Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, says Notre Dame’s funding for contraception in health insurance plans is not being faithful to their Catholic mission

[Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, says Notre Dame’s funding for contraception in health insurance plans is not being faithful to their Catholic mission]

“I urged them to change the policy” [but they didn’t! – AQ moderator Tom]

From Bishop Rhoades discusses vocations, Notre Dame, Blessed Solanus Casey, and today’s youth


Bishop Kevin Rhoades, 60, is Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Located in Northeast Indiana, the diocese is home to 160,000 Catholics, 81 parishes, and 41 Catholic schools. It is also home to five Catholic colleges, including the University of Notre Dame, and the headquarters of multiple religious congregations, including the Holy Cross Priests and Brothers. It was founded as the Diocese of Ft. Wayne in 1857, and became the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend in 1960. As a “hyphenated” diocese with two see cities, the bishop must frequently make the two-hour drive between Fort Wayne and South Bend and repeat principal diocesan activities, such as Chrism Masses.

Bishop Rhoades was born in Mahanoy City, a coal mining region of Pennsylvania, and grew up in Lebanon, an hour’s drive away. His father, a Lutheran, was a civilian employee for the military and his mother, a Catholic, was a stay-at-home mom until the children reached high school, when she began working as a teacher; his devout Catholic grandmother also lived with the family. He has an older brother and younger sister.

While attending Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland, he felt the call to the priesthood. He attended St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Pennsylvania, and the Pontifical North American College and the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, before being ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1983. He continued his studies at the Gregorian in Rome, earning a Licentiate of Sacred Theology in 1986 and a Licentiate of Canon Law in 1988.

He served as rector of Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary, and was appointed Bishop of Harrisburg in 2004. He came to Fort Wayne-South Bend in 2010.

CWR: One of the best known Catholic universities in the country, Notre Dame, is in your diocese. In the past few years you’ve issued statements objecting to honoring the pro-abortion Catholic and former Vice President Joe Biden with a Notre Dame Laetare Medal because of his support for legalized abortion, and providing funding for contraception in its health insurance plans. What relationship to the university do you have, and what action can you take, as diocesan bishop, when they make high profile decisions such as these with which you disagree?

Bishop Rhoades: I have only the power of persuasion, but no governance authority. That’s how most Catholic colleges and universities have gone since the 1967 Land O’Lakes statement declaring that they no longer have a juridical connection to the Church, the bishop, or religious congregation that founded them.

But, I really believe in what Pope St. John Paul II said in Ex Corde Ecclesiae (1990), that the bishop should not be seen as an external agent but part of the community. Colleges should have a good relationship with the bishop; part of being Catholic is being in communion with the local bishop.

I am at Notre Dame a lot. I’m very involved, and they have some great things going on there as part of their Catholic mission. They have a solid theology department, McGrath Institute for Church Life and Center for Ethics and Culture. There are many good professors and student organizations.

At the same time, however, there are some problematic areas where the Catholic mission isn’t as strong. I work behind the scenes to challenge them, but sometimes I make a public statement. I won’t do that, however, unless I’ve privately dialogued with them first.

Such is the case in their funding for contraception in health insurance plans. To me, that’s clearly not being faithful to their Catholic mission. They have their arguments as to why they believe it is morally acceptable, but I don’t agree with them. I urged them to change the policy.

Notre Dame is a microcosm of the Church in the United States. There is division among Catholics on these issues. But, I wouldn’t give up hope.

CWR: Why do they favor funding contraceptives?

Bishop Rhoades: They issued a long explanation as to why they thought it was okay, which I read and did not understand. To summarize, I think they see it as a way of respecting the freedom of conscience of those who don’t agree with the Church. Notre Dame says they still accept Church teaching, but they don’t feel like they can impose it on all employees.

My response is that such employees are free to buy contraceptives, but Catholic institutions shouldn’t be providing them. If they want to use them, they can pay for them with their own money.

One thing I did praise them for was that their health insurance plans now provide funding for Natural Family Planning Services, and will not pay for abortion-causing drugs. That wasn’t the case before.

Notre Dame filed suit against the [Obama Administration’s] HHS mandate, and then freely provided contraception on its own, but not abortions. The community had people on both sides of the issue; I think this was Notre Dame’s attempt to compromise.

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