The courage of her convictions

A few weeks ago when Georgetown University invited President Obama to give the commencement address, I meant to write about it. Then, when the President asked that the crucifix and IHS logo behind the podium be covered, I meant to write about that, too.

Now Notre Dame University has also invited the President to give its commencement address, and also plans to award him an honorary degree. To “balance the ticket,” as it were, Mary Ann Glendon would also be speaking at the commencement. Glendon, Harvard professor, former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, and a great favorite of conservative Catholics, would speak as the recipient of Notre Dame’s prestigious Laetare Medal.

That was the plan, anyway. Professor Glendon, God bless her, decided that she could not in good conscience participate in the ceremony, and regretfully declined an award that she had been thrilled to learn she was to receive.

The letter was first published at First Things, but the link was unavailable at the time I posted this due to unusually high traffic to their site as a result of this story. The letter has been reprinted at Whispers in the Loggia, and is worth quoting at some length:

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.

HT to Patrick. See also Jill Stanek, Redstate, Crunchy Con, Curt Jester and American Papist, who has President Obama’s response:

President Obama is disappointed by former Ambassador Mary Glendon’s decision, 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.

— Jen Psaki, White House Deputy Press Secretary

Yes, we are a diverse country. No, we don’t all see eye to eye. Long live the spirit of debate and healthy disagreement in this great land of ours.

But Notre Dame University isn’t a public university. It doesn’t represent the U.S. citizens as a whole, who are a wonderfully diverse bunch. It is a Catholic University, and it represents the Catholic Church and Americans who are members of that Church. And despite what the Protestant Mr. Obama would like us to believe, the Catholic Church isn’t a wonderfully diverse organization. It is a hierarchical organization with an established dogma. If people don’t like that, they don’t have to be Catholic. But neither do Catholic universities have to confer honorary degrees on people who espouse — and work hard to enact into law — principles that are anathema to orthodox Catholics.

Comments 9

  1. Patrick wrote:

    Thanks for the link, Brigette! This administration does not understand that it is wrong to be “inclusive” and “respectful” of evil. That comes, I think, of exalting tolerance or unthinking diversity as the highest good, at least on the lip-service level.

    Posted 27 Apr 2009 at 11:20 pm
  2. Patrick wrote:

    Postscript: ND alums like my brother would point out that it’s always “the University of Notre Dame” rather than “Notre Dame University.”

    Posted 27 Apr 2009 at 11:22 pm
  3. Dan wrote:

    If people don’t like that, they don’t have to be Catholic. But neither do Catholic universities have to confer honorary degrees on people who espouse — and work hard to enact into law — principles that are anathema to orthodox Catholics.

    Nor do specific catholic universities have to kowtow to the wedge issues used to try to trick catholics into voting for one particular political party.

    Posted 28 Apr 2009 at 1:21 pm
  4. Julia wrote:

    Nor do specific catholic universities have to kowtow to the wedge issues used to try to trick catholics into voting for one particular political party.

    What does this even mean? First, one kowtows to people, not to issues. Second, inviting only commencement speakers whose public views don’t go against Catholic dogma isn’t kowtowing to anyone or anything; it’s just being consistent to principles. Third, nobody’s trying to trick anyone into doing anything. The Church is pro-life. It’s very open about this. There’s no “trick” involved in saying Catholics ought to support life.

    Dan, you’ve really outdone yourself in incoherent partisan ranting today. Congratulations!

    Posted 28 Apr 2009 at 1:46 pm
  5. JT wrote:

    The whole matter was poorly handled by the school, but the school did invite him. The school body at Notre Dame IS diverse, as opposed to Catholic. The school issues common, non-religious academic degrees and the degree which Obama is being offered is, I believe, not religious. He isn’t being ordained. That does not of course mean that they had to invite President Obama to speak but they did. If that decision is being made by the student body, as opposed to the administration, then it will not necessarily be a Catholic or someone who agrees with the Catholic Church’s teachings. Should they be restricted to inviting only Catholics to speak? That would be fine too, but that isn’t the procedure now and I bet that it has not been the procedure in the recent past. Didn’t one of the Clintons speak at Notre Dame? They are not Catholic.

    The mistake that I think is being made by many people I know who are angry about this – and I know a lot of them – is in thinking that the university speaks only to Catholics or is, in fact, in the business of proselytizing or standing on Catholic dogma. If it did, that would be one thing but, as noted, the school accepts people of all religious affiliations (one of my best friends is Jewish and a Notre Dame grad) and I don’t believe religious classes are mandatory and I am certain that religious attendance is not mandatory any longer – I believe it was until the 1970s.

    Also, Ms. Glendon’s position as Ambassador to the Vatican was a political post and not a religious post in spite of the nature of the Vatican. For her to take issue with someone else receiving an honorary degree from Notre Dame, based on that person’s political or religious views doesn’t make much sense to me. How many people will receive REAL degrees that very day who couldn’t care less what Catholics or the Catholic Church believe? Probably hundreds and it is more than possible that the student speaker(s) won’t be a Catholics either.

    Pardon any errors but I am very busy and typed quickly.

    Posted 28 Apr 2009 at 9:04 pm
  6. Dan wrote:

    It’s very open about this. There’s no “trick” involved in saying Catholics ought to support life.

    The entire pro-life argument is a trick in that it is a wedge issue that the GOP does nothing about when in office – because if they did they would no longer have that wedge issue to trick people who passionately believe that embryos are people into voting for them.

    Here’s a logical problem: The GOP controlled all three branches of the Federal government from 2001 until 2006 and did nothing whatsoever to advance their supposedly “pro-life” agenda. Why is that?

    Posted 28 Apr 2009 at 10:15 pm
  7. JT wrote:

    Dan,

    Respectfully, the GOP at no time controlled all three branches of government, nor have the Dems controlled all three branches of government. They have had, more or less, control of who sat on empty seats of the Fed Courts, but that is hardly the same thing and has, in some very notable cases, not resulted in the desired outcome.

    The “pro-life” movement isn’t strictly Catholic. I have MANY Protestant, Greek Orthodox and even Muslim friends who find the idea of abortion anathema. In fact, there is no one who is truly religious (I mean truly believes in what they claim as their religious faith) who believes that abortion is right, because no religion I can think of supports it.

    It has only become a real issue in the U.S. since Roe v. Wade and NEITHER party has made ANY attempt to address the issue, except by rhetoric and political posturing. Many believe that Congress would be 100% within its rights tomorrow (or 100 years ago) to pass a law stating that abortion cannot be restricted in any way or, indeed, the opposite – that it could be restricted at the federal level (Roe was an attack on a state law in TX). It has been discussed many times and I attended a conference while in high school where Chris Matthews himself brought it up in front of his old buddy, that low-life degenerate, Ted Kennedy who did not respond (this was in 1981) – Matthews shut up about it.

    Everyone in politics wants it to fall upon the courts to make the decision because they are all – both Dems and Repubs, pro and con – afraid that they will have to answer for it at the polls.

    Haven’t you ever asked yourself why the Democratically-controlled Congress (at various times since 1973) has never passed a law regarding abortion and taking right out of the courts’ hands? Why they even let Roe v. Wade get to the courts in the first place? They could have killed it many a time by simply changing the law. I wouldn’t vote based on one’s view on this matter but I can respect that others would, whichever way they lean.

    Have a nice night all.

    Posted 28 Apr 2009 at 11:16 pm
  8. Dan wrote:

    Haven’t you ever asked yourself why the Democratically-controlled Congress (at various times since 1973) has never passed a law regarding abortion and taking right out of the courts’ hands? Why they even let Roe v. Wade get to the courts in the first place? They could have killed it many a time by simply changing the law. I wouldn’t vote based on one’s view on this matter but I can respect that others would, whichever way they lean.

    Why would the Dems make a law on abortion when the constitutional ruling is already in their favor? Its the GOP who constantly pretends they’re going to do something to get Casey vs Planned Parenthood (This is the controlling ruling, Roe v Wade is no longer relevant) overturned and do nothing about it – because they know they can continue suckering religious single-issue voters into voting for them as long as choice is still legal. The GOP plays religious conservatives for chumps year after year and said chumps never seem to catch on.

    Posted 29 Apr 2009 at 12:08 am
  9. Dan wrote:

    Good to see that pro-choice activists are being lead by clear-thinking level headed intellectuals:

    http://briefingroom.thehill.com/2009/04/27/abortion-activist-obama-flu-actions-are-sebelius-cover-up/

    Posted 29 Apr 2009 at 12:31 am

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