Matt C. Abbott
African-American priest to Jenkins, Obama: Shame on you!
By Matt C. Abbott
March 25, 2009

The following is a letter from University of Notre Dame alumnus Father John J. Raphael, S.S.J., addressed to ND president Father John Jenkins:

    'Dear Fr. Jenkins,

    'My name is Fr. John J. Raphael, SSJ. I am a member of ND's graduating class of 1989. I am currently the principal of St. Augustine High School in New Orleans, LA and a member of Notre Dame's Admissions Advisory Board.

    'I am writing to express my extreme disappointment and grave disapproval of the decision to invite President Obama to give the commencement address and to receive an honorary degree from Notre Dame at this year's graduation.

    'I have spent eighteen years working with blacks and whites, Protestants and Catholics, to bring more African Americans into the pro-life movement. During the last two months the Obama administration has already begun to aggressively roll back the gains made in defense of life over the course of the last fifteen years.

    'I have written two articles which attempt to show how the historical significance of the first African American president is emptied of its meaning if this same president refuses to embrace the rights of the unborn. I share them with you if you are interested in considering the devastating impact of these pro-abortion policies on the African American community in light of this historic election:

    'As an African American and a priest, as a principal of a Catholic high school and a member of the Admissions Advisory Board of the university, I cannot adequately express in words how deeply this action offends those who are committed to carrying out the task of Catholic education and witnessing to the Gospel of Life in the context of a Catholic school. Even if the university chooses to cooperate with certain policies of the president that are not contrary to the teaching of the faith, the conferral of this type of public honor is wholly gratuitous and incongruous with the mission of any Catholic institution

    'On this Laetare Sunday, I was happy to note that this year's recipient of the Laetare Medal, Mary Ann Glendon, has eloquently and courageously served the nation and more importantly, the Church. How strange it is that at the same time the University chooses to publicly honor an administration with which the American Catholic bishops have already had to address major concerns about the lack of protection of the rights of the unborn in just two months.

    'Today's first reading from the book of Chronicles speaks as much to us today as it did to Israel during the Babylonian exile:

    'In those days, all the princes of Judah, the priests, and the people
    added infidelity to infidelity,
    practicing all the abominations of the nations
    and polluting the LORD's temple
    which he had consecrated in Jerusalem.

    'Early and often did the LORD, the God of their fathers,
    send his messengers to them,
    for he had compassion on his people and his dwelling place.
    But they mocked the messengers of God,
    despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets,
    until the anger of the LORD against his people was so inflamed
    that there was no remedy (2Chr 36:14ff).

    'The voice of Notre Dame needs to be raised in defense of the unborn. The African American community in particular is being decimated by abortion on demand as currently supported by the Obama administration. Our Holy Father, mocked and despised by many in popular culture, has called upon all faithful Christians to courageously bear witness to life.

    'By conferring this 'honor' upon President Obama at this time, the University of Notre Dame muddies the waters of life and darkens the light in which we are called to walk.

    'Sincerely in Notre Dame, the Mother of Life,

    'Rev. John J. Raphael, SSJ, '89
    St. Augustine High School
    New Orleans, LA 70119'

Father J. Patrick Serna had this to say regarding the ND scandal:

    'The most 'sensible' of Fr. Jenkins' arguments is this one: '...we invited him because we care so much about those [pro-life] issues, and we hope for this to be the basis of an engagement with him....' The problem with Fr. Jenkins' attempt at rationalization is this: While Fr. Jenkins is correct about the need to form a basis for engagement so as to persuade an enemy of life to the side of pro-life, he is wrong about how to do it.

    'One persuades an anti-life proponent to a pro-life position by dialogue and charitable debate. One does not invite an enemy of life, ergo, an enemy of the Gospel of Life with Jesus as the Author of all life, to give a commencement address at a university which is supposed to represent Christian/pro-life values. One does not invite a wolf to give talks about values and principles to a herd of sheep, but this is what Fr. Jenkins has done.

    'This is not the first time the Notre Dame leadership has sold out. As Pope Paul VI once said: 'The smoke of Satan has entered the Church.' Fr. Jenkins and the Notre Dame leadership would do well to stop wafting the flames, because if people don't take fidelity more seriously, there are eternal flames to be more worried about.'

Also, Patrick J. Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, had this to say in response to Father Jenkins' "dissing" of the organization:

    'Father Jenkins is rightly concerned about authority, and he is correct that it is not found with the Cardinal Newman Society. The authority to which Notre Dame is beholden is that of the Catholic Church, including the Vatican guidelines in Ex Corde Ecclesiae and the U.S. bishops' 2004 ban on honors to pro-abortion politicians.

    'The Cardinal Newman Society is urging Father Jenkins to put a stop to this travesty and favor principle over prestige, and any attempt to shoot the messenger is simply a distraction.'

© Matt C. Abbott


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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He also has an Associate in Applied Science degree in business management from Triton College. Abbott has been interviewed on HLN, MSNBC, Bill Martinez Live, WOSU Radio in Ohio, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's 2019 ‘Unsolved’ podcast about the unsolved murder of Father Alfred Kunz, Alex Shuman's 'Smoke Screen: Fake Priest' podcast, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) and WISC-TV (CBS) in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been quoted in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and other media outlets. He’s mentioned in the 2020 Report on the Holy See's Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (1930 to 2017), which can be found on the Vatican's website. He can be reached at

(Note: I welcome and appreciate thoughtful feedback. Insults will be ignored. Only in very select cases will I honor a request to have a telephone conversation about a topic in my column. Email is much preferred. God bless you and please keep me in your prayers!)


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