SOUTH BEND, IN - Notre Dame absolves pro-gay and anti-military trespassers but supports prosecution of pro-life demonstrators; Father Hesburgh accedes to Speaker Pelosi’s request to call key Congressman about health care bill.
We have learned that a few years ago the University dropped trespass charges against pro-gay and anti-military demonstrators. This contrasts sharply with the University’s ongoing support of the trespass prosecutions of the pro-life Commencement Day demonstrators (“the ND88”).
We describe below how this news directly undermines the University’s stance respecting the ND88.
We also report the startling news that, at the request of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Father Hesburgh phoned a pro-life Congressman about the health care bill. The Congressman thereafter abandoned his opposition and voted for the bill.
Notre Dame and the Pro-Life ND88, the Pro-Gay Soulforce, and the Anti-ROTC Catholic Workers.
The prosecution of the ND 88 threatens serious harm to them. If convicted, they could be fined up to $5,000 plus costs and imprisoned for up to a year. Those with no prior convictions may enter a program under which, after successful completion of a year’s probation, the charges would be erased, but close to a half of the defendants do not qualify for this program. Moreover, while charges are pending there can be grave collateral consequences in terms of such matters as extension of credit and employment. One defendant and her husband have, in fact, been turned down as foster parents on this account.
Notre Dame has been involved in the design of this prosecutorial plan and thinks well of it. As Father Jenkins has written in response to alumni objections, “Notre Dame officials have been in regular contact with the prosecutor’s office on these matters” and believe the prosecutor’s decisions are “balanced and lenient,” even though the University “fully agrees” with the defendants’ pro-life position.
Notre Dame’s position has drawn widespread condemnation by the pro-life community, as we have pointed out in prior bulletins (Update on the ND88 and Notre Dame Washes its Hands). It has been described by leading pro-life organizations as a “source of the gravest scandal” and a further mark upon Notre Dame’s “tarnished image in the eyes of the pro-life world.”
The University’s position is bewildering, for there are many compelling reasons for the University to recommend to the prosecutor that he drop these cases. The University’s stance obviously impairs Father Jenkins’s post-Obama efforts to shore up Notre Dame’s pro-life credentials. The demonstrators are intensely dedicated and include many notably sympathetic individuals. By exercising compassion the University would not be thought to sanction the defendants’ alleged trespass. The event is long past, and peace and order were maintained. And it is the prosecutor, not the University, who decides what is in the public interest.
The question, then, is why the University persists in endorsing these prosecutions.
Initially, the University simply noted irrelevantly that it is not a party to the proceeding. More recently, in e-mail responses to inquiries, Father Jenkins has said the University should and does treat all trespassers alike.
The University cannot have one set of rules for causes we oppose, and another more lenient set of rules for causes we support. We have one consistent set of rules for demonstrations on campus – no matter the cause.
We doubted that any organization would saddle itself with such an inflexible policy, and so we asked the University about other recent cases. The two of special interest were the March 2007 trespass arrests of pro-gay and anti-military demonstrators.
The University replied that it “had no information on the disposition of these cases,” and accordingly we tracked down some of those who had been arrested. All said they had heard nothing further after the arrests.
Bill Dempsey relayed this information to the University:
I have interviewed by telephone two participants (one a priest) in the Catholic Worker anti-ROTC protest who were arrested by Notre Dame police in March of 2007 and one of the Soulforce pro-gay participants, together with the person in the Soulforce organization responsible for dealing with any consequences of these arrests. The participants all state that, after they were taken into custody and processed on the campus, they were released and heard nothing more. The Soulforce administrator confirmed this account. One of the Catholic Worker participants read to me the citation she received, a “Summons and Complaint” describing the premises and declaring that the individual would be obliged to appear in court when notified. In short, the cases were dropped after the arrests....[S]hould you wish to verify my report....I will furnish you the names of the persons with whom I spoke.
The University spokesman replied:
This exchange is no longer serving any purpose from our perspective, and, as a result, we have decided to discontinue communications with you on this topic.
We thereupon wrote Father Jenkins. His brief response was not encouraging. He seconded the spokesman’s termination of the discussion and he characterized as “not warranted” unidentified “inferences” and “assumptions” in Bill Dempsey’s wide-ranging exchanges with the University spokesman, but he did not dispute the facts respecting the Soulforce and Catholic Workers arrests. We responded that we nonetheless hoped that, upon reflection, he would relent, since the principle of equal treatment he had invoked required it.
The stark facts, then, are that the University has treated pro-gay and anti-military demonstrators far more generously than pro-life demonstrators and that it declines to explain why. The mystery of the University’s attitude toward the pro-life demonstrators deepens.
Father Hesburgh’s intervention in the pro-life health care dispute.
The name of Father Hesburgh suddenly surfaced in the accounts of Speaker Pelosi’s successful management of the health care bill. A McClatchy report, which mirrored other accounts and spread rapidly, led off with this:
In the tense hours Sunday leading up to the House vote on a historic health care bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took time to call the former president of Notre Dame, the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh....What she wanted was Hesburgh to help lock up the vote of Rep. Joe Donnelly, a Democrat from South Bend, Ind., who was wavering over the abortion issue. Donnelly ultimately pressed the yes button late Sunday night.
Representative Donnelly’s press secretary then confirmed that Father Hesburgh had in fact made the call. She added that he “did not tell Donnelly how to vote” – as if anyone would think otherwise – but rather advised, “Vote your conscience.”
Father Hesburgh made the call at Pelosi’s request. Clearly, the call was made within the context of the strong opposition of the nation’s bishops to the bill. The call has been characterized in the media as designed “to convince [Donnelly]t o vote for the final bill at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s request.”
If the call was somehow entirely innocent of any such purpose, we hope there will yet be an explanation by Father Hesburgh as to why he called. As matters stand, the pro-life credentials of Notre Dame have been further undermined.
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