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Mary Ann Glendon will not accept Notre Dame's prestigious Laetare Medal

April 27, 2009

The Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.
University of Notre Dame

Dear Father Jenkins,

When you informed me in December 2008 that I had been selected to receive Notre Dame’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 principles” 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:

• “President Obama won’t be doing all the talking. Mary Ann Glendon, the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, will be speaking as the recipient of the Laetare Medal.”

• “We think having the president come to Notre Dame, see our graduates, meet our leaders, and hear a talk from Mary Ann Glendon is a good thing for the president and for the causes we care about.”

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.

It is with great sadness, therefore, that I have concluded that I cannot accept the Laetare Medal or participate in the May 17 graduation ceremony.

In order to avoid the inevitable speculation about the reasons for my decision, I will release this letter to the press, but I do not plan to make any further comment on the matter at this time.

Yours Very Truly,

Mary Ann Glendon

Mary Ann Glendon is Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, and served as U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican from 2007 to 2009.

(Cross posted on Return to Rome)

Comments (13)

Well done indeed.

I liked that letter a lot, and I agree completely. Thanks for bringing it to our attention, Dr. Beckwith.

Praise God.

A surprising but principled decision.

In retrospect, it was very uncordial to use Glendon as a weight to balance Obama's appearance. It was a "triumph" of public relations over sound judgment.

Bravo, Prof. Glendon.

Awesome.ND's administration just lost their cover and Glendon provides us all with good Witness and a needed shot in the arm.

Professor Glendon is all class.

I think she is a star.

Well done!

This is awesome!! I'm sympathetic to Ms. Glendon's struggle with a difficult decision, but incredibly proud of her at the same time.

I recall the catchphrase, "God, Country, Notre Dame". God is #1...ND sadly languishes in an increasingly distant 3rd. A shame.

I won't be frequenting ND ball games or other events anytime soon.

Great letter, and very clear. It sounds like at first she was inclined to go anyway, but then she realized that she was, in a sense, being used by the university to deflect criticism. That is so very typical of large institutions--that cold-hearted, political, administrative treatment of people as symbolic pawns, even against their wishes. So she said, "I will not be a pawn." And she bowed out. Excellent.

Good for her! Hopefully God will use this rhetorical kick to the teeth by Glendon to teach the ND administration the folly of their ways.

Dear Professor Glendon,

My you said it well. We need more people like you!!! People of integrity and morality. People who are willing to stand for what is right even when it hurts.

May God bless you richly for your stand.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — The University of Notre Dame has decided against awarding its top honor at commencement this year after its intended recipient turned it down over the school's decision to have President Barack Obama speak to graduates.

The Roman Catholic school said Thursday that a federal judge who has already received the Laetare (pronounced Luh-TAR'-eh) Medal will speak at the ceremony in place of a recipient speech.

The Rev. John Jenkins, the school's president, said in a statement that Judge John T. Noonan Jr. "could bring a compelling voice, a passion for dialogue, great intellectual stature, and a deep commitment to Catholic values to the speaking role of the Laetare Medalist especially in these unusual circumstances."

Jenkins has been criticized by dozens of bishops for inviting Obama because of the president's support of abortion rights and embryonic stem-cell research. His statement Thursday did not mention Obama's stance.

The school originally planned to award the Laetare Medal to Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard University law professor and anti-abortion scholar who turned down the award, saying the school shouldn't be honoring Obama.

It will be the first time since Notre Dame began awarding the Laetare Medal in 1883 that there is no recipient.

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