Fr. Sirico of Acton Institute to Fr. Jenkins of Notre Shame

On the blog of the Acton Institute Fr. Robert Sirico has posted his letter to Fr. Jenkins, Pres. of the University of Notre Shame.

My emphases and comments.

Dear Fr. Jenkins:

You are, no doubt, being inundated with letters, phone calls and emails objecting to the decision of Notre Dame to invite President Obama to give the commencement address this year and to receive an honorary doctorate from your university.

I feel compelled to write to you as a brother priest to express my own dismay at this decision which I see as dangerous for Notre Dame, for the Church, for this country, and frankly Father, for your own soul[Many have expressed disappointment, etc.  But this does have spiritual implications for those who made the decision to renew the invitation of Pres. Obama.]

I have had the honor to speak at Notre Dame over the years in my capacity as the president of the Acton Institute. I recall the sparkling discussion and questions from the student body, notably from a number of the Holy Cross Seminarians. I have, in fact, been invited to your campus on a number of occasions and on my last visit I was given a statue of the Lladro Blessed Mother in appreciation of my speech. I was told the statue was blessed by Fr. Hesburgh. It has occupied a special place in our religious community since then.

Father, I have no degree or awards from Notre Dame to return to you to indicate how strongly I feel about this scandalous decision. So here is what I have decided to do:

I am returning this statue to your office because what once evoked a pleasant memory of a venerable Catholic institution now evokes shame and sorrow[Notre Shame…] The statue is simply too painful a reminder of the damage and scandal Notre Dame has brought to the Church and the cause of human life in this decision.

Moreover, [also concretely…] I will encourage the young people from my parish and within our diocese to consider universities other than Notre Dame for their college career and I will further encourage other priests in my diocese to do the same. I will also discourage Notre Dame alumni to make donations to the University.

And you may rest assured that I will make this sentiment known from my pulpit and in other public outlets as the occasions present themselves.

This is not a matter of abortion (I presume we agree on how evil it is); nor is it about free speech (you could have invited the president to a discussion for that). This is about coherence. You no longer know who you are as a Catholic institution.

It pains me to write this letter to you. I ask that you go before the Blessed Sacrament and look into your soul – the soul of priest – and reverse this decision before more scandal is brought to the Church.

You and the students under your pastoral charge will be in my prayers and Lenten sacrifices.

Sincerely in Christ,

Fr. Robert Sirico

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    One can hope that coming from a fellow priest, an “equal” so to speak, this might move Fr. Jenkins perhaps more than the other letters he has received.

  2. RBrown says:

    Superb letter. I hope that Fr Sirico uses UPS to return the statue so that Fr Jenkins can track the shipment.

  3. Alessandro says:


  4. John says:

    I agree with Fr. Robert Sirico.

    All that I have from Notre Dame is 62yrs of loyal moral support for the university and its football team and harrasment from USC supporters.

    The only thing that I can take away is watching their televised football games on NBC.

    I will notify NBC that, as a protest, there will be five less people watching their airing of Norte Dame football games. I encourage others to do the same. The fewer the viewers the less NBC can charge for commercials.

  5. Gary says:

    I pointed something like this out in my own letter to Fr. Jenkins. As an alumnus, I am concerned about the effect of decisions like this one on the faith of the student body. When the University endorses something like this, I think it confuses some students. When it allows The V Monologues to be “performed” on campus, I think it confuses some students. When it allows a Gay and Lesbian film festival to be held on campus, I think it confuses some students. When Fr. McBrien is allowed to teach his non-Catholic “Catholic” theology, I KNOW it confuses some students. As a result, apostasy is not too far of a reach. To be responsible for that makes me shudder.

    I asked him to remember that he is a priest first, and an academic second. I tried to do all of it in a charitable manner, as I am sure he is probably struggling with this now. I am praying for him and for the University on a daily basis these days.

  6. Andraea says:

    When all accounts are rendered, it all comes down to Heaven or Hell.

    Thanks Fr. Sirico for being a true pastor of the souls. Et tu Frs. Jenkins, McBrien et al?

  7. I wholeheartedly support Fr. Sirico’s work at the Acton Institute. I’m happy to see his letter to Notre Shame. Just last month, my husband and I ordered materials from his site to help guide our business decisions. Sorry for the slight tangent, but Fr. Sirico’s apostolate is worthy of your support:

  8. Massachusetts Catholic says:

    There are a number of good comments at the Acton website, for those interested.

  9. Al says:

    The St Thomas Beckett award for clergian backbone.


  10. Rob Cartusciello says:

    In a similar vein, I returned my Notre Dame t-shirts to the President’s office.

  11. J. Basil Damukaitis says:

    I was a member of Fr. Sirico’s community. His letter is a dead accurate profile of who he is. He is a pious priest who was ordained in the crazy 80’s. Despite this he has emerged as a remarkable and incredible man who is a true guide. I miss my discussions with him on all topics religious and economic. I marvel at his precision and accuracy.

    Anyone considering a priestly vocation lived in community should check out the St. Philip Neri House in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

    (You’ll also never eat better in your life…all the members are remarkable cooks!)

  12. Jim says:

    Let us pray that the sin of pride will not prevent Fr. Jenkins from looking into his priestly soul and reversing the unfortunate decision to bestow an HONORARY degree on President Obama.

  13. Pete says:

    Bravo Fr. Sirico! I have loved that guy and the Acton Institute for a long time. My Dad was a ND grad back in the Rockne days and I have a brother who graduated circa 1980. My Dad exemplified all that was once great about ND. My brother was there during confusing times, unfortunately not to his benefit – thank you to people like McBrien. ND ain’t what it used to be! They put Prestige over Fidelity. Parents take note: there are places that put Fidelity over Prestige – places like Christendom, Thomas Aquinas, Wyoming Catholic College, Ave Maria, FU Steubenville, Benedictine, Belmont Abbey, Magdalene, Thomas More, and a handful of others. Admissions director at Christendom, Tom McFadden, put it very well referring to the ND fiasco – he said that there are famous Catholic colleges/universities (e.g. ND, Boston College, Georgetown, etc., etc., etc., etc.) and then there are colleges that are famous for BEING CATHOLIC (see above list). There’s a BIG difference!

  14. Johnny Domer says:

    As a current ND student, let me just say this:

    Notre Dame is a MUCH better Catholic option than going to any Jesuit institution, most any Catholic college other than Steuby/TAC/Christendom etc., or any secular school. I remain convinced of this even after this invite by the administration. During my time as a student here, I have been able to grow in my Catholic faith tremendously with the help of the many GOOD and FAITHFULLY CATHOLIC professors, priests, and students who are here. It is also very easy to live a moral life here; Mass and the Sacraments are widely available, and the dorms are still single-sex, each dorm has a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament, and there is essentially no illegal drug use. Further, there are enough faithful faculty (of impressive academic pedigree) such that one is able, if you know the turf or who to ask, to get an excellent Catholic education.

    Further, having faithfully Catholic students at Notre Dame is important towards the reform of the institution itself. We have been leading the way in improving the Catholic character at the University, starting initiatives for Eucharistic adoration, the Tridentine Mass, and most of the pro-life activity. Our response to the University’s decision If no good Catholics go to ND, the school will be in big trouble.

    And yes, I fully understand how truly horrid this decision by the administration was, and I’ve been involved in protesting it from the get-go. I also am not naive about the lack of real Catholicism among a large percentage of the faculty. Sure, I don’t think any priest needs to be an uncritical cheerleader for Notre Dame, but as someone who knows the situation well, I think a more careful public appraisal could be useful. I don’t want this, by the way, to sound like too harsh a criticism of Fr. Sirico, who is by all accounts a fine priest; his actions are motivated by true spiritual concern, and I admire him for it, though I disagree with this one aspect of what he intends to do to a certain extent.

  15. Supertradmom says:

    Could there be a concerted effort on the part of priests to write such letters to Father Jenkins, again for the sake of his own soul? That would be a wonderful witness as well. Thank you Fr. Sirico, and I love the Acton Institute’s work with college and university students.

  16. Joseph Mary says:

    I wonder if Fr. Jenkins reads any of the mail coming in?

    A good gesture, sending back the statue.

    I am sorry for the faithful Catholic students and faculty. There may be even less of them for the faithful parents are not going to want to spend big money to send their child to a disobedient and dissenting institution. Yes, the jesuit ones, sadly, have a reputation for being worse.

  17. TJM says:

    Johnny Domer,

    I am a double-domer and have been intimately familiar with ND since the early 1950s. The problem with ND is that many priests, like Jenkins, have lost their way. ND is a business to them, not a calling or vocation. I applaud all of your efforts. Too bad Bill O’Reilly doesn’t interview your group rather than bon vivant, pretend priest, McBrien.

    Hopefully many alums like me will get the message across with cutting off our donations. Businessmen like Jenkins will get that.


  18. TNCath says:

    Excellent letter. Ultimately, what Notre Dame and the Church must eventually realize is that the Church doesn’t need Notre Dame, but Notre Dame needs the Church.

  19. Mark says:

    One of the sincerest but also saddest statements I have ever read. One hopes it’ll be reciprocated with something better than pride and denial.

  20. LCB says:


    There are certainly secular institutions whose Newman centers are far more orthodox and Catholic than most the Catholic schools in this country, and produce more vocations than many put Catholic schools combined.

    The University of Illinois is a fine example. They even have a dorm for students interested in living Catholic values (which are always and everywhere opposed to the values of our current times).

  21. Sarsfield says:

    Father Sirico was given an award by Notre Dame? [
    You missed the part where he said, “I have no degree or awards from Notre Dame to return”…. ?]
    That’s yet another reason to denounce the place. Sirico is a dissenter from the social magisterium of the Church in favor of the decidedly un-Catholic philosophy of economic liberalism. The very purpose of his organization is to “correct” the “mistakes” of all the Popes who have spoken on the social question since Leo XIII. His choice of the organization’s name is telling if anyone bothers to read a little history. It was Acton, after all, who not only opposed Vatican I’s proposed definition of papal infallibility but tried to use his considerable influence with the British government to induce the anti-Catholic European powers to intervene militarily to prevent the Council from meeting. Think about that. And this is the man one chooses as the inspiration and name of a “loyal” and “authentically Catholic” organization?

    Before the brickbats start flying, you should know that I signed the anti-Obama at ND petition on Day One, think he could be the Anti-Christ (only half-kidding about that) and have spent the past 25 years working in the pro-life movement (including two stints behind bars during the halcyon days of the rescue movement). The alternative to Obama’s liberalism, however, is not Father Sirico’s equally un-Catholic liberalism. [If I read your post with the care you gave to Fr. Sirico’s I would say, “So, you attack Fr. Sirico because you support ND’s decision to invite Pres. Obama”. Also, let us not be distracted from what he did. Since Fr. Sirico cannot be redeemed on your planet, do you disagree with what Fr. Sirico did in this case?]

  22. Joanne says:

    Yay, Fr. Sirico! I saw him for the first time on EWTN a few weeks ago and thought he was great. I was thrilled when I put 2 and 2 together and realized the Acton Institute that he is the director of is the same Acton Institute that gave one of my favorite charities its “Samaritan Award.”

  23. chironomo says:

    “The University of Illinois is a fine example. They even have a dorm for students interested in living Catholic values (which are always and everywhere opposed to the values of our current times).”

    As a UofI graduate (1987 DMA) I could not agree more. Newman Hall was like an oasis in the midst of Babylon (admit it….campus town is more than just slightly hedonistic!). Masses could be a bit on the wacky side (when I was there) but…. all in all a positive time spent there!

    I do not know any longer what to think of the ND situation. The obstinance of Fr. Jenkins and his refusal to “do the right thing” seems like taking a hrad line just for the sake of not looking like a fool to begin with…. pride and arrogance will do that!

  24. Matthew M says:

    there is no ‘Social Magisterium’ of the Church. There is just a Magisterium. It is not divided into contemporary political categories.

    The Church exercises substantial teaching authority on issues related to the order of society, but does not insist on practical political and economic solutions. The most effective prudential solutions are at the discretion of politicians and economists.

    You may or may not agree with Fr. Sirico’s affinity for economic liberalism, but it is a gross overstatement to accuse him of dissenting from the Magisterium of the Church. It is telling that you put a lot of lather in your comment, but don’t cite a single example of Sirico’s supposed dissent from Catholic Doctrine.

  25. Heather says:

    Sarsfield: “Sirico is a dissenter from the social magisterium of the Church in favor of the decidedly un-Catholic philosophy of economic liberalism.”

    You are incorrect to categorize Fr. Sirico as a dissenter from the Magisterium for his economics. Though, without more information, I’m not sure if it’s because you are wrong about the Acton Institute, or if it’s because you misunderstand Leo XIII.

  26. Heather says:

    I also meant to say, that if that letter doesn’t change Fr. Jenkins mind, nothing will. That letter, as well as returning the statue, was the most forceful response yet. In addition to being genuinely charitable.

    I hate to say it, but I think Fr. Jenkins is an Obot, so he’s not likely to take what a conservative says to heart. :(

  27. Sarsfield says:

    Actually, Fr. Sirico said he spoke at ND, was given a statue and was returning it to the President of Notre Dame in protest. So maybe it wasn’t an “award.” What was it then? And does it really make any difference to the point I was making? That point was, and is, to express my disappointment that Catholics are so woefully ignorant of the social teachings of their Church that they uncritically embrace an organization whose raison d’etre is to undermine that teaching. You must admit that most of the comments do not confine themselves to praise for what Fr. Sirico did in this instance but,rather,for what he and his organization stand for. [But that is not really the topic if this entry.]

    I have no idea what you mean by Fr. Sirico not being “redeemed” on my “planet.” I vehemently disagree with the man’s interpretation of certain church teachings — I venture not the slightest opinion of the state of the man’s soul on any “planet.” [It is pretty clear that you don’t like him.] It should be obvious from the end of my post that I would be in agreement with what he did in this instance. But since the other commenters felt free to go beyond praising him for that to lavish praise on him for those opinions in which I think he is a dissenter, I felt free to comment on that. Not sure why that provoked the ad hominem response. Interesting. [No… it really isn’t that interesting. This no longer has nothing to do with the topic of this entry, namely, Fr. Sirico’s letter the the President of Notre Dame. I tried to direct it back that way. This is now a rabbit hole.]

  28. Heather says:


    Perhaps you could be more specific about how you believe Fr. Sirico is dissenting from Catholic teaching. You know, for the benefit of the “woefully ignorant”. [Maybe in some other entry that has to do with Acton, etc. That is not the topic of this entry.]

  29. Patrick says:

    Mr. Sarsfield,

    Just a slight correction while ringing “’round the rabbit hole” as water ’round a whirlpool, while still not going down the same.

    Without further comment toward the notion of whether I agree or disagree with the bent economic theory-wise of the Acton institute, there is just too much room for confusion in the case you have laid out vis-a-vis your choice of terms. (Although indeed I do not know the terms by which Acton self describes along these same lines, just not up on their public self descriptions).

    I think a better description of Fr. Sirico’s politics/economic theories rather than “economic liberalism,’ which is the term you use, would be “economic libertarianism.” Or “free market capitalism.” Excuse me for coining the first phrase, but certainly, as I read through the Acton maxim’s on their web site, they have much more to do philosophically with the right wing, or modern conservativism’s “less is more” view of the government’s involvement with all things that affect capitalistic economies. So it just as well could read, “economic conservatism,” for those listening with ears primed with the current left vs. right paradigm labeling conventions. So, while you may mean to convey exactly the same idea, the labeling must certainly give the opposite appearance to eyes and ears more conventionally tuned.

    Again, to avoid any “rabbit hole” tendencies, this is not to comment about which view is better, more correct, more according to the church documents, etc., but only to stave off further confusion along these lines. Interested parties can view the Acton site and draw their own conclusions, just please don’t chime in with them here to respect Fr. Z’s wishes, and I hope I myself have not “crossed the line” here.

  30. Sarsfield says:

    Since this has been officially “rabbit-holed,” I will simply refer anyone who is interested to the comments appended to Fr.Z’s entry for 11 June 2008. There this discussion was obviously more on point. [What hasn’t been “rabbit-holed” is the actual topic of the entry. Do you think that Fr. Sirico’s letter to Fr. Jenkins is good, bad, on-target, wrong-headed, etc.?]

  31. cthemfly25 says:


    I pointed something like this out in my own letter to Fr. Jenkins. As an alumnus, I am concerned about the effect of decisions like this one on the faith of the student body. When the University endorses something like this, I think it confuses some students. When it allows The V Monologues to be “performed” on campus, I think it confuses some students. When it allows a Gay and Lesbian film festival to be held on campus, I think it confuses some students. When Fr. McBrien is allowed to teach his non-Catholic “Catholic” theology, I KNOW it confuses some students. As a result, apostasy is not too far of a reach.
    Comment by Gary — 6 April 2009 @ 4:52 pm

    Gary–as an alumnus of a Catholic university, and with a daughter at CUA, I have tried to pay attention to the cultural influences at those schools. Anyone, for example, knowing anything about the content of the V Monologues and who was not as shocked at its presentation as an obscenity and sin, will not be shocked over the latest institutional sin. ND is not alone however. Perhaps the blessing of all this will be a Spiritual call to solidarity among alumnae of Catholic universities to hold these institutions accountable on every level— morally, academically, financially. We all share the pain of ND alumnae.

    Sarsfield—your comments on Father Sirica, given the special topic here, really are ad hominem. Disagree with Acton and with the prudential views of Father Sirica elsewhere and we can then join in bountiful debate. I will look forward to it. Otherwise, Father Sirica hit the priestly (and doctrinal) mark with regard to the issue of souls and salvation surrounding the scandal at ND.

  32. Tim says:

    Ironically enough, I just got a call Sunday evening from the business school at ND, asking for alumni donations. I let the woman know that I was ashamed of my affiliation with ND due to the Obama scandal, and would not be making any contributions to the school. She said that she’s been hearing that response a lot from alumni, and that she would record that response from me.

    Holy Mary our hope, seat of wisdom…PRAY FOR US!

  33. irishgirl says:

    Good for Fr. Sirico! I second the ‘Becket award’!

  34. tertullian says:

    The actions taken by the various Bishops and priests (incl Fr. Sirico) about the ND scandal is great, but ND isn’t the only “Catholic” institution that has taken these terrible steps…

    BTW, Cokie Roberts is the daughter of Lindy Boggs, a former US Ambassador to the Vatican.

  35. Sarsfield says:

    I think I already indicated that I agreed with Fr. Sirico’s actions in this instance. As for the rest of it, I’m trying to respect the official declaration of rabbit-hole-ification by not commenting further on the admittedly off-topic issues I raised.

  36. cato_the_younger says:

    Thank you for posting this. Three cheers for Fr. Sirico. I am a convert. I knew of Acton before my conversion, and would say that the institute played a small part in opening my heart to the faith.

  37. Gary says:

    cthemfly25–amen. I have been watching the campus developments over the years and my shock has turned to sadness. The Obama invitation was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and I have been educating myself on other situations (e.g. Georgetown) as well. I am saddened and dismayed, but now praying very hard as well. It is THE wake-up call.

    tim–I got a fundraising call as well the day after I mailed my first letter. The poor freshman taking my call got a charitable earful and noted my comments. If enough of us do that hopefully it make an impact. If 200,000 alumni withhold their $100 donations–that’s a $20,000,000 message.

    Regarding Fr. Sirico’s letter–I do agree with the message. However, what I’m wondering about now is, is this the way priestly fraternal correction is supposed to happen? I understand the Bishops publicizing their comments, but if then priests write scathing personal letters to Fr. Jenkins and post it on their respective blogs, isn’t that a little out of line? Would a better approach to have been writing a private letter and then posting a recommendation for others to do the same, and then maybe the theme of the letter posted as a guide. I’m just askin’.

  38. TJM says:

    Father Sirico’s letter was excellent. I have heard him speak and his is a very effective apologist for the Catholic Faith. I know there are pockets at
    Notre Dame who would agree with Father Sirico and are deeply embarrassed by Father Jenkin’s actions. Tom

  39. Fr. Sirico’s letter is right on, with the clear statement of consequences for Fr. Jenkins and Notre Dame. If sufficient input like this was received, actions would be rethought and reversed at Notre Dame. The only way obstinate sinners learn is by painful consequences.

  40. jarhead462 says:

    Wow! Great letter. Direct and forceful.

    Semper Fi!

  41. Make me a Spark says:

    I thank God for Fr. Sirico and for Johnny Domer who are both seeking to be light to the darkness that seeks to overcome our Catholic Institutions.

    I pray that Fr. Jenkins reads these lines in the letter and takes them to heart: “I ask that you go before the Blessed Sacrament and look into your soul – the soul of priest – and reverse this decision”


  42. peregrinus says:

    I agree with Fr. Sirico and he is my type of priest who does not sugar coat the truth (A lot like the priests at “the Grotto” where I attend). Notre Shame (appropriate name change) has caused great scandal with it invite and honor of a person who has so embraced the Culture of Death. In fact, he has embraced it so much that, IMO (and it is not a IMHO), it borders on being an unjust government now.

    I would also like to add that NS (not ND)is only one trophy in the “Catholic Hall of Shame” when it comes to BO. there are millions of Catholics that are also enshrined in that Trophy Case for voting for him.

  43. Ruth Lapeyre says:

    I can agree with many of the things Fr. Sirico has said in his letter but I have a problem with “gesture” politics.

    I am returning this statue to your office because what once evoked a pleasant memory of a venerable Catholic institution now evokes shame and sorrow.

    Why is Fr. Sirico writing this letter, he isn’t a bishop?

  44. Jordanes says:

    Ruth asked: Why is Fr. Sirico writing this letter, he isn’t a bishop?

    Neither is Father Jenkins. However, all the bishops who have commented on this publicly are, like Fathers Sirico and Jenkins, priests. As for why Father Sirico wrote, perhaps it was because of his past ties to Notre Dame.

  45. Ruth Lapeyre says:


    You are correct anyone of us has the right to post a letter on the Internet. I just think that bishops have more weight when it comes to teaching authority. Fr. Jenkins is the one being schooled so t speak. But in general I find a triviality to this letter that is somewhat disturbing. Have any of the other letters you have read (I certainly have not read all of the bishops who have written to Fr. Jenkins), contain the return of a gift in protest? The return of an award, an invitation perhaps coming from a bishop that is a very big deal, but not a gift. Also, I was interested in just what a Lladro Blessed Mother statue was. I did a quick internet search and found it is a rather pricey porcelain company. I don\’t know, it just seems odd that a man who makes some very good points in his open letter would make what is, in my opinion, a gesture I find doubly trivial, first he is returning a gift; and secondly by telling us it is a Lladro statue, does that really matter?

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