Glendon turns down ND’s Laetare Medal

Cites Obama honor as reason for refusal

PDATE: Judge Noonan to deliver Laetare address 

In a letter addressed to University of Notre Dame President John Jenkins, former U.S. Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon declined the prestigious Laetare Medal, which she was set to receive during the university’s commencement ceremony on May 17.

In her letter, which was dated April 27, Glendon cites Notre Dame’s decision to honor President Barack Obama as 2009 commencement speaker as her reason for turning down the award.

“I could not help but be dismayed by the news that Notre Dame also planned to award the president an honorary degree,” Glendon said in her letter. “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.’”

Glendon also expressed displeasure that the university appeared to believe awarding her the Laetare Medal “would somehow balance the event,” referencing the “talking points” distributed to the Notre Dame Board of Trustees in response to criticism of the Obama invitation.

“A commencement…is supposed to be a joyous day for the graduates and their families,” Glendon said. “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…to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church’s position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice.”

Glendon stated that she intended to release the letter to the press, but that she would not make any further public comment at present. Glendon is a member of the editorial board of First Things, and she posted her letter on the magazine’s blog.

In response to Glendon’s letter, Jenkins issued a brief statement via the university’s Office of News and Information: “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.”

Since Notre Dame announced on March 20 that Obama would be the speaker at their 2009 commencement and would receive an honorary degree, Catholic communities across the country&mdash as well as many of their bishops —have voiced their opposition, citing the president’s virulently pro-abortion views and actions. An online petition to Jenkins was quickly drafted and touted across the Internet on Catholic blogs and websites; the petition has been signed by more than 300,000 individuals.

Glendon, the Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard University, was U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican from 2007 to 2009. Named president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences by Pope John Paul II in 2004, she has also served on the U.S. President’s Council on Bioethics and was head of the Holy See’s delegation to the U.N. Women’s Conference in Beijing in 1995. She is a world-renowned scholar of law, philosophy, and political theory.

UPDATE: On April 30, Notre Dame announced that Judge John T. Noonan had accepted the invitation to deliver an address “in the spirit” of the Laetare Medal during the May 17 commencement ceremonies. Noonan, who was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the ninth circuit in 1985 by President Ronald Reagan, received the Laetare Medal in 1984.

The university also announced that it would not award the Laetare Medal this year.

“In thinking about who 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—it quickly became clear that an ideal choice is Judge Noonan,” Jenkins said in the university’s announcement. “Judge Noonan will join with President Obama and other speakers in that celebration, sending them from our campus and into the world with sound advice and affirmation.”

Noonan, a former Notre Dame Law faculty member who taught for 20 years at the University of California Law School at Berkeley, has served as a governor of the Canon Law Society of America and as director of the National Right to Life Committee. He is also the author of many books and articles on morality and public policy, abortion and other life issues, and social justice and religious freedom.

The Laetare Medal was established at Notre Dame in 1883. It is awarded every year to a Catholic “whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church and enriched the heritage of humanity,” according to the university’s website. Among the past recipients of the Laetare Medal—which Notre Dame considers its most prestigious award—are President John F. Kennedy, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Dorothy Day, and novelist Walker Percy. 

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About Catherine Harmon 577 Articles
Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.