Seven years after the University of Notre Dame received worldwide criticism for its public honor to pro-abortion President Barack Obama — including more than 367,000 signatures to The Cardinal Newman Society’s online petition and public opposition by 83 American Catholic bishops — Notre Dame has once again chosen to betray the Church and its Catholic mission.
Notre Dame has announced that it will bestow its 2016 Laetare Medal, the “oldest and most prestigious honor accorded to American Catholics,” on pro-abortion Vice President Joe Biden. This time, however, the offense is even greater: a pro-abortion Catholic politician is being honored as one “whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church [emphasis added] and enriched the heritage of humanity.”
Once again, Notre Dame appeals to political considerations to justify its choice. In 2009, the University claimed that it was simply honoring whomever happened to be the sitting president, as if an arbitrary criterion for public honor should justify public scandal. Now, the University has paired Biden with former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner for honor, claiming to celebrate “respectful dialogue,” “compromise” and “working for the common good” in opposition to the “toxic political environment” of our time — yet again discounting the fact of public scandal.
In truth, the University’s praise and honor for Vice President Joe Biden creates a toxic religious environment on Notre Dame’s campus and in the broader public, betrays the University’s religious mission, and sends the clear message that a Catholic who unrepentantly and publicly opposes Catholic moral teaching deserves a Catholic university honor for being a model Catholic citizen.
In Note Dame’s statement, University President Father John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., described both Biden and his co-honoree as men “dedicated to genuine public service” who “put the good of the nation ahead of partisan victory” and made “honorable compromise and progress” for the good of the nation. Again emphasizing their ability to compromise, Fr. Jenkins said Notre Dame is “celebrating two lives dedicated to keeping our democratic institutions working for the common good through dialogue focused on the issues and responsible compromise.”
For faithful Catholics, “compromise” is precisely the concern here. Catholic Biden has compromised his fidelity to Church teaching on intrinsic evils far too many times in his career in the interest of political compromise. He has publicly supported Roe v. Wade and legal abortion, legal redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples, taxpayer funding for embryonic stem cell research, and the HHS contraception/sterilization/abortifacient mandate. Is this really the sort of “responsible compromise” Notre Dame seeks to applaud?
Notre Dame also compromises its Catholic identity in honoring Biden for the purpose of making a political statement, and, as with the honor to President Obama, with the goal of gaining secular prestige.
In announcing the award, Fr. Jenkins expressed concern for “public confidence” in our government. Does Notre Dame have such concern for our Church? What effect does the University’s administration think it has on the public’s confidence in Catholic religious leaders and institutions when they claim fidelity to the Catholic faith, yet bestow prestigious honors on those who publicly attack the faith and potentially lead the faithful away from the Church?
No doubt anticipating the controversial nature of the University’s decision, Fr. Jenkins offers the weak disclaimer: “In recognizing both men, Notre Dame is not endorsing the policy positions of either.” And yet Notre Dame chooses to honor Catholic politicians for their work in pushing legislation and public policy. The implication is that Notre Dame values political cooperation above all else, regardless of the objectives for the cooperation and without concern for morality — even the most basic defense of innocent human life.
In the granting of this award by Notre Dame and the laudatory statements of Fr. Jenkins, the University fosters a perception in the public, and among the students on campus, that one can be a “good” Catholic and unrepentantly contradict Church teaching in one’s public life. This scandal critically harms Notre Dame’s efforts to fulfill its Catholic mission as an educational institution and its responsibilities as an evangelizing arm of the Church.
Biden has a dismal record when it comes to defending the dignity of human life in the U.S. Senate. While Biden has argued that in his “personal life” he accepts the Catholic Church’s teaching that life begins at conception, he refused to act on that belief as a Senator, and he was a public advocate for legal abortion.
Cardinal Francis Arinze perhaps said it best in an address at Christendom College in July 2011:
Some people say, ‘I am personally opposed to abortion, but I will not impose my view on others.’ It is like saying, ‘Some people want to shoot all of you in the Senate and the House of Representatives, but I won’t impose my views on them. It’s pro-choice for them.’ … This is Divine law, it is not a tennis club regulation.
As vice president, Biden has been a champion of the Obama administration’s HHS mandate, which the U.S. bishops have opposed at every turn due to its blatant attack on religious freedom. Biden was even rebuked by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for lying about the nature of the HHS mandate during a Vice Presidential debate in 2012.
Biden has also been a strong advocate for legalizing the redefinition of marriage, and he disparaged those who oppose same-sex marriage as “homophobes.”
In their 2004 document ”Catholics in Political Life,” the U.S. bishops made clear: “Failing to protect the lives of innocent and defenseless members of the human race is to sin against justice. Those who formulate law therefore have an obligation in conscience to work toward correcting morally defective laws, lest they be guilty of cooperating in evil and in sinning against the common good.”
The same document also prohibits Catholic institutions from honoring those “who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles” with “awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”
Additionally, Ex corde Ecclesiae, the apostolic constitution governing Catholic universities issued by Saint Pope John Paul II, states, “Catholic teaching and discipline are to influence all university activities … Any official action or commitment of the University is to be in accord with its Catholic identity.”
It’s not enough for Notre Dame — or any Catholic university— to simply issue a disclaimer and pretend there isn’t a scandal when honoring public figures who publicly oppose and violate Catholic moral teaching. The Cardinal Newman Society emphatically condemns the awarding of the Laetare Medal to Vice President Biden.