The Catholic Thing
Jittery About Jenky’s Jeremiad Print E-mail
By Randall Smith   
Saturday, 05 May 2012

Being a Notre Dame graduate is a little like being an American traveling in Europe: no matter what the controversy, and no matter how far away you are, you’re going to get grilled about it. I’ve been out of the country for two weeks and hadn’t been back more than an hour when someone texted, asking about the newest controversy at Notre Dame.  

At first, I thought it was about Fr. Jenkins, the president of Notre Dame. But no, it said “Jenky.” Dan Jenky? The much-admired former rector of the basilica at Notre Dame who is now bishop of Peoria? Dan Jenky, who was responsible for restoring the Notre Dame chapel to its former glory and gaining for it “basilica” status? 

His impact on the liturgical and spiritual life of the campus has been incalculable. He is always received with honor on campus. His picture still hangs in honor in the basilica next to the pictures of Pope Benedict and the superior of Holy Cross. What could Dan Jenky have done, I wondered, to make anyone angry?  He’s the nicest man you’ll ever meet.

I found out online that he had (it was said), “compared Obama to Hitler and Stalin.” Well, not exactly, as it turns out. You can read his entire homily here, but this is the purportedly “offensive” paragraph in context:

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.

Although the homily was actually on the resurrection of Christ, who is mentioned twenty-five times, the only thing the press mentioned was part of one sentence. It’s “gotcha” journalism at its worst and ends up cheapening political discourse by deliberately taking someone’s words out of context and construing them in the worst possible light.

Bishop Daniel Jenky

One member of the Notre Dame faculty penned an angry letter and sent it around for signatures. And of course the letter got signatures because Americans will sign almost any petition about anything. Petitions are not really about voting your conscience, they’re about getting annoying people to leave you alone. In any case, here is the relevant part of the letter: 

As you will be aware, the Bishop Daniel Jenky, a member of Notre Dame’s Board of Fellows, has been widely quoted for a homily in which he described President Obama as “seem[ing] intent on following a similar path” to Hitler and Stalin. Jenky’s comments demonstrate ignorance of history, insensitivity to victims of genocide and absence of judgment . . .
We request that you issue a statement on behalf of the University that will definitively distance Notre Dame from Jenky’s incendiary statement.  Further, we feel that it would be in the best interest of Notre Dame if Jenky resigned from the University’s Board of Fellows if he is unwilling to renounce loudly and publicly this destructive analogy.
In context, it’s clear Jenky is not comparing President Obama to Hitler and Stalin with regard to genocide. He is making a comparison between the potential closure of scores of Catholic hospitals and schools due to the HHS mandate and similar efforts to close Catholic institutions under the administrations of Bismarck, Clemenceau, and yes, Hitler and Stalin. (As far as that goes, I’m surprised that the Notre Dame faculty isn’t more offended that Bishop Jenky compared Obama to Bismarck! Why does he get a pass?  And Clemenceau?  Now that’s a low blow.)  But is Jenky wrong?  Didn’t all those politicians in fact seek to close Catholic institutions in pursuit of secularizing agendas?

One faculty member wrote defending himself against the charge that the faculty members had taken Bishop Jenky out of context, saying:
The problem with the “out of context” defense is that it wants to invoke Hitler without being accountable for it. Hitler, in our culture, is both a historical figure and a concept, one representing the embodiment of evil. You cannot compare someone to Hitler and then note afterwards that you weren’t referring to those parts of Hitler’s legacy. Analogies to Hitler do not permit such nice distinctions…. To invoke Hitler is to invoke all of it — the death camps and all the rest. 

Fair enough. But how about all the times liberals have called conservatives “fascists” and compared them to Hitler?  Just last year, the citizens of Wisconsin were treated to scores of signs comparing Scott Walker to Hitler, along with several that said “Hitler outlawed unions too”. Were they invoking the death camps?  How many of the people now excoriating Bishop Jenky for his “unhelpful” tone has ever actually stopped a faculty colleague from describing conservatives as “fascists” or “Nazis”?

We have an important issue to discuss:  namely the scope and limits of federal power and unbounded presidential authority, no matter which party controls the presidency. What’s at stake is the very nature of our constitutional system.  Let’s have a real conversation about real issues.  What’s going to happen when these HHS mandates kick in?

Are Catholics going to be forced to go to jail rather than violate their consciences?  If so, then we’ll be needing the “heroic Catholics” that Bishop Jenky calls for in his homily.  And which side will those complaining about Bishop Jenky be on then?


Randall Smith is associate professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas, Houston.  

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Comments (14)Add Comment
written by Dave, May 05, 2012
I think it may come to pass that Catholics will be forced to go to jail rather than violate their consciences, if we have a second term of what we have now and unless the Supreme Court continues to throw out the Administration's overreaching. The fact that university professors are so politicized -- to the Left -- so as not to see the historical spectrum in which Bp. Jenky's observations were made tells one a lot about the state of American Catholic higher learning. Sometimes I think it would be better for our finest young minds to bypass elite Catholic higher education altogether and go to colleges and universities that have the grace and honestly openly to oppose Catholic teaching, rather than to expose themselves to the kinds of insidious corrosiveness they will encounter at ND, Georgetown, and their likes. Or they can choose any number of the very fine smaller and authentic Catholic colleges and universities that are doing a wonderful job preparing their students for success at the best graduate schools in the country.
written by Mark L. Chance, May 05, 2012
Well written, sir. Of course, "liberals" today aren't really liberal. They're Leftists, which puts them in opposition to genuine liberalism and on the same side as the fascists, which explains their sensitivity to Hitler comparisons. It wouldn't do for two generations of people indoctrinated to believe that fascism is right wing to discover that the opposite is true.
written by Kathy, May 05, 2012
Legitimate comparison is not permitted if it strikes at what the agenda-mongers don't want anyone to really notice. We have put ourselves in the position, with "political correctness" and "will it offend" as our benchmark, to shy aware from comparisons at all. Jenky, like several other priests I know who are not high profile enough to get any press, has made a valid historical comparison; one which demands consideration.
written by Frank, May 05, 2012
One principle that resonates in this story as with other stories of similar stripe, are the words of the late historians Will and Ariel Durant. "What we have fought against, we have become." Oh I remember the 60's all too well and the cliches that were born from a bunch of spoiled brats who because they were either in college or had just received their degrees, were now ready to assume the mantle of political leadership because of the injustices they saw in the world and if they could not "get the power," they were willing to whine, cry, break windows, light fires and in essence, "bring it all down man!" And if that wasn't enough, the cliches were just as truculent. "If it feels good do it!" "Tell it like it is!" etc etc. Now these spoiled little brats now occupy and are entrenched in a number of academic chairs in most of our colleges and universities now sporting gray hair and a middle aged spread, but pretentious brats nonetheless...the spots on the leopard don't change.
So now, Bishop Jenky has chosen to "Tell it like it is," to speak truth to power only to be the recipient of a backlash from those who stridently embraced and interjected these "virtues" into the social dialectic. In essence, the secular humanists to include those at Notre Dame, are the new Pharisees organizing their cultural Sanhedrin ready to strike at and marginalize those who oppose them. What they once fought against, they have now become.
I'll go one step further than Bishop Jenky and place Obama in the same category of the murderous tyrants noted here for he carries the same narcissistic behavioral traits. He believes in the absolutism of his purpose and will not seek compromise or accommodation with those who disagree with him. Against the backdrop of the American Experiment that does place value on political compromise, Obama is having none of it. Obama will never be swayed from his mission that all who have gone before him are in his view, an antiquated oppressive order to be vanquished and brought to heel and the Catholic Church is part of that old order.
Obama campaigned on compromise and unity in the same manner as any tyrant in recorded history and once they attain the power, those platitudes find the round file replaced by autocratic fiat. The sad thing is that this "Pied Piper" still has enough blind rats following him.
In the end, Obama will be snared in the very trap he's tried to lay for others and with respect to the Church, his willful disregard of history will lay his legacy waste. For 2,000 years, the attempts to marginalize and destroy the church from within and without have failed and so to this current attempt. Large ego's render one blind to their own ignorance and arrogance. Such pride goes before the fall.
The tragedies of recorded history from the evil that men do are hard to accept but as Catholics, the difficult part of our faith requires us to embrace the greater good in God's eternal design, a design none of us can fully comprehend. Evil has come and evil has gone only to receive the Divine sweep and be placed upon the refuse pile of the cosmos.
So to Bishop Jenky, please to continue to speak the truth to power. In a time of God's choosing, the broom will be applied.
written by Other Joe, May 05, 2012
There is sense and then there is sensibility. The left often exhibits inflamed sensibility, but no sense. They are outraged by a tone of voice, or a bit of overstatement and miss the irony that their own tone of outrage is pure overstatement. The purpose (quite obviously) is to suppress dissent. There is a tired old leftist on our parish who periodically mounts a now ancient audio-visual presentation about four nuns killed in Central America by a right wing paramilitary group. The nuns were of the liberation theology persuasion. The audience is meant to be in the full incandescence of righteous outrage by the time the thing spools out. He seems to be unaware of the millions of contemporaneous deaths in...oh...Cambodia, or China, or dropping back a few decades, the thousands of nuns and priests killed by the reds in the Spanish Civil War, some 3,000 in a single day. The preferred method of the left seems to be to take a small particle of truth and inflate it until by proportion alone it becomes a big lie. Perhaps it is time to fight overstatement with overstatement, if only to recalibrate the center. What was conventional twenty years ago is now called extreme by those who would be our secular masters.
written by jane, May 05, 2012
Fair enough-mostly. However, I am so sick of the demonizing that passes for honest debate in this country, and ALL sides are guilty of it.
In this article, as in almost every defense of bad behavior I read lately, the writer uses this tactic. I am a 2nd grade teacher and I hear this kind of conversation and complaining everyday. Yep I work with seven year old's and constantly hear, "He started it. Or, "She does it too." I then patiently explain, "It is not important who did it before or who started it. We are now talking about YOUR behavior, and you must take responsibility for it." I could add, but don't usually say,"or it will never stop!"

This seems to be clear enough for children. Will it resonate with adults? I wonder.
written by Louise, May 05, 2012
Nice try, Jane, but the lies must be refuted. They cannot be allowed to lie unchallenged to grow and to fester and to affect young--and old--minds that have no ability to pick them apart, to expose them, and to call them what they are: not "untruths", not "mis-statements", not any of the other euphemisms that people use to avoid calling a lie a lie.

Once again, Hilaire Belloc has come to our rescue in understanding the long warfare of our Church, past, present, and future. His book, "The Old and New Enemies of the Catholic Church" is available on line to read, free of charge. He explains in the Introduction that, from Her founding, the Church has been vigorously attacked in the attempts to destroy Her. He describes how, in any period of world history, three attacks in different degrees of intensity were present at any given period: one attack just defeated and dying out, one in full strength and vigor, and one with its incipient ideas just beginning to be heard.

Any gardener knows that the more one can weaken an encroaching weed before it gains strength, the easier it will be to get rid of it in full season. Telling the weeds to "play nice" won't help in the least in creating a beautiful garden.
written by Manfred, May 05, 2012
Is anyone in the mood for a pick-me-up vis a vis Mrs. Sebelius and what the future probably holds?
SEARCH: Kathleen Sebelius v. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) on and allow yourself five minutes or so. Pay attention and it will make your weekend.
written by pam, May 05, 2012
With reference to your first paragraph--do you think it's any better to be a Georgetown alum?
written by Tony Esolen, May 05, 2012
More evidence of the complete dishonesty of the press, and the adolescent brattiness of the academic left.
written by Frank, May 06, 2012
My only question to Jane given her position derived from her observations whether or not it's OK to demonize Satan?
The comparison of seven year olds to adults conferred with political power is a bridge way too far.
In looking back on the recent past i.e. the 20th Century, the historical record does not show any seven year old(s) in second grade responsible for the vicious murder of over 150 million people.
The President of the United States just made an UNPRECEDENTED decision against the Catholic Church. Given the definition of "unprecedented," it's a bit of a stretch to say the other side is engaged in the same behavior.
written by Graham Combs, May 06, 2012
Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of HHS, is invited to speak at a 2012 Georgetown University commencement, but not Bishop Jenky. That says it all for too many universities called "Catholic." Although I bet that there are many Catholic high schools which would do the same if they had the pull...
written by Sue, May 06, 2012
Sorry you have so much to answer for in your Alma Mater, but then unless you graduated earlier than the Hesburgh 1960s, you can't claim the college started tanking after you left.

After ND's Obama apotheosis in May 2009, this Jenky flap is anticlimactic. Why can't we make a direct comparison between the babies left to die in hospital janitors' closets, and the concentration camps? Most of the aborted babies die prolonged, painful deaths. What does "never again" mean except that when someone else threatens (even starts to become) to be another Hitler, he gets called out rather than getting protected by the press?

written by John Hinshaw, May 07, 2012
While one must always be careful invoking Hitler and Stalin in modern comparisons (and I think Bishop Jenky was)I thought it important that Bishop Jenky reminded Americans that there is a direct line from Bismarckian State-Worship of the 19th century to the Totalitarianism and World Wars of the 20th. Bismarck's "reforms" are still regarded in our schools as beknighted or at worst benign: health care, social security,etc. "A government big enough to give you what you want is big enough to take everything you have".

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