Dear Father Jenkins,
When you informed me in December 2008 that I had been selected to receive Notre Dameâ€™s Laetare Medal, I was profoundly moved. I treasure the memory of receiving an honorary degree from Notre Dame in 1996, and I have always felt honored that the commencement speech I gave that year was included in the anthology of Notre Dame’s most memorable commencement speeches. So I immediately began working on an acceptance speech that I hoped would be worthy of the occasion, of the honor of the medal, and of your students and faculty.
Last month, when you called to tell me that the commencement speech was to be given by President Obama, I mentioned to you that I would have to rewrite my speech. Over the ensuing weeks, the task that once seemed so delightful has been complicated by a number of factors.
First, as a longtime consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, I could not help but be dismayed by the news that Notre Dame also planned to award the president an honorary degree. This, as you must know, was in disregard of the U.S. bishops’ express request of 2004 that Catholic institutions “should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principlesâ€ and that such persons, should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” That request, which in no way seeks to control or interfere with an institution’s freedom to invite and engage in serious debate with whomever it wishes, seems to me so reasonable that I am at a loss to understand why a Catholic university should disrespect it.
Then I learned that “talking points” issued by Notre Dame in response to widespread criticism of its decision included two statements implying that my acceptance speech would somehow balance the event: …
Good for her. The fact that they were using this as cover is certainly a good reason to take this step. Previously Bishop John D’Arcy had asked her to accept this and to use it as a opportunity of teaching. Though I am sure the Bishop understands her decision.
Now it will be interesting to see if Notre Dame decides to award this to someone else or to just not issue it this year. I think they would have a hard time finding somebody authentically pro-life that would accept this as she has declined it. So I would guess that it is not issued this year. It would add another scandal if they picked someone nominally pro-life as they did last year with Martin Sheen. I protested his pick last year since while he calls himself pro-life he does nothing to advance the cause and solidly supports pro-abortion Democrats. So will they be calling Doug Kmiec? — I hope not.
Update: The following statement from Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., president of the University of Notre Dame, is in response to the decision by Mary Ann Glendon to decline acceptance of the University’s Laetare Medal:
“We are, of course, disappointed that Professor Glendon has made this decision. It is our intention to award the Laetare Medal to another deserving recipient, and we will make that announcement as soon as possible.
Update: “President Obama is disappointed by former Ambassador Mary Glendon’s decision,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki, “but he looks forward to delivering an inclusive and respectful speech at the Notre Dame graduation, a school with a rich history of fostering the exchange of ideas. While he is honored to have the support of millions of people of all faiths, he does not govern with the expectation that everyone sees eye to eye with him on every position, and the spirit of debate and healthy disagreement on important issues is part of what he loves about this country.” [reference]
Inclusive except of course for the millions of children who have been murdered and can’t hear his “inclusive and respectful” speech.