Notre Dame task force calls for new policies, research on life issues

WASHINGTON – A task force appointed in September by Holy Cross Father John I. Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, has issued a set of preliminary recommendations designed to “broaden and deepen the pro-life culture” at the university.

The recommendations include undergraduate “witness to life” research opportunities in various academic disciplines; adoption of a policy statement on the university’s “support for Catholic teaching on the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death”; and guidelines on how to “avoid formal or immediate material complicity in evils such as abortion and torture” in charitable gifts and investments.

The Task Force on Supporting the Choice for Life also urged the university to find “strategies to make its current supportive policies toward pregnant students better known”; to create and support conferences, consultations and courses “intended to inform the campus community on issues pertaining to life”; and to encourage its alumni to be involved in pro-life witness at their own parishes.

Co-chaired by law professor Margaret Brinig and John Cavadini, chairman of the theology department and director of the Institute for Church Life, the task force was created at the start of the current academic year following what Father Jenkins called “the vigorous discussions surrounding President (Barack) Obama’s visit” to the campus in May.

Father Jenkins’ decision to invite Obama to deliver the commencement speech and present him with an honorary law degree set off a firestorm of criticism by at least 70 U.S. bishops, and ignited a national debate on the university’s status as a Catholic institution.

Critics of the decision said Obama’s support of legal abortion and embryonic stem-cell research made him an inappropriate choice to be commencement speaker at a Catholic university.

“My charge to the task force in September was to make recommendations on ways the university could increase and manifest its own commitment to a culture of life across our campus and in partnership with other constituencies in the Notre Dame family, including our alumni,” Father Jenkins said in a news release announcing the preliminary recommendations.

He said the task force “expects, after further study, to refine (the recommendations) by the end of the academic year.”

Father Jenkins said “several task force recommendations already have borne fruit,” citing a university-sponsored commercial on adult stem-cell research that aired nationally Nov. 7 on NBC and a panel presentation Dec. 3 on the development of a conscience clause for health care providers informed by Catholic teaching.

Another recommendation of the task force was for Father Jenkins to “continue to witness for life through attending or sending a delegate to participate in the March for Life or a similar event.” He had indicated when he named the task force in September that he would go to Washington for the march in 2010.

Bishop John M. D’Arcy, retired bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., spoke at a special “send-off” Mass Jan. 19 for the approximately 400-member Notre Dame delegation led by Father Jenkins.

A flat tire in New Haven prevented Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend from being at the Mass to concelebrate with Bishop D’Arcy, Father Jenkins and nearly 20 other priests.

Concerned that the students would be disappointed not to meet Bishop Rhoades, who would have celebrated his third public Mass since his Jan. 13 installation, Bishop D’Arcy quipped, “I am not your young, new bishop. … I am your older, supposedly retired bishop!”

Originally scheduled to give the homily, Bishop D’Arcy wasted no time praising Notre Dame students, who have sent representatives to the March for Life for the past 25 years. This year Father Jenkins will participate for the first time.

“We are going from Mary’s place, from her university,” Bishop D’Arcy said, describing her spirit of humility and compassion in the face of her own unplanned pregnancy. He also pointed to Mary’s concern for her older cousin, Elizabeth, who was also pregnant.

“We should march with that spirit,” he added. “Humility, not judgment … not be better than anybody else. We are coming in prayer, like Mary. Pray the rosary on your way. … It’s the most effective means of saving lives. Mary went with mercy, and with gratitude and humility.”

Bishop D’Arcy said Catholics can impact the culture of life in four ways – through prayer, pastoral care for both the mother and the child affected by abortion, teaching through public witness and working to change laws.

Doing all of these things, said Bishop D’Arcy, requires courage. He exhorted his listeners to “be not afraid,” as the angel also told Mary in the Gospel of Luke.

“We who are going to Washington are not afraid,” he added. “In the proclamation of this Gospel of life, my dear young people, we must not fear hostility or unpopularity. And we must refuse any compromise or ambiguity, which might conform us to the world’s way of thinking. We must be in the world, but not of the world.”

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.