Pope Francis Encourages Notre Dame to Defend Church's Freedom; A Response to Birth Control Mandate?

Pope Francis met Thursday with Notre Dame leaders and asked the Catholic University to defend the Church's freedom. The meeting came after Notre Dame again asked a court for an injunction against the Obama administration's birth control mandate. A federal court last year ordered the school to begin paying fines if it did not comply.

"'Missionary discipleship,' ought to be reflected in a special way in Catholic universities," Francis said. " ... Essential in this regard is the uncompromising witness of Catholic universities to the Church's moral teaching, and the defense of her freedom, precisely in and through her institutions, to uphold that teaching as authoritatively proclaimed by the magisterium of her pastors."

Francis also warned that there are efforts to dilute the witness of the Catholic Church.

"It is my hope that the University of Notre Dame will continue to offer unambiguous testimony to this aspect of its foundational Catholic identity, especially in the face of efforts, from whatever quarter, to dilute that indispensable witness. And this is important: its identity, as it was intended from the beginning. To defend it, to preserve it and to advance it!"

Francis' remarks may have been encouraging Notre Dame in its fight against the birth control mandate.

The meeting took place at the Vatican and included Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins, members of his leadership team and members of the Board of Trustees.

On Tuesday, Notre Dame filed a new request for an injunction against the birth control mandate until their case is settled. Last year, a federal court ordered Notre Dame to begin paying fines for not covering birth control, including contraception, sterilization and "morning after" pills that can sometimes cause an abortion.

Last week, though, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the federal government from enforcing a provision related to the birth control mandate against the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic nonprofit group. In light of that decision, Notre Dame asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit to revisit its decision, arguing it should have the same relief as the Little Sisters.

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