28 April 2009

Former US Ambassador to Vatican declines top award from University of Notre Dame

Zenit reports today that ‘the former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Mary Ann Glendon, sent a letter today to Notre Dame's president, declining to accept the university's Laetare Medal award.‘Glendon, currently the Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, wrote to Father John Jenkins, that she was "profoundly moved" when she was first informed of the decision to award her the medal at this year's commencement ceremony.’

The Laetare Medal is the highest award given by the University of Notre Dame.

Fr John I. Jenkins CSC; Mary Ann Glendon

Here is the text of Mrs Glendon’s letter to Father Jenkins CSC, President of the University of Notre Dame:

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. A member of the editorial and advisory board of First Things , she served as the US Ambassador to the Vatican from 2007 to 2009.

St Gregory the Great with St Ignatius of Loyola and St Francis Xavier
Guercino, c.1626

One can see only a willful betrayal of the gospel in the decision of Notre Dame to give an honorary degree to a politician, albeit the elected president of the USA, whose pro-abortion record is utterly appalling. One can only rejoice that a new sense of direction, of purpose, of courage, is awakening in the Catholic Church in the USA and elsewhere.

The decisions of a number of ‘Catholic’ universities to honour persons who promote the killing of the pre-born child, some of them like Vice-President Biden calling themselves ‘Catholics’, remind me of what St Francis Xavier wrote to St Ignatius from India: Very many out here fail to become Christians simply because there is nobody available to make them Christian. I have very often had the notion to go round the universities of Europe, and especially Paris, and to shout aloud everywhere like a madman, and to bludgeon those people who have more learning than love, with these words, Alas, what an immense number of souls are excluded from heaven through your fault and thrust down to hell!' (This is part of the Office of Readings for the feast of St Francis Xavier).

What would this great missionary think of some of his Jesuit brothers in Georgetown University, Washington DC, giving an award last week to a ‘Catholic’ Vice-President of the USA who sees no justification ever for violence against women and children but who actively promotes abortion?

1 comment:

Fr Seán Coyle said...

From an email sent by a friend in Cebu: "I am deeply impressed by this highly-accomplished woman's decision to decline the distinctive award due her, if only to stand firm on her principles and the principles of the Catholic Church.

"This indeed is a sterling manifestation of personal leadership, and the courage to be the true Christian that each of us Catholics is called to be."