A contingent of 89 students published a letter in the University of Notre Dame’s student newspaper today in protest to the University’s announcement on March 5 that abortion and same-sex marriage advocate Vice President Joe Biden will be honored with “the oldest and most prestigious honor accorded to American Catholics.”
“As students of this University, some of whom will graduate in May, we are disappointed Notre Dame has failed in this instance to live up to its Catholic mission,” the students stated. “We deserve to see the Laetare Medal given to an American Catholic who merits it by having served as an outstanding example for Catholics and having performed real service to the Church in this country.”
The University announced that both Biden and former Speaker of the House John Boehner will receive the award as part of this year’s commencement ceremonies in celebration of “respectful dialogue,” “compromise” and “working for the common good” in opposition to the “toxic political environment” of our time.
Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne – South Bend, Ind., where Note Dame is located, severely criticized the University’s decision to honor Biden, saying the controversial choice could “provoke scandal” by giving the impression “that one can be ‘a good Catholic’ while also supporting or advocating for positions that contradict our fundamental moral and social principles and teachings.”
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In a statement condemning Notre Dame’s decision, The Cardinal Newman Society pointed out that Catholic Biden has compromised his fidelity to Church teaching on intrinsic evils far too many times in his decades of public service in the interest of political compromise. Biden has publicly supported Roe v. Wade and legal abortion, the legal redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples, taxpayer funding for embryonic stem cell research, and the HHS contraception/sterilization/abortifacient mandate.
“Biden’s positions on all these issues are directly contrary to Church teaching,” wrote the students. “His public service has not been ‘to the Church,’ but largely against the Church.”
Remarking on Biden’s support for the HHS mandate, the students noted, “Notre Dame itself is suing the federal government for relief from this mandate.”
“We object to Notre Dame’s decision to honor Vice President Biden with the Laetare Medal. Giving the award to Speaker Boehner at the same time does not alleviate the scandal committed by the University’s blatant disregard for the injunction of the Catholic bishops,” the students wrote, referring to the U.S. bishops’ 2004 document “Catholics in Political Life.”
The full letter (without signatures) is reproduced below:
We are deeply disappointed and discouraged by Notre Dame’s announcement that Vice President Joe Biden and former Speaker of the House John Boehner will receive the Laetare Medal at this year’s commencement. The Laetare Medal is presented annually to an American Catholic “in recognition of outstanding service to the Church and society. It is considered the oldest and most prestigious award for American Catholics.”
Fr. Jenkins explained the University’s basis for its decision: “One of our great challenges today is people who disagree often will vilify, attack, demean the opposition and then they cannot work with the opposition. One of the great Catholic concepts is the common good. What is the common good? You and I may disagree, or Boehner and Biden may disagree, but we have to recognize that whatever we think, we have to act for the common good.
“One thing I hope we do at the University is we try to bring our students to understand they can disagree but they need to talk to one another, reason with one another and despite differences, they should always respect the other person and not demean.
“Unless we do that, we cannot work together, we cannot serve the common good. We are just in this gridlock of antagonism that is all too common today.”
Most would agree the tone of our politics could be improved, but Fr. Jenkins’ call for civility is a mistaken basis upon which to decide who is worthy of the Laetare Medal. By awarding the Laetare Medal to Biden and Boehner, the University discredits the award, which ought to honor an American Catholic for service to the Church and society rather than make a point about the character of political dialogue.
The University has made a mistake, one that devalues the Laetare Medal and reflects poorly on the judgment of the University’s leaders. Unfortunately, this unacceptable decision is exacerbated by the fact that Notre Dame has once again scandalized faithful Catholics across the country, as it did when it honored President Barack Obama with an honorary degree at commencement in 2009.
Joe Biden is a Catholic who served as one of Delaware’s two senators for 36 years before becoming vice president in 2009. During his years in the Senate, he was undoubtedly one of the most rabidly partisan senators. He did more than anyone in Washington to turn the confirmation process for Supreme Court nominees into a political bloodbath. He has repeatedly applauded the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade. For some of his years in the Senate, he received a zero rating from pro-life groups. It was not always so. Early in his career Biden opposed abortion. By the mid-1980s, however, he had evolved out of what he called a youthful reliance upon his Catholic faith, a reliance he now repudiates.
Biden supports federal funding for embryonic stem cell research and voted against a ban on human cloning. He embraces same-sex marriage and the HHS mandate, which requires religious institutions such as Notre Dame to facilitate coverage of contraceptives and abortifacients under its healthcare plans — Notre Dame itself is suing the federal government for relief from this mandate. Biden’s positions on all these issues are directly contrary to Church teaching. His public service has not been “to the Church,” but largely against the Church.
The United States bishops write, “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”
We object to Notre Dame’s decision to honor Vice President Biden with the Laetare Medal. Giving the award to Speaker Boehner at the same time does not alleviate the scandal committed by the University’s blatant disregard for the injunction of the Catholic bishops.
As students of this University, some of whom will graduate in May, we are disappointed Notre Dame has failed in this instance to live up to its Catholic mission. We deserve to see the Laetare Medal given to an American Catholic who merits it by having served as an outstanding example for Catholics and having performed real service to the Church in this country.