Let me say very clearly what this lawsuit is not about: it is not about preventing women from having access to contraception, nor even about preventing the Government from providing such services. Many of our faculty, staff and students—both Catholic and non-Catholic—have made conscientious decisions to use contraceptives. As we assert the right to follow our conscience, we respect their right to follow theirs.
This is part of what the President of the University of Notre Dame (UND), the Reverend John Jenkins, CSC, had to say in a statement explaining his decision that UND would file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana. The lawsuit concerns the so-called “Obamacare mandate” promulgated by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, who just happens to be a UND honorary degree recipient.
The explanation, posted to Fr. Jenkins’ page on the official UND website, articulates a position that many Catholics are familiar with and take for granted. That is, as long as in their consciences Catholics believe that conduct contrary to Church moral teaching is moral, they are free to engage in that immoral conduct because they believe it is moral.
The Motley Monk is no moral theologian or canon lawyer, but he is able to read and is saddened in reading Fr. Jenkins’ comments.
Fr. Jenkins contradicts long-standing, Magisterially defined Catholic moral teaching concerning artificial contraception (cf. 1989 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “The moral norm of ‘Humanae Vitae’ and pastoral duty“). In sum, Catholics do not possess a “right” to conscientiously dissent from defined Catholic moral teaching concerning the use of artificial contraception. After all, in the Catholic view, “rights” devolve not from man—bolstered by science, theology, and the social sciences or public opinion—but from God.
For a President of a Catholic university or college—especially one who is an ordained priest—to state otherwise promotes a false impression, ultimately creating or furthering serious confusion and ambiguity among the Catholic faithful, in particular. Rather than upholding the Church’s credibility in teaching matters concerning faith and morals, statements like that of Fr. Jenkins only provide ammunition to those who are opposed to the Church’s teaching.
It would have helped Fr. Jenkins had he grasped, in particular, the meaning of the CDF document’s reiteration of Pope Paul VI’s words to priests:
Worth recalling here are the words which Paul VI addressed to priests: “It is your principal duty—We are speaking especially to you who teach moral theology—to expound the Church’s teaching with regard to marriage in its entirety and with complete frankness. In the performance of your ministry you must be the first to give an example of that sincere obedience, inward as well as outward, which is due to the Magisterium of the Church, For, as you know, the Pastors of the Church enjoy a special light of the Holy Spirit in teaching the truth (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 25)” (Humanae Vitae, n. 26).
Priests are called to lead by defending the Church and its moral teaching, calling the faithful to greater fidelity to the truth as defined by the Magisterium. This is especially true of priests who are appointed to lead Catholic universities and colleges.
While The Motley Monk applauds Fr. Jenkins in his attempt to advance the ball upfield in the U.S. Catholic Church’s current battle with the Obama administration concerning religious liberty, The Motley Monk thinks Fr. Jenkins dropped the ball when it came to his statement explaining his rationale.
And people wonder why the critics contend that U.S. Catholic higher education is “Catholic in Name Only”?
To read Fr. Jenkins’ statement, click on the following link:
To read the CDF document, click on the following link:
To read The Motley Monk’s daily blog, click on the following link: