The bishop of the diocese in which the University of Notre Dame is located released a pointed statement today criticizing the decision of the university to bestow its prestigious Laetare Medal on Vice President Joe Biden and former House Speaker John Boehner at its commencement ceremony in May.
Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend said that he spoke with Notre Dame president Father John Jenkins about the Laetare Medal recipients months ago, and at that time expressed his disapproval of the plan to give the honor to Vice President Biden, who, while Catholic, is pro-abortion and supports same-sex marriage. Bishop Rhoades stated that he “appreciate[s] Notre Dame’s efforts to encourage civility, dialogue, mutual respect and cooperation in political life” by honoring prominent members of two opposing political parties; however, “The Church has continually urged public officials, especially Catholics, of the grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that supports or facilitates abortion or that undermines the authentic meaning of marriage. I disagree with awarding someone for ‘outstanding service to the Church and society’ who has not been faithful to this obligation.”
The Laetare Medal was established by Notre Dame in 1883, and is awarded to a Catholic who has “illustrated the ideals of the Church and enriched the heritage of humanity,” according to the university.
“If we honor Catholic politicians or public officials, we should make sure there is a basic consistency between their political decisions and sound Catholic moral and social teaching,” Bishop Rhoades stated. “We should not honor those who claim to personally accept Church teaching, but act contrary to that teaching in their political choices.”
In response to Bishop Rhoades, Father Jenkins released this brief statement: “While Bishop Rhoades and I do not always agree, I’m gratified that he acknowledged, in his words, ‘Notre Dame’s efforts to encourage civility, dialogue, mutual respect and cooperation in political life.’”
In 2009, Father Jenkins was roundly criticized by the late bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Bishop John D’Arcy, for inviting President Barack Obama to be Notre Dame’s commencement speaker that year; dozens of US bishops joined Bishop D’Arcy in decrying the invitation, and former US Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon, who had been announced as the recipient of the Laetare Medal for 2009, declined the honor.