Dr. Edward Peters dissects Fr. Jenkins

From the canonist Dr. Ed Peters, with my emphases and comments.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Fr. Jenkins discovers canon law. Not.

Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins continues to flail about for an adequate response (though short of resigning, there isn’t an adequate response) [indeed! But he wasn’t alone in this matter.] to his monumental gaff of bestowing an honorary doctor of laws degree on a president who has spent his entire political career seeing to it that millions of human beings are excluded from the protection of law. [good way of putting it] Jenkin’s latest lunge is for the life ring stamped "canon lawyers we consulted". [oooooo!] Figures.

It is paradigmatic of the theological Left to ignore canon law when it poses the slightest inconvenience for its plans, but to hide behind canons (or at least behind canonists, even anonymous ones) when they afford some cover (however thin) for obvious blunders or malfeasance. [ZOT!] And so Jenkins, invoking unidentified canon lawyers, holds that the USCCB’s 2004 statement, "Catholics in Political Life", merely restricts Catholic institutions from honoring Catholics whose public record evidences disdain for fundamental moral principles.  [The other part of this is that they punish with old code, if you get my drift.]

Is the man serious?

Does Jenkins really think that Catholic bishops would countenance a Catholic institution honoring a philanthropic murderer, or a free-speech crusading pornographer, or a right-to-privacy pimp, provided merely that the awardee was not a Catholic? Really, that’s too bizarre for words.

But speaking of words, Jenkins’ unnamed canon lawyers (assuming, by the way, that they were answering the question Jenkins thought he was asking, and that Jenkins understood and is accurately conveying their response) [ouch] tell him that "by definition, only Catholics who implicitly recognize the authority of Church teaching can act in ‘defiance’ of it." Huh?

What’s this "by definition" stuff? What definition? A definition of "defiance"? The word "defiance" is not in the Code. Even the Latin pertinacia does not seem to apply to our facts, so, what exactly is Jenkins talking about here? I don’t know, but whatever Jenkins or his canonists hope it means, the sentence he/they put so much stock in was obviously not drafted to stand up to close textual parsing. Else, all a Catholic would have to do to avoid the charge of acting in "defiance" of Church authority would be to decline recognizing Church authority in the first place! [Sound like someone else we know?]

Likewise, watch how Jenkin’s claim that bestowing an honorary doctorate on the pro-abortion movement’s most powerful politician ever does not "suggest support" for the politician’s pro-abortion record, can be parsed into a defense of Jenkins: an honorary doctorate of law does not "suggest" support for a politicians’ legal philosophy, no, instead it screams it. Therefore, Jenkins is not guilty of "suggesting" support. Aren’t word games fun?

Seriously, what I wonder is, why, amid the canon lawyers Jenkins claims to have consulted, not one, it seems, pointed out the most obvious solutions to their client’s problem:

The USCCB’s statement applies only to "Catholic institutions", right? Well, all Jenkins and the ND board need do is declare that Notre Dame is not a "Catholic institution", and poof! all these problems disappear. Notre Dame could confer honorary doctorates in law on anybody it wants after that, even on people who have built a career out of denying unborn babies the protection of law, and nary a bishop would say a word about it.


Kudos to Dr. Peters.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. DIane says:

    I was so glad to see him weigh in on that last week. This reminds me that I was going to post on it myself after Easter. I figured it would get buried and deserved good attention.

    I shall post on it tonight, but am glad to see it here because my readership is only one drop next to a bucket full of water in readership here.

    You gotta like this: What’s this “by definition” stuff?

  2. Allison says:

    Father, you have had so many posts with letters on the Notre Dame scandal and I wish I could see them all together.

    Am I missing a search button feature on your blog? You have compiled sooooo many responses that illuminate this controversy and I think it would be powerful to see them all together. How many are there?

    At what point and by what authority will Notre Dame be “officially” not a Catholic university anymore? How many bricks by bricks do “they” need to throw at the faith before action is taken?

  3. Just key into google:

    “site:wdtprs.com notre dame”

  4. Rancher says:

    I think by its actions in a number of cases NDU has pretty well declared itself to be no longer Catholic.

  5. OUCH, direct and to the point, what say ye now Fr Jenkins

  6. Mary says:

    I’m glad to see Dr. Peters voice his opinion. The vicar at my parish told us during his Holy Thursday homily to be Catholic and send a letter to Fr. John Jenkins out at Notre Dame and tell him it’s wrong to honor someone who is pro-abortion. Reminds me that I want to blog about it too.

  7. mbd says:

    There is a certain irony in the fact that Arizona State will apparently not confer an honorary degree upon the President, although he will deliver the commencement address. It seems that he did not meet the established criteria at ASU for the granting of a degree. It appears that ND has somewhat different standards.

  8. magdalene says:

    And who does have the authority to declare Notre no longer Catholic?
    Would that be the local ordinary? Or the Order? It seems NO one has any authority to dissuade muchless command Fr. Jenkins to undo what he has done in honoring the pro-abortion president.

    Can you say: conformed to this evil age?

  9. TNCath says:

    This is a very good response to Father Jenkins’ specious argument. This is also the first time I’ve heard anyone publicly suggest Father Jenkins resign. I’m not so sure it won’t eventually happen, either. I think it’s going to take a long time for Notre Dame to recover from the bishops’ disapproval on this. It has also exposed Notre Dame for what it has been doing since the 1967 Land O’Lakes statement: declaring itself independent of and exempt from the authority of the Church. The first step towards healing this rift might very well be the removal of Father Jenkins as president.

  10. I apologize, but this whole affair is patently absurd. To whom does Fr. Jenkins report? Everyone reports to and is answerable to someone else! Bishops all over the U.S. are writing to this shill and nothing happens? I run a business. Do you think my employees could sell my competitors products and I would do nothing about it? Are there any MEN in Catholicism?

  11. irishgirl says:

    Ouch, indeed…..bravo, Ed Peters!

  12. Peggy says:

    Holy Family Parish in Cahokia Illinois had printouts of letters that parishioners could send to Fr. Jenkins, filling in one’s own name and address.

    Too bad we overlooked Obie delivering his communist manifesto at Georgetown today…uh, oh, there’s Janet Napolitano at the door.

  13. ED2 says:

    Can someone tell me what Dr. Peters is reffering by “a free-speech crusading pornographer, or a right-to-privacy pimp”?


  14. JML says:

    I’ve heard about the Land O Lakes statement and have never read it — until now. I’ve read it twice and you know that one word is missing from the entire document — God. Now I understand why the LOL (how fitting) document fails scrutiny.

    If you’ve never read it – the LOL is here: http://consortium.villanova.edu/excorde/landlake.htm

  15. Nathan says:

    William H. Phelan: “To whom does Fr. Jenkins report? Everyone reports to and is answerable to someone else!”

    Yes, sir, it is absurd. But it is, IMO, the fruit of two decisions in the 1960s: 1) The implementation of the loosely defined concept of “collegiality” in Lumen Gentium, and 2) the US bishops’ lack of reaction to the 1967 Land O Lakes declaration.

    Led by the progressive idealists who were so influential in implementing the Council, the Catholic universities were the among the first institutions to implement collegiality defined as “answerable only to the the bureaucratic experts.” The fact that no bishop slapped down ND after the Land O’ Lakes declaration simply reinforced, for 42 years, the bureaucratic reality that, in the NewChurch (a term I mean to be “as envisioned by those in power at the time”), Catholic universities were answerable to no one.

    It’s not too awfully surprising that now that some bishops are trying to be good shepherds that they are running into a lot of entrenched, institutional resistance from those who have spent the past 40 or so years organizing the ecclesiastical institutions of governance to prevent a bishop from doing something, canon law or not. Look at the hue and cry caused by Bishop Martino in Scranton in trying to get the Catholic colleges there to abide by what they are by canon law obliged to do!

    I fear that there’s going to be de jure rupture with many once loyal Catholic institutions (not just the universities) if we’re going to implement the hermenutic of continuity.

    In Christ,

  16. vox clamantis says:

    Since Father Jenkins is disregarding the wishes of Notre Dame\’s local ordinary and the express policy of the national conference of American bishops, could not the Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend place the campus under interdict for the Sunday that President O\’Bama is being honored, or for an even longer period, to encourage that university to act as a Catholic institution of higher education should act? If Notre Dame chooses not to act as Catholic institution of higher education should, why should it be allowed to celebrate the sacraments of the Church on its campus? The Bishop of Venice, Florida, did an admirable job in dealing with Ave Maria University there. Perhaps Bishop D\’Arcy needs to act more assertively.

  17. Tomas says:

    I hope there is some serious arm-twisting going on behind the scenes, as in Pope Benedict XVI applying a full nelson through “channels.” May 17 isn’t getting any further away…

  18. Crux Australis says:

    Father Jenkins should go home. Rome should take action right now!

  19. Simple truth always highlights the defective contortionist “logic” used by modernist dissenters.

  20. Seamas O Dalaigh says:


    James Daly

  21. ED2, while Dr Peter’s reference to ‘a free-speech crusading pornographer, or a right-to-privacy pimp’ is clearly rhetorical, it’s just possible that he had in mind President Obama’s new Assistant Attorney General: http://www.scribd.com/full/11607068?access_key=key-18yr2u50t8o0sz54rbrl

  22. Richard says:

    One might say it is too late to disinvite president Obama because there is insufficient time to find a replacement speaker. And yet a very worthy person is already going to be at Notre Dame that very day to receive the Laerte award. I speak of Mary Ann Glendon. If she were begged, she might be willing to take on the duties and give the first class speech that president Obama is indisposed to give due to his anti-life commitment.

  23. Warren says:

    It might be prudent to suggest to ND benefactors that they might wish to reconsider donating money to an institution veering off its (Catholic) rocker. Let’s face it, politicians and universities hardly respond to criticism unless you hurt them where it counts – in this case, by draining the pocketbook. Then, perhaps, you might get Fr. Jenkins’ attention and he might be more disposed to avoid similar disgraces in the future. That is, if he hasn’t already been removed or reassigned by the time money becomes an issue.

  24. I am not Spartacus says:

    Are there any MEN in Catholicism?

    Mr. Phelan. Very few. There are Prelates of the masculine sex but I think only a few rare ones (Obviously Bruskewitz comes to mind)who act like men.

    Our Church has been feminised and emasculated (especially in America) and that is why it is easier extracting Hen’s teeth than it is to identify Prelates acting like men.

    This whole Notre Dame fiasco has been a prime example. The Bishop with authority to act simply will not. Sure, letters can be written, sent, and then reframed and/or ignored but do not expect an AmBishop to act.

  25. Anthony says:

    There are few things more absurd in this world than the President of a religious university who does not believe in his own religion.

  26. Paul J. B. says:

    Please, let’s not insult the masculinity of our bishops, especially in blanket fashion! The fact is they have few legal recourses. ND University itself (as almost all American Catholic colleges and Universities) is in American law an independent nonprofit controlled legally not by the Church but by the board of the school itself. Accordingly the ordinary would be limited to purely canonical sactions. He could: revoke its Catholic status, expel the priest-president from the diocese or the like (the successor would be chosen though by ND’s board, which would mean more of the same), or ban the order from cooperation with ND. Any of these would need to be prepared in Rome, just to be sure the bishop wouldn’t lose on appeal. And any of them would bring a certain risk the ecclesiastical equivalent of WWIII. Part of me would like the bishops to fight it out now with faithless Catholic universities, I must admit, but the timing of anything of the sort is at the discretion of our leaders.

  27. Michael J says:

    Paul, you are absolutely right. Refusing to take an action to address a wrong that:

    1. May prove to be ineffective
    2. Will likely have to be repeated
    3. Could be overruled by someone with higher authority
    4. Will potentially cause people to become angry and maybe do some mean things

    sounds like the very definition of masculinity to me.

  28. Nicholas says:

    Dr. Peters noted in an earlier article on his blog (http://www.canonlaw.info/2009/03/breviter-two-things-bp-darcy-couldnt-do.html) that Bishop D’Arcy does not have the option of a local interdict under the 1983 Code, nor can he forbid the celebration of Mass at Notre Dame on that weekend.

    I think that, rather than insult his masculinity, it would be better to pray both that he chooses the proper course of action, and that his actions are supported from Rome should it be necessary.

  29. Paul J. B. says:

    Masculinity, I would submit is not the same as pugnaciousness. Or, rather it is in a sense, but Christian masculinity involves readiness for moral and spiritual struggle, more than outward contention (although that might be needed once in a while). This is why Christ was not weak or unmasculine when he acted as a “mute lamb led to the slaughter.” On the contrary he showed the highest form of masculinity–self-sacrifice for his Bride. Yes, he will be more of a king of the sort the world recognizes at the Last Judgment.

    But as far as the timing of mercy and justice (and right strategies for winning it), we have no choice but to leave it to those who are entrusted with the decision.

  30. Cathguy says:

    I am not Sparticus:

    I agree that the faith has been feminized, and I also agree that far too many of our clergy seem to suffer from a deficit in manhood. I am not out to disagree with you entirely.

    That said, I think you need to realize that the power of a Bishop is not that great these days.

  31. I am not Spartacus says:

    Cathguy. I think he has enormous power. But, he has an even more enormous Duties he must discharge.

    A timid, temporising, Bishop has no power. A Bishop whose discharge of Duties is done with faithful masculinity has power incapable of being measured.

    He, literally, can move mountains.

    He has the Duty to Teach, Rule, and Sanctify.

    I am unaware he has the Duty to act only if he is assured of worldly, measureable, quantifiable, success.

    EVERY time a Bishop faithfully discharges his Duties he IS successful whether of not we can “see” the success.

    I am rather tired of watching The Faith being trampled upon by the Parade of ceaseless cautions and excuses proffered by timid Prelates and those who succor them with excuses.

    Jesus castigated the Pharisees even though he KNEW they would not turn from the path they were on.

  32. I am not Spartacus says:

    Part of me would like the bishops to fight it out now with faithless Catholic universities, I must admit, but the timing of anything of the sort is at the discretion of our leaders.

    Paul J.B. I am the same age as Israel and I have watched and listened as, for more than two score years, Prelates (and many in their flock) have advanced all manner of reason why “now” is not the time to fight; why “now” is not the time to engage in this monumental task; why “now” is the wrong time to die on this mountain for “this” reason.

    I have been reading these excuses and hearing these excuses for well over forty years.

    Paul. If not now, when?

    If Bishops alive will not discharge their Duties with faithful masculinity, when will we get Bishops who will?

    And how many souls will be lost while we wait for the “right” time?

    What sort of conditions in the world will arise to make it the “right” time for Bishops to discharge their Duties?

    What about all those poor sheep, who have, for forty years, heard silence, or worse, political irrelevancies, from their Bishops and have seen the Faith, their families, the Mass, Catechesis, etc etc etc abandoned to the wolves?

    Imagine standing before them and saying; I’m sorry but for the past forty years the timing just hasn’t been right?

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