by AFLC Advisory Board member Charles Rice, Professor Emeritus at Notre Dame Law School
On April 14, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, C.S.C., of Peoria, Illinois, delivered a courageous homily at Mass during “A Call to Catholic Men of Faith.” Bishop Jenky said, “This fall, every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic consciences, or by the following fall our Catholic schools, our Catholic hospitals, our Catholic Newman Centers, all our public ministries—only excepting our church buildings—could easily be shut down. Because no Catholic institution, under any circumstance, can ever cooperate with the intrinsic evil of killing innocent human life in the womb.”
Forty-nine members of the Notre Dame faculty denounced Bishop Jenky in a Letter to the University President, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., and the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Richard C. Notebaert. The Letter called on them to “definitively distance Notre Dame from Bishop Jenky’s incendiary statement.” The signers, said the Letter, “feel” that Bishop Jenky should resign from the University’s Board of Fellows.
The faculty Letter claims that Bishop Jenky “described President Obama as ‘seem[ing] intent on following a similar path’ to Hitler and Stalin.” They accuse Bishop Jenky of “ ignorance of history, insensitivity to victims of genocide, and absence of judgment.” The astonishingly simplistic and defamatory character of those accusations can be appreciated only by looking at what Bishop Jenky actually said:
Remember that in past history other governments have tried to force Christians to huddle and hide only within the confines of their churches like the first disciples locked up in the Upper Room. In the late 19th century, Bismarck waged his “Kulturkampf,” a Culture War, against the Roman Catholic Church, closing down every Catholic school and hospital, convent and monastery in Imperial Germany. Clemenceau, nicknamed “the priest eater,” tried the same thing in France in the first decade of the 20th Century. Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services, and health care. In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, Barack Obama—with his radical, pro abortion and extreme secularist agenda, now seems intent on following a similar path.
The immediate antecedent of that last quoted sentence refers to the fact, which not even a liberal academic could deny, that Hitler and Stalin, like Bismarck and Clemenceau, “would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services, and health care.” It was not “incendiary” but simple truth for Bp. Jenky to say that the trajectory of the Obama regime is along a “similar path” in regard to “education, social services, and health care.” His faculty detractors misread Bishop Jenky’s homily, assuming that they actually read it before they distorted and denounced it. The strident tone of their Letter, moreover, draws into question their own judgment and balance.
Bishop Jenky properly drew attention to the impending dangers to religious and personal freedom. The Obama regime, the leader of which was elected with 54 percent of the Catholic vote, is substituting for the free economy and limited government a centralized command system of potentially unlimited jurisdiction and power. Its takeover of health care was enacted against the manifest will of the people, in disregard of legislative process and by a level of bribery, coercion and deception that was as open as it was unprecedented. The HHS Health Care Mandate imperils not only the mission of the Catholic Church but also the right of conscience itself.
The faculty Letter outrageously claimed that Bishop Jenky’s limited and appropriate reference to Hitler and Stalin showed his ‘insensitivity to victims of genocide.” The Hitler record, however, is relevant in another respect. It provides an example, comparable to the Obama record, of the rapid concentration of executive power by a legally installed regime. Adolf Hitler was named Chancellor on January 30. Over the next few weeks he consolidated his power. The decisive event was the Reichstag’s approval of the Enabling Act on March 23, 1933, by which it ceded full and practically irrevocable powers to Hitler. That was the point of no return. The Enabling Act received the needed two-thirds vote only because it was supported by the Catholic party, the Centre Party. (Eliot Barculo Wheaton, The Nazi Revolution: 1933-35 (1969), 286-93; William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1959), 88, 276-79). The gullible Catholics voted themselves and the German people into persecution. America’s Catholics may be about to follow their example. With good reason, Bishop Jenky prayed: “May God have mercy on the souls of those politicians who pretend to be Catholic in church, but in their public lives, rather like Judas Iscariot, betray Jesus Christ by how they vote and how they willingly cooperate with intrinsic evil.”
Bishop Jenky deserves appreciation for so urgently reminding Catholics of their civic duty. He spoke the Truth as a Bishop ought to speak. And his judgment and courage reflect the finest tradition of a Notre Dame that has gone missing. Pray for Bishop Jenky, for Notre Dame, for our Church and for our country.