Let marriage be honored among all
and the marriage bed be kept undefiled,
for God will judge the immoral and adulterers.
Letter to Hebrews 13:4
In part I of this series [See here], I described what I called the Unisex Heresy, consisting of the antibiblical belief that gender is of no consequence. I also identified same-sex marriage as one of many manifestations of this heresy. In part II of this series I described what I call the Deceptive Mercy Heresy according to which Jesus makes no demands of us and makes no judgments. In part III I observed that bishops and priests often promote heretical views – at least until the views are defined as heretical.
With this as background, let’s examine the case of the Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., a priest of the Holy Cross Order and the president of the University of Notre Dame. Notre Dame is not the only Catholic college or university which has recognized same-sex marriages. Creighton, St. Mary’s College (South Bend, Indiana), Boston College, Georgetown, and Marquette are others, but Notre Dame might be the best known.
Last October, within hours after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed a lower court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in the state of Indiana to become effective, Fr. Jenkins recognized as married for university purposes couples of the same gender whom any state had recognized as married. Although no federal or state law required it, he granted spousal privileges to “married” gay couples -- in the form of health insurance for employees, and, for students, the privilege of residing in married student housing (in which heterosexual married couples with young children live). Fr. Jenkins said he believed in the Church’s teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman. He said he wanted to be compassionate toward those who have historically been marginalized. He wanted to form Notre Dame into a loving community. (See the detailed reports and analyses link #5, #6 and #7 below.)
Three months later, on January 30, after having a full opportunity to weigh this latest anti-Catholic action of Fr. Jenkins, the university Board of Trustees, which includes seven clerics, re-elected Fr. Jenkins to a third five-year term. The press release announcing this re-election noted Fr. Jenkins’ efforts that people not be demonized. (See link #8 below.) How exceedingly peculiar that a priest, or any lay Christian, is praised for not demonizing people. What is happening on the Notre Dame campus or in the American academy at large that makes this a singular achievement worthy of a press release to the American and international public? I suggest that it implies that the Church’s teaching that homosexual behavior is gravely immoral is a demonization. Or, in the context of Fr. Jenkins’ bestowal of an honorary degree on President Obama in 2009, that the Church’s teaching on the grave immorality of abortion was a demonization.
Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.
President, University of Notre Dame
It is important to observe what Fr. Jenkins did not say about his recognition of same-sex marriage – either in the initial October 9 announcement via email from the university’s Human Resources Department or in his personal October 16 statement in reply to the local bishop’s commentary published October 14. (See link #9 below.) First, he did not say that the Church’s teaching, that marriage is between one man and one woman, extends to all peoples everywhere, by virtue of natural law. By his silence on this point of such great import, and by his action in recognizing same-sex marriages, he implies that the Church teaching extends to Catholics only. (Actually, he would have it extend only to Catholics who believe in the teaching. For, surely, Father Jenkins will not deny spousal benefits to gay couples who call themselves Catholic and who “marry.”)
Second, Fr. Jenkins was silent on the Church’s teaching that homosexual behavior is gravely wrong, and cannot be legitimated by a supposed marriage. Again, his silence on such a matter of great import is stunning. He could also have addressed the issue of whether, in the terms of Catholic moral theology, his recognition of same-sex marriages did or did not constitute “formal” or “material” “cooperation with evil.” (See link #10 below.) Fr. Jenkins, an ordained priest, trained in philosophy and theology, is not ignorant of these concepts. Instead, he is rewarding and encouraging gravely immoral action. If university staff obtain a state-recognized marriage, they receive additional compensation. If students obtain a state-recognized marriage, they receive housing privileges.
As I stated in part III of this series, an individual may pay lip service to Church teaching but act in a way to belie this claim. Thus, Fr. Jenkins’ recognition of same-sex marriages is premeditated, continuous, obstinate in the face of pastoral counseling by his bishop, and obstinate in the face of critique by baptized lay Catholics. (For a critique by baptized lay Catholics, see an article by three Notre Dame professors in link #11 below.) This is evidence of Fr. Jenkins’ rejection of truth in favor of heresy. In fact, Fr. Jenkins favors four heresies:
The first is the Unisex Hersey described in the first part of this series. The second is his omission in defending the truth of the universal validity of the Church’s teaching on marriage, which in context is evidence of his heresy. The third is his omission in defending the Church’s teaching on homosexual behavior, again evidence of his heresy. And the fourth is the Deceptive Mercy Heresy described in the second part of this series.
You may recall the saying that “the way to hell is paved by good intentions.” Fr. Jenkins’ supposed compassion toward “married” gay couples is uncontaminated by truth and moral analysis. We should expect that this compassion of his will cause him to include in university health plans in vitro fertilization (artificial insemination), abortion, embryonic stem cell therapy, and sterilization.for employees. Fr. Jenkins also included these, although not required by law, for students.. (See link #12 below.)
Upon what basis would the compassionate Fr. Jenkins, who wants gay couples to be a part of the loving university community, refuse to bless the unions of gay couples -- and to do so at the campus’ Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes or in its Basilica of the Sacred Heart or in the many residence hall chapels? Upon what basis would he deny the use of university facilities and university food services for same-sex weddings? Upon what basis would he deny them Communion? After all, he doesn’t want to marginalize them or demonize them.
By his actions, omissions, and statements, Fr. Jenkins implies that the Catholic Church wants to marginalize persons with homosexual desires, that it wants to demonize them. No, no, and again no! The Church wants their salvation. But, as I have recently described in an essay on this webpage the question of Communion for divorced-and-remarried Catholics, our role model, Jesus, combines truth and compassion. (See link #13 below). The teachings of the Church are not derived from animus, notwithstanding the opinion of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in the Windsor case of 2013.
As the chief executive of an educational institution, Fr. Jenkins should be a model of right-thinking and right-behavior for all of the students – and for faculty, staff, alumni, and benefactors. Instead, he has adopted these heretical views and acted on them. In doing so:
He has taken money from students and benefactors to pay for benefits and privileges for people engaged in grave sin.
He has encouraged same-sex couples to make, or persist in, an immoral commitment.
He has demonstrated that, in the future, an individual who has made an immoral commitment will not be barred from holding high academic posts.
He has encouraged same-sex couples to adopt children and to utilize third-party reproduction to create children and to bring them up intending that they be without either a mother or a father.
He has led students to believe that the Church is wrong about marriage and homosexual behavior. He has instructed them, in a very powerful way – by his example, that Catholic priests can accept or reject the Church’s teachings, and do so with impunity.
He has forced heterosexual couples, and their young children, to recognize as married the gay couples with whom they reside in university married student housing. While he tries to show compassion to gay couples, he shows no compassion to those married students who desire to adhere to the Faith and to rear their children according to the Faith.
He has forced university employees, who work in the areas of health benefits and housing, to implement his heretical policy. Moreover, if he were to provide chapels, facilities and food for same-sex weddings, he would force employees engaged in other services, including sacristans belonging to Campus Ministry, to make those arrangements, too. (Do not think that he would tolerate conscientious objection by university employees. He wouldn’t allow peaceful protest to his bestowing of honors on President Obama in 2009. Instead, he allowed the arrest of 88 individuals, including an elderly priest praying the Rosary on his knees. And he fired university employee Bill Kirk.)
By his re-election as president, he has led his religious superior in the Congregation of the Holy Cross (C.S.C.) and the 40-plus member Board of Trustees, which include priests and a bishop, into their support for his heretical and gravely immoral acts.
Fr. Jenkins’ actions are a “theological scandal,” defined by The Catechism of the Catholic Church as “an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil…[A]nyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil that he has directly or indirectly encouraged.” (Sections 2284, 2287) Our duty, as bishops, as priests, and as laypeople is not to remain silent when Catholic universities, under heretical administrators, recognize gay couples as married, but to act on the words of Pope St. Felix III (d. 492):
Not to oppose error is to approve it; and not to defend truth is to suppress it, and, indeed, to neglect to confound evil men—when we can do it—is no less a sin than to encourage them.
Neither Fr. Jenkins nor we should subscribe to the view of a senior faculty member who told then-Father/Professor Joseph Ratzinger that it was good of God that many remained outside the Faith in good conscience because, if they accepted the Faith, it would be more than they could handle. Rather, we must listen to then-Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedix XVI, who, in 1991, criticized this view:
What disturbed me was the notion that it harbored, that faith is a burden which can hardly be borne and which no doubt was intended only for stronger natures – faith almost as a kind of punishment, in any case, an imposition not easily coped with. According to this view, faith would not make salvation easier but harder. Being happy would mean not being burdened with having to believe or having to submit to the moral yoke of the faith of the Catholic Church. The erroneous conscience, which makes life easier and marks a more human course, would then be a real grace […] Untruth, keeping truth at bay, would be better for man than truth. It would not be the truth that would set him free, but rather he would have to be freed from the truth […] Faith would not be the good gift of the good God but instead an affliction. If this were the state of affairs, how could faith give rise to joy? Who would have the courage to pass faith on to others? Would it not be better to spare them the truth or even keep them from it? ...
(See link #14 below.)
Let me publicly implore Fr. Jenkins to apply to the problem of the recognition of supposed marriages of gay couples the view of his own Associate Vice President for Undergraduate Enrollment, Don Bishop, Class of ’77, spoken in the context of the university’s “legacy” policy whereby the university sets aside a portion of each incoming class for sons and daughters of alumni. The report in the autumn 2014 issue of Notre Dame Magazine was that Mr. Bishop acknowledged that “Notre Dame ‘takes a hit’ for maintaining its legacy presence among those closely watched numbers, categories and selectivity in higher education. ‘We’re confident in what we want to become rather than how others perceive us’…And what Notre Dame wants to become, Bishop contends, is uniquely itself …” Yes, Notre Dame should be willing to accept criticism for not recognizing same-sex marriages. Notre Dame should “take a hit” and aspire to be what it claims to be, uniquely: Catholic.
Let us all, bishop, priest, and lay, take St. Augustine’s words in his Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love to heart:
[In Sodom and Gomorrah,] crimes were not only not punished, but were openly committed, as if under the protection of the law. And so in our own times: many forms of sin, though not just the same as those of Sodom and Gomorrah, are now so openly and habitually practiced, that not only dare we not excommunicate a layman, we dare not even degrade a clergyman, for the commission of them. (Book LXXX)
Spero contributor James Thunder is an attorney and syndicated columnist. His Master's thesis at the University of Virginia was "Aquinas on Marriage."
#1. Pope Francis, April 15: Zenit
#2. Father Schall
#7. Notre Dame Professor Julia Marvin’s demand in 2012 for benefits for non-married homosexual couples.
#9. Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, “Same-Sex Marriage, Religious Liberty, and Notre Dame,” Today’s Catholic,
#10. The description of these well-known concepts in moral analysis by the National Catholic Bioethics Center is here
#11.Critique of Fr. Jenkins in Gerald V. Bradley, John Finnis, and Daniel Philpott, “The Implications of Extending Marriage Benefits to Same-Sex Couples,” Public Discourse, Feb. 22, 2015,
#12. See the August 29, 2014, bulletin of the Sycamore Trust, a group of alumni committed to the university’s Catholic identity.
#13. Spero News