:30 am

Published with permission from Sycamore Trust.