Whither Mary Ann?

It was announced yesterday that Mary Ann Glendon, Harvard Law professor and former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, has now declined to receive the Laetare Medal from Notre Dame at graduation in May, out of concerns arising from the school's decision to invite President Barack Obama to speak.  Here is the text of Glendon's letter to 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


It seems clear from the actual text of the letter t

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9 years 6 months ago
Fr McDermott I'm not sure who's "splitting hair" here.
9 years 6 months ago
Another example of why the toxic culture war for political points keeps solutions and the kind of comity required to reach them at bay. Until the RTL movement finds a new approach the status quo will continue.
9 years 6 months ago
Father McDermott, don't you think your characterization of Glendon's words a little unfair? Clearly, she is referring to protection of unborn human life when she uses the adjective "uncompromising." Can you point us to one instance on this issue where he has proven himself willing to compromise? There's a huge difference between saying that you are willing to compromise and showing, with action, that you will. Further, in this context, "opponent of justice" is accurate — the taking of innocent human life, whether through abortion or embryonic stem-cell research, is a grave injustice, is it not? And is not respect for the dignity of human life, no matter what stage or condition, the sine qua non of Catholic social teaching?
9 years 6 months ago
Father: What is, in your mind, the most fundamental principle of justice? The sine qua non of principles? Is it not the right to life? President Obama has opposed this fundamental principle since the beginning of his political career.
9 years 6 months ago
'One wonders, though, whether she could have used the moment as an opportunity to raise the level of the conversation, rather than be pulled down by it.' To the contrary, I would say that she has greatly raised the level of conversation. By the timeliness of her actions, Glendon has helped define social justice in a way that doesn't put life issues on the back burner. She has been able to shine the spotlight on this problem- Catholic and otherwise- without being used by the university. In its willingness to treat Glendon has a foil, ND has really fallen to new levels. Mary Ann Carr Wilson
9 years 6 months ago
Fr. McDermott, I don't think you give her credit for the dignity of her response. She objected to being used to ''balance'' a controversial decision by ND administration. She issued a letter. She's staying off the talk shows. Whether or not you agree with him on the issues, Sen. (now Pres.) Obama has certainly been uncompromising on some issues. He has a 100% rating from NARAL and a 0% rating from NRL. He voted in the minority against Justice Alito and Roberts to the SCOTUS because they upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act (enacted by Congress on a 281-142 and 64-34 margins). If that isn't uncompromising, what is?
9 years 6 months ago
As I listened to the gushing praise of Ms. Glendon's decision on EWTN today, I couldn't help wondering how many sacks of hate mail she received before deciding she could not participate.
9 years 6 months ago
F.Y.I.: http://ethicscenter.nd.edu/documents/NDWitnessForLife-Final.pdf
9 years 6 months ago
So please let us know when he ever compromised on abortion? He was willing to allow infanticide to protect abortion. He did not compromise on the Mexico City Policy., He did not compromise on killing of embryos. Did he compromise in appointment after appointment of pro-abortion Catholics?
9 years 5 months ago
She has taken the high road here. But let us remember that she represented, at the papal court, a regime that waged a war of aggression, and that proudly tortured and argued that the end justifies the means. Would that she had found her backbone earlier.
9 years 5 months ago
Fr.McDermott: Mary Ann Glendon's reasoning is beautifully articulated and should serve as a splendid vehicle to teach about how to defend our Catholic faith in a pluralistic democracy where politicians are cutting ethical/moral corners on a daily basis. Contrary to your judgment, she has truly "raised the level of conversation" on the role of the Catholic university, the defense of life, and the duties of a Catholic intellectual. She could have kept quiet and gone through the motions of receiving the Laetare and let this teaching moment pass by. Instead she chose a dignified and balanced response whose intellectual force and symbolism should strengthen both our Catholic faith and our democracy.
9 years 5 months ago
The "balance" consideration of the Obama speech and the Glendon award has been in open discussion from before it was announced. It first came to general view in Bishop Darcy's letter opposing the President's appearance, wherein he wrote that he encouraged Glendon to appear and take advantage of the opportunity. It is likewise disingenuous for her to come so late to the argument that she should not accept the award because ND's award to Obama violates the bishop's guidelines. If they do, they did so from the outset, including the moment when she accepted her invitation and during all the weeks ensuing since. Her late change of heart is either the result of her yielding to the pressure of the right wing, or part of a plan to pump new controversy and attention into the issue.


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