The Mind of Father Jenkins

I am not personally acquainted with the Rev. John Jenkins, C.S.C.,
the current president at the University of Notre Dame (where I was a graduate student in philosophy nearly a half-century ago). Not possessing an intimate knowledge of the workings of his mind, I can only speculate as to what he was thinking when he invited President Barack Obama to give the 2009 commencement address at his school.

But if I don’t know Father Jenkins as an individual, I know him as a type — or rather, as two types: He is a post-Second Vatican Council priest (post-VC), and he is one of the leaders — along with bishops and the heads of other important Catholic colleges and universities — of the Catholic Church in the United States.

Let’s begin with Type No. 1, post-VC priests. One of the marks of the typical post-VC priest is that he has always been determined not to make the mistakes made by pre-Vatican II (pre-VC) priests. The simplest way to accomplish this is for the post-VC priest to do the opposite of what the pre-VC priest would have done. If the old-school priest would sermonize often about human sinfulness and rarely about Divine Love, the new-school priest would do the reverse. If the old-school priest was preoccupied with the evil of sexual sin, the new-school priest would give the impression that he didn’t really mind sexual sin at all; he had more serious things to think about, such as the equal rights of women in the Church.

One of the great failings of pre-VC priests and bishops was their sympathy with right-wing regimes in Europe. “Communism is the great enemy of the Church, and right-wing regimes are anti-Communist; therefore we churchmen should endorse, or at least not oppose, right-wing regimes” — that was the logic found all too often in the minds of pre-VC priests and bishops. In Germany, official Catholic opposition to the Hitler regime ranged from very mild to nonexistent. (The emphatic denunciation of the regime by Pope Pius XI in his letter “Mit Brennender Sorge” did not create much of an echo in Germany.) In Spain, and indeed throughout the Catholic world, the leaders of the Church regarded General Franco as a great Christian hero — if not a new St. Louis then at least a new Charlemagne. (There were some honorable exceptions to this generalized applause for Franco: Jacques Maritain in France and Commonweal magazine in the United States, among others.) The attitude of Catholic leadership was close to being this: “No enemies to the right.”

Now, the easiest way of avoiding this “no enemies to the right” mentality is to adopt a “no enemies to the left” mentality. I suspect that Father Jenkins, along with many other post-VC priests and bishops, has done something very much like this. President Obama is a man of the left. That is to say, he favors national health care; he’s against poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, and global warming; he disapproves of American “arrogance” in world affairs; he thinks the United States should rely more on diplomacy and less on military force; he wants to see more electric autos on the road; he wants us all to reduce our carbon footprint; he wants to put more money into public schools, etc. According to a typical post-VC priest, any politician who favors all these excellent things must be fundamentally okay. And if he happens to support public policies that facilitate the killing of more than a million unborn human beings per year, well, nobody’s perfect. Despite being a Protestant, President Obama has a “good Catholic” grade of at least an A-minus. Shall we keep him out of Notre Dame because he happens not to have an A-plus.

But Father Jenkins is not simply a post-VC priest. He is also, as the head of America’s most famous Catholic university, Type No. 2: one of the leaders of the Catholic Church in the United States. In general, the leaders of the Church have never understood the historical significance of the abortion-rights movement (and this can be said of the gay-marriage movement as well). What the abortion-rights movement wants is not simply the right to kill millions of unborn babies; what it also wants is the utter destruction of Christianity.

This is not the first time somebody has wanted Christianity to be wiped off the earth. Diocletian wanted this. So did Voltaire and his French Revolution disciples. So did Lenin and Stalin. So did Hitler. With the exception of Voltaire, who wanted to ruin it with ridicule and indignation, everybody on the list wished to ruin Christianity by the use of force. Today, in the “advanced” countries of the world, the way you destroy Christianity is by bringing about a massive rejection of the sexual and pro-life elements of its ethic. You persuade people that sexual license is fine, that same-sex marriage is fine, and — above all — that abortion is fine.

Most of our Catholic leaders don’t realize this. They think that abortion is simply about abortion and that homosexuality is simply about homosexuality. They don’t realize that in our current historical situation, abortion, homosexuality, etc., are also about the destruction of Christianity. And so they don’t fight back; at least, they don’t fight back hard enough. And sometimes they give a helping hand to the enemy — witness Father Jenkins and Notre Dame.



David R. Carlin Jr. is a politician and sociologist who served as a Democratic majority leader of the Rhode Island Senate. His books include "Can a Catholic Be a Democrat?: How the Party I Loved Became the Enemy of My Religion" and "The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America." Carlin is a current professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island at Newport.

  • Justin in Ohio

    Weren’t all the infamous “Land O’ Lakes” Catholic university types all “Pre-Vatican II” priests?

    While I understand your point, I think it’s hard to fit Catholics (including Catholic leaders and clergy) into nice little boxes like “Pre-VC2” and “Post-VC2.”

    Weren’t all the priests and bishops who swept in the changes of the mid to late 1960’s in American Catholicism all technically “Pre-VC2” priests (in that they were all ordained and much, if not all, of their formation was done before Vatican II was even called for).

  • Jay S

    Rarely have I read an article that was so true. The pro abortion and pro homosexual marriage forces are smart enough to realize that a head-on attack on the Catholic Church would fail. So, like termites that slowly eat away at a house foundation, they slowly but surely eat away at the foundation of the Catholic Church. Then, one day, when the house falls, it is too late, despite all the warning signs. We need to stop this infestation before it is too late.

  • Fr. Joseph

    Fr. Jenkins is not offended by abortion. He does not feel any solidarity with the unborn. They are not his brothers and sisters, not his “neighbor.”

    If the above statements were untrue, Jenkins would not consider for an instant bestowing any honor of any kind on any pro-abortion person.

    Jenkins’s church, which is in material schism, numbers among its members the millions of nominal Catholics who voted for Carter, Clinton, and Obama, and the majority of American bishops, i.e., those who have remained silent about his honoring of Obama.

  • Thomas

    >>In Germany, official Catholic opposition to the Hitler regime ranged from very mild to nonexistent. (The emphatic denunciation of the regime by Pope Pius XI in his letter “Mit Brennender Sorge” did not create much of an echo in Germany.)< < This is quite simply a complete distortion, and a terrible calumny as well.

  • Pierre

    I deplore Fr. Jenkins’s decision to invite Obama, and I generally really enjoy the content at Inside Catholic, but this one article is really so simplistic that I can’t really see why it was published at all. Really I expect better journalism and more carefully considered opinions from this website.

  • John Jakubczyk

    I think I agree with Justin that the Land O Lakes declaration had a lot of pre-VII priests involved, but the distinction may be more between those who were seeking to “modernize” the Church and those who saw the Church’s teachings as timeless and therefore applying to the current generation. And this probably should also be further conditioned to those in the West (Europe and the U.S.) and not including those suffering under the Iron hand of Communism.

    And the comment that the Hierarchy’s opposition to communism and therefore the assertion that somehow it was comfortable with fascism is only partly true, in the same sense that the current USCCB is comfortable with the Democratic Party.

    The article is however a great jumping off point to ask why the many in church leadership do not consider that those who support abortion want to destroy those of us who oppose them.
    Having just watched “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” I am especially sensitive to this idea of explaining to my children what I do and why I do it. Can the bishops explain why we do not act as if abortion is killing a million children a year?
    Can Fr. Jenkins explain with any degree of logic why he would invite the number one enemy of the church’s position on abortion to address the graduates?
    Unless the answer is that it is not important. We do not care about the abortion issue.

    Just like so many did not care about the Jews, did not care about the Blacks, and did not care about those “being led away unto death”. (Proverbs 24)

  • Martin

    As Fr Neuhaus used to say Pierre “simplicity exists on the far side of complexity”. Mr Carlin’s elegant, concise essay is the fruit of much reflection.

    His conclusions are all correct, in my opinion, and should save many Catholics from alot of time spent in confusion.

    Rather than divide and conquer as President BO wished, his actions will only have the affect of galvanising and uniting, under Our Heavenly Mother’s mighty leadership, Catholic opposition to his culture of death regime.

    “May all those who share in the body and blood of Christ be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit”.

    Can you not feel the Holy Spirit working for the Church? In a mode alien to the aggression of the secularists in control of the state? Look at the lamb of God in Glendon!

  • Jeannine

    I must correct a common misconception here. The fascists of the 1930s, including both Hitler and Mussolini, were leftists: the Nazi party was the National Socialist party. The difference from the Soviets was the “National” part. The Soviets were “international socialists.”

    (Where Franco fits in ideologically, I cheerfully admit that I have no idea, but Hitler and Mussolini were men of the left.)

    In American politics especially, the idea that right-wing thinking leads to Nazism makes little sense. I don’t see how one can get from “excessive government threatens liberty” to “All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state” (quotation source: Mussolini). These are opposite ideas. I guess that a very, very extreme libertarian right-winger could become an anarchist, but I don’t know any libertarians who have.

    Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism is very helpful for understanding the ideologies of the early part of the 20th century.

    I also don’t understand the assumption that left-wing equates with Catholic. Recently Cardinal George said that Catholics have so much in common with Obama, except for that abortion issue. He doesn’t understand that the abortion issue is at the heart of what is wrong with President Obama’s thinking. When the state gets to decide whether a human life will be protected or not, we are all in trouble! The right to life is not negotiable.

    I’d also ask Cardinal George to consider that burdening future generations with debt is not social justice.

    Mr. Carlin is so very right that the ultimate aim is the destruction of Christianity, and the Catholic Church comes in for the most hostility because, well, it is the Church that Jesus founded, and therefore it is the most threatening to the forces of death.

  • job

    Mr. Carlin,

    I’m not sure whether you’re tongue-and-cheeking it when you speak of the apathy of the Church in Nazi Germany.

    There are numerous sources which you can easily index to show this wasn’t the case – in particular, I would recommend the work of Ronald Rychlak.

    Besides that, your rhetorical points seem to besmirch the memory of Bishop Clemens Agust Graf von Galen whose personal investment in the Church’s cause against Nazi Germany led to his house arrest by the Nazis in 1941 until the end of the war.

    But I guess God’s sorting things out… Bishop Galen was beatified, of course, in 2005.


  • Lynn

    Obama is not who you may think. He says one thing & does the opposite. It’s an established pattern now with the unpleasantries he doesn’t want getting the press spotlight slipping through on Fridays.

    Obama’s Administration wreaks of a lack of Civil Rights for the entire class of the unborn; our Nation’s most vulnerable citizens….plus Internationally, as well. It’s hypocritical to speak of “upholding Human Rights” without their inclusion.

    I’ve seen Racism revived through Obama’s former mentor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright & his “church” Trinity, and in Eric Holder, U.S. Attorney General’s recent statement of our Nation being cowardly where racism is concerned. In fact, the Black Church in America has been infiltrated by Black Liberation Theology ideology, which leaves Christ out. Christ has been manipulated & politicized. Same with Latin American Liberation Theology.

    Most importantly, both abortion & the death penalty are predominately Racial as well as Economic. The Black and Hispanic races are the heaviest targeted by the Abortion Industry as well as false convictions for the Death Penalty due to improper represenation. Only lots of $ secures a motivated lawyer.
    Obama is authorizing laws that exterminate his own Race; infanticide of the Black Race. Why? How can he affiliate himself to Lincoln the Emancipator and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. the great Civil Rights leader?? It’s disingenuous.

    When Obama talks about exposing this Nation as One of Torture & of “losing our moral bearings” I do not think he sees that the Left (primarily the Democratic Party and Humanists) have indeed made of us a Nation of Torture: of children in the womb. They have built the One billion dollar Abortion Industry hiding under the guise of “reproductive health.” Their management of Health Care through populaton control (contraceptives & abortion) is intrinsically evil.

    It’s no wonder Iran calls us the Big Satan (aside from Israel as our ally)…although they use their children for extremist political/religious purposes they do not abort as a general rule, nor do they allow homosexuality or adultery…under penalty of death. The West is morally abhorant to the practicing Middle Eastern Muslim. They are a society based upon the old-time honor & revenge system..if one does not uphold honor at all cost until death then one is considered weak & dishonorable; cut off. They kill their family members (women) rather than undergo family disgrace according to their custom. This explains much in the news that Americans find shocking. The majority of Amercians no longer understand Honor with the exception of the U.S. Military.

    Obama says that our Nation is no longer a Christian Nation…Obama has not selected a home church. That is not surprising since he is of the Masonic Brotherhood, as are many of our political representatives. Gee, that works nicely into the One world Order and Transnationalism trends out Govt. is presently leaning toward.

  • Austin

    Note to Jeannine: you are correct in stating that the tendency to equate Nazism and Conservatism are totally incorrect. True Conservatives find Nazis, Fascists, etc to be abhorrent. A true Conservative wants to keep what is good and avoid unnecessary or negative change. The whole “Right vs Left” thing within the Church does not really translate exactly from the political world. I consider myself a true Conservative who is against both abortion and unjust war. It is frustrating that so many people do not seem to get it, and find abortion acceptable, but unjust war to be very wrong, or find unjust war acceptable but abortion wrong.

    Perhaps Father Jenkins is a man of the Left, who is overly sympathetic with Obama. I will give him the benefit of the doubt, but only so far. I believe the Alumni of Notre Dame need to make their voices heard and lean on Father Jenkins a little bit. He has painted himself in a corner with this Obama honorary degree and may have no viable option but to allow him to speak and then attempt damage control. Unfortunately, the damage is done.

  • Maureen

    For sure our battle is against pricipalities and powers. Therefore the Church should employ every supernatural weapon given to her by Christ. SADLY THE CHURCH IN AMERICA VERY OFTEN ONLY RESEMBLES A SOCIAL ORGANIZATION, NOT the SUPERNATURAL CHURCH Christ intended it to be. CATHOLICS VERY OFTEN RUB ELBOWS WITH PRO-ABORT POLITICIANS who promise to eradicate poverty. Christ said we would always have the poor, so this is bordering on heresy and a betrayal to the unborn.

    Thanks for the cogent article.

  • Ruth Ann

    “I deplore Fr. Jenkins’s decision to invite Obama, and I generally really enjoy the content at Inside Catholic, but this one article is really so simplistic that I can’t really see why it was published at all. Really I expect better journalism and more carefully considered opinions from this website.”

    As soon as I read the distinction between pre- and post- VII priests I sensed where this was going. “Lacks Nuance” says it perfectly well, and I say Ditto!

  • Dave Carlin


    Thomas says that I am guilty of “complete distortion” and “terrible calumny” when I say that “In Germany, official Catholic opposition to the Hitler regime ranged from very mild to nonexistent.”

    Now I’d hate to be guilty of distortion or calumny, so I ask Thomas if he will be kind enough to persuade me that the leadership of the Catholic Church in Germany offered a strong and persistent resistance to the Hitler regime.

  • Thomas C. Coleman, Jr.

    Thank you, Mr. Carlin, for indenifying the disease. You are very right that the objective of the promoters of moral relativism want nothing less than the destrction of the Church. I think, however, that the connection to the Vatican II is only chronological. The Communists began decades earlier trying to convince Catholics and other Christians that the essence of Christianity is the achievement of social justice and that Christianity is therefore compatalbe with Marxism. Almost no priest or educated laymnan I know has read Divini Redemptoris, but they have read the tracts which contradict it. Amaazingly enough, some who did the damgage, like Bella Dodd, have confessed in detail what they had done. Decades before the Council, Dodd prerdicted that in 25 years we would not recognize the Church. We must stop being afraid of being called McCarthyists. And we must teach all to say the Rosary again!