Sycamore Trust Illinois 0

Reconsider Washington Appointment

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We, the undersigned alumni, spouses, parents, students, and friends of Notre Dame, respectfully request the Fellows of the University to arrange for the departure from the Board of Trustees of Ms. Katie Washington.

We submit that this recent appointment was a serious mistake with potentially damaging consequences to the university’s effort to secure relief from the HHS abortifacient / contraceptive / sterilization mandate. The appointment, that is, may undermine Notre Dame’s lawsuit because of Ms. Washington’s now widely known public support of that mandate and her belittling the religious liberty claims that Notre Dame and other Church and religious organizations have asserted.

The Cardinal Newman Society broke the story, Sycamore Trust followed after the university did not respond to its request for comment, the story has been carried by a number of news sources, and it was a major topic of discussion among alumni at Sycamore Trust’s May 31 sold-out annual conference. And because of its relation to the mandate litigation, it will not go away.

This is not a matter of a board member’s disagreeing with one or another aspect of Catholic teaching or with one or another action of the university.

It is a matter, rather, of the university’s governing body appointing as trustee a person in public opposition to the school’s religious liberty claim in a lawsuit in which the courts have already expressed skepticism about the school’s sincerity.

Notre Dame will have to overcome those doubts in a trial even if some other religious organization wins in the Supreme Court, unless the government uncharacteristically concedes and no other party intervenes. As Fellows, you will likely be challenged as to how your appointment of Ms. Washington can be reconciled with the school’s – that is, your – claim of conscience.

The risk already exists that the country’s most prominent Catholic university might be the only religious organization to lose its suit. This appointment exacerbates that risk.

Apart from this consideration, the appointment does not comport with the injunction of the bishops of the United States in their “Application for Ex Corde Ecclesiae for the United States” that:

“Each member of the board must be committed to the practical implications of the university’s Catholic identity.”

This requirement is itself a “practical implementation” of the obligation of the Fellows to maintain “at all times” the “essential character of the University as a Catholic institution.” (Statutes of the University)

An important “practical implication” of the school’s Catholic identity is the university’s assertion of its religious liberty claim. Ms. Washington not only is not committed to this “practical implication” but is hostile to it.

Finally, the appointment as trustee of a person who publicly declares that “universal contraceptive coverage is a matter of reproductive justice” that trumps religious liberty casts doubt on Notre Dame’s Catholic identity quite apart from the potential impact on the litigation. Private views about personal decisions are one thing; public declarations about public policy antagonistic to the Church and Catholic institutions are quite another.

We cannot refrain from expressing deep wonderment over this appointment. It is scarcely conceivable to us that there was no vetting at all, but the sketchiest inquiry – simply entering “Katie Washington” and “contraception” or even just “Johns Hopkins” in Google – would have turned up this information. But it is also scarcely conceivable to us that, if you knew of these facts, you would have appointed Ms. Washington. In either case, while we are sorry indeed that Ms. Washington has been put in this position, we submit that vital interests of the university require the decision be nullified.

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