Priest Thanks God for Signs of Hope at Notre Dame

Says Controversy Must Not Overshadow Catholicism

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By Genevieve Pollock

ROME, MARCH 25, 2009 ( A University of Notre Dame law professor is affirming that the Catholic Church is alive on campus, despite recent controversy about the school’s choice to honor President Barack Obama.

Franciscan Father John Coughlin told ZENIT about his experience at the university. He gave his perspective on the announcement made Friday by Notre Dame’s president that the U.S. president will give this year’s commencement speech and will receive an honorary law degree at the university’s graduation.

Father Coughlin, currently a visiting professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, noted that as a general principle, “A great Catholic university must be open to diverse points of view.” He added, “The university should not be insular or closed-off from contemporary reality.”

“At the same time,” he said, “the university community has a responsibility to foster Catholic teaching especially when some aspects of this truth might be countercultural.”

The priest acknowledged his concurrence with Bishop John D’Arcy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, who gave a public statement Tuesday on his decision not to attend the university’s graduation ceremony.

Father Coughlin explained: “This action on the part of the university is inconsistent with the rules established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that prohibit honors from being bestowed by Catholic institutions on public figures who have clear records that are contrary to the Church’s fundamental moral teaching.  

“There can be no question that the inviolable dignity of each human person and the defense of innocent human life are fundamental to the Church’s teaching. One who publically opposes in word and action this truth should not be honored by a Catholic university.”  

Sacramental life

In spite of the controversy, the professor noted, “I hope that we do not overlook Notre Dame’s many Catholic attributes and qualities,” including “numerous fine Catholics who serve on the faculty and in the administration” and “wonderfully faithful Catholic students.”

“The sacraments are celebrated with frequency and devotion,” he affirmed.

“I have been privileged to be a Franciscan priest on the faculty for the past seven years,” the priest continued. “I offer Holy Mass at the university each day — sometimes several times a day — and hear Confessions daily in my office and once a week at the [university’s] basilica — where there are always long lines.

“We have Eucharistic adoration daily, and I am always impressed by the large number of persons who regularly participate in this life-giving prayer.”


Father Coughlin affirmed the centrality of the university’s theology department to its Catholic mission. He noted, “It is my understanding that most of the department members have sought and obtained the ‘mandatum’ from the diocesan bishop,” adding that he was also granted this mandatum as a teacher of canon law.

“My experience as a member of the law school faculty confirms that in reality that there are many persons with the highest academic and professional qualifications who also attempt to live our Catholic faith and bring it to their teaching and research when appropriate,” he reported.  

The priest acknowledged the commitment of “many of the university’s faculty and students to the social teaching of the Church.”

He gave particular reference to the “vigorous commitment of so many members of the university community to the defense of innocent human life as evident of those who regularly participate in the rosary and other prayer outside of abortion clinics,” or other pro-life activities.

“Indeed, my experience of the many Catholic persons and aspects of Notre Dame has left me with a realistic hope for the future of Catholicism in the United States,” Father Coughlin concluded. “I thank God for this hope.”

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