The circus continues at Notre Dame–hat tips to Deacon Greg, Rocco, Amy Welborn and First Things who all got the early word on this.

Former Vatican Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon has declined receiving the Laetare Medal from Notre Dame in light of the hoopla surrounding President Obama’s commencement speech. A snippet alongside some commentary from yours truly.

A commencement, however, is supposed to be a joyous day for the graduates and their families. It is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame’s decision—in disregard of the settled position of the U.S. bishops—to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church’s position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice.

Finally, with recent news reports that other Catholic schools are similarly choosing to disregard the bishops’ guidelines, I am concerned that Notre Dame’s example could have an unfortunate ripple effect.

OK two things here:

If you think it’s not the right venue than let’s get the right one and have her come and let her voice the church’s cause so that the President and everyone else for that matter will hear it.

Secondly, I disagree that it’s not the right venue. After 4 years, graduation is not merely about celebrating an achievement of making it through the tough grind but it’s also about inspiring students to stand up for justice, for their moral principles, for engaging the world’s problems. They are heading into a world where many of them will be doing exactly that. Commencement speeches should have in their tone a sense of “as you leave here…keep this in mind. Don’t forget about the unborn, the poor, the world beyond not just this school but this country.”

I think that it a shame that Ms. Glendon will not be gracing the students at Notre Dame with her remarks. I do wonder if there is some way to salvage this. The groundswell has started and it seems to me that at this point Notre Dame is facing a public relations disaster. I would offer the following solution:

Give the Laetare medal to New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Archbishop of Santa Fe Michael Sheehan who just ended the death penalty in their state. The topic we can ask them to address is: How can we dialogue together, despite our disagreements in order to influence each other to create change.

Because that’s what everyone is missing here.

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0 thoughts on “Mary Ann Glendon declines Latare Medal from Notre Dame”
  1. I agree with Glendon and disagree with you Mike: a graduation is not the place for this kind of “engagement.”

    Yes we need to learn how to talk to each other better.

    Here’s a serious question (and I mean this seriously, and not snarkily). The year is, oh 1965. A Catholic University decides to honor a prominent segregationist. Civil rights leaders are appalled. Would it then, also be the case that one should get together an opponent of segregation so that we can ask “How can we dialogue together, despite our disagreements in order to influence each other to create change.” ?

  2. Well it’s certainly hard to compare abortion with slavery but I would say that we will all be judged by what we think is right and wrong morally not merely by God but also by history.

    I will say that I like this argument because it sets up an easy straw man. In 1960 people’s minds were changed mostly by the efforts and words of one man–Dr. King–to stand up for what he thought was right. He mobilized thousands and did it peaceably. He didn’t call white people names but he appealed to their common human dignity. He spoke of dreams and one dream in particular where people are not judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. He indeed took on segregationist with his words and his peaceable protests and we remember that with embarrassment for those who thought differently.

    Will we one day be able to say the same thing about those who think abortion is simply OK.

    We’re not even close to inspiring anyone in the same way. And Glendon just blew her opportunity to further the argument for life.

    This isn’t about presenting opposite points of view at a graduation and if you read what I wrote I did say that if this was the wrong venue than perhaps we should find a better one. Glendon deserves a voice as do the unborn in this situation. Whether we like the fact that Obama is speaking or not, we’re still called to speak out. If Glendon doesn’t want to do that at a graduation (and miss out on a captive audience) then she should be given a different platform either before or after graduation day and she should accept it.

  3. Mike: slavery was a moot issue in 1965. Segregation was not exactly the same reality. Yes there was inspirational leadership, but there was a real struggle, with violent reprisals (Selma? Orangeburg?), and I think Dr. King would be the first to suggest that it was not just one man’s efforts that saw social change. It was a convulsive time. (Sometimes I wish we were willing for that level of civil disobedience when it comes to abortion.) In 1964, when the Civil Rights Act was passed, it would be hard to argue that hearts and minds had already changed on the issue, especially in the South.

    Abortion and segregation or slavery are not the same issue, but there are important parallels: the human dignity of a group of human beings.

    My point is not a straw man in this context: in the middle of a struggle (which is what we’re in, though it doesn’t seem that way perhaps to many), should a Catholic institution *honor* (for me this is the key) someone who has taken a stand in direct opposition to a (the, I’d say) major human rights issue of the day?

    I agree with Glendon: the ability to appear to “engage” in a very limited setting such as an acceptance speech is overridden by the commitment to a) not be used by ND simply as a pawn to appear fair (that sentiment comes through in her letter) and b) to speak out by staying away that ND is compromising itself on a major moral issue of the day.

  4. Ok a few points:

    1) I agree with you about slavery and civil rights and that makes this a more interesting discussion indeed.

    2) We are indeed in the midst of a struggle and because of that our voices are paramount. I think inspiration and dialogue work much better than shutting people out though–and that’s really my only point on whether we invite President Obama or not.

    3) Should President Obama get an honorary degree? Here I think I would say that people may have a point. I would say that Notre Dame very well could honor him for something that he’s done outside of the world of the pro-life cause. I’d even say that we should consider not offering the degree because of his position on the war in Afghanistan which I haven’t heard anybody talking about the moral validity of that action. Regardless, I think the wording of the award is paramount and it should be made very public that we disagree with him on abortion–which I think Fr Jenkins has been very clear about.

    4) Since Glendon was invited long before Obama was I think she’s hardly a pawn in anyone’s game and I don’t think that’s fair. ND may have put her in an awkward position which I think is the real issue here. She should have the guts to show up and speak her mind graduation or not. People know that she’s there and has always been there to accept an award for her own commitment to causes we believe in as Catholics. To clam up now calls into question whether she really cares as much about those causes as she does her own political capital.

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