Mary Ann Glendon Declines Notre Dame Award

Bishop Commits to Healing of «Terrible Breach»

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CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts, APRIL 27, 2009 ( 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.

She noted the enthusiasm with which she began to write her acceptance speech last December, stating, «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.»

Months later, Glendon said, she was informed about the university’s decision to honor President Barack Obama by inviting him to deliver the commencement speech.

The former ambassador reported that she knew she would have to rewrite her speech, and «the task that once seemed so delightful has been complicated by a number of factors.»

She explained, «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 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,'» she pointed out.

Glendon noted, «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.»

Talking points

Glendon acknowledged her discovery of «talking points» issued by Notre Dame in response to criticism over its decision.

These points, she added, imply that her «acceptance speech would somehow balance the event,» by arguing that President Obama would not be the only one talking at the commencement ceremony, and that he would benefit from hearing a talk by the former ambassador.

However, Glendon emphasized that a commencement «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.»

She added, «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,» Glendon concluded, «that I have concluded that I cannot accept the Laetare Medal or participate in the May 17 graduation ceremony.»

Prelate statements

At present, 46 bishops have issued public statements protesting the university’s decision to honor the U.S. president.

Bishop John D’Arcy of the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese issued a public statement last week reporting a personal letter he sent to Father Jenkins.

The prelate noted that «proper consultation could have prevented an action, which has caused such painful division between Notre Dame and many bishops — and a large number of the faithful.»

He continued: «That division must be addressed through prayer and action, and I pledge to work with Father Jenkins and all at Notre Dame to heal the terrible breach, which has taken place between Notre Dame and the church. It cannot be allowed to continue.»

Bishop D’Arcy concluded: «I ask all to pray that this healing will take place in a way that is substantial and true, and not illusory. Notre Dame and Father Jenkins must do their part if this healing is to take place. I will do my part.»

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