"Not my will but your will be done."
Because Fr. Jenkins is a "religious" and not a diocesan priest, he is not subject to the local bishop. He belongs to the Congregation of the Holy Cross that answers only to the bishop of Rome.
However, the members of this order have religious superiors who can order them by invoking their vow of obedience. Fr. David Tyson, Fr. Jenkins' superior, decided to not go there for whatever reason. In an interview, Fr. Tyson pointed out that Fr. Jenkins is "fulfilling his responsibilities" in his current assignment and that it is the board of trustees that controls Notre Dame governance and policy. As provincial superior, his role is limited to the spiritual welfare of his subjects.
With all due respect, this sounds like passing the buck. I think that Fr. Jenkins as president is a decision-maker and not a rubber stamp. So, he can overrule whatever the board decides. They can fire him, but he'll go down fighting for the Lord and his children.
Fr. Jenkin's is not an independent layman. He is a member of a religious order that is there to serve the Church in America and not vice-versa. Their exempt status was not meant to justify their defiance but rather to facilitate their service to the local Church. If their ultimate superior, the bishop of Rome were to get into the act, guess what his direction will be.
Even if we assume that theoretically Fr. Jenkin's has the right to award the honorary degree in law to a proponent of abortion laws, are there other factors that come in the big picture that makes his right, wrong? In other words, a moral act is not evaluated in a vacuum but is considered along with the circumstances and consequences. Forty-two bishops have pointed out his error and the scandal that it causes. Is it not unconscionable for a religious to ignore their pastoral concerns?
Another criterion in evaluating the morality of an act is the intention. According to Fr. Jenkins, he intends to engage Obama in a dialogue to somehow open his views about the sanctity of life. If that is his intent, can he not accomplish it without scandalizing thousands of his brothers and sisters in the Lord? The Lord warned about scandalizing the weak and how it is better to drown than to mislead a single one of them, even the most insignificant..
There's also the matter of the virtue of obedience. No one really orders anyone under the vow of obedience anymore. Instead, religious strive to live the virtue of obedience following the example of the incarnate Son of God who was obedient from birth in a manger until death on a cross. Then there's Notre Dame herself who obeyed even if she did not understand and at the risk of being stoned for perceived adultery. Without any thought for her well being, she made the fiat that saved the world, "Be it done to me according to thy word."
So, legally the local bishops cannot compel Fr. Jenkins to do anything. However, if Fr. Jenkins had the spirit of obedience, then they would not have to.
"Be it done unto me according to thy word"