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Mary Ann Glendon refuses Notre Dame Award

April 27, 2009

For me, it was not a matter of if, but when. Professor Mary Ann Glendon, who has worked closely with the USCCB and the Vatican, has decided to refuse the Laetare Medal and to skip the same commencement.  I think her reasons are good, and I am pleased that she has made this decision.  Below is her letter to Fr. Jenkins, which she released to the press, explaining her rationale.

I will begin my studies at Notre Dame this fall, and I cannot express how disappointed I am that a minority of administrative officials can so blatantly resist the authority of the bishops and the outcry of a large chunk of its student body.  I have already expressed my thoughts on President Obama’s presence at Notre Dame’s commencement, so I will not reiterate those here.

April 27, 2009
The Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.
University of 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

  1. April 27, 2009 12:07 pm

    Hers is the best response I have seen so far to the Notre Dame situation. She opposes Obama receiving an honorary degree (so do I) and she is rightly irritated with being used and decided to refuse ND the opportunity. Her decision took great courage, and I respect her for it.

  2. April 27, 2009 12:11 pm

    Very classy. This is more of what we need.

    My main issue is also with ND giving the president an honorary degree. I was not necessarily happy about having him speak at the commencement, but I could’ve lived with that.

  3. Dale Price permalink
    April 27, 2009 12:13 pm

    Well said, and well-stated by Professor Glendon.

    Alas, ND sees no significance to the decision, and has decided to re-gift the Laetare ASAP:

  4. Kurt permalink
    April 27, 2009 12:14 pm

    I cannot express how disappointed I am that a minority of administrative officials can so blatantly resist the authority of the bishops and the outcry of a large chunk of its student body.

    Everything I have seen has indicated the opposite, that a large majority, if not a consensus of the university officials, the student body and the graduating class are supportive and excited about the President’s participation in their commencement ceremony.

    That being said, those who do not believe the President is an honorable person are free not to participate in the events of May 17th.

  5. April 27, 2009 12:19 pm

    Finally, with recent news reports that other Catholic schools are similarly choosing to disregard the bishops’ guidelines….

    Anyone know what Catholic schools she is referring to? Is Bush speaking at one of our Catholic universities?

  6. Magdalena permalink
    April 27, 2009 12:19 pm

    Kurt, it’s not that he’s dishonorable, it’s that he has a horrific position on a human rights issue.

  7. April 27, 2009 12:24 pm


    I will try to post on some of this shortly, but Xavier in New Orleans has invited Donna Brazile to speak. Archbishop Hughes has chosen not to honor her (a pro-choice Catholic who has done some good social justice work apparently)with her presence. On other hand, Loyola New Orleans has invited Bobby Jindal who supports the death penalty. Apparently Hughes will be attending that one. I’m really not sure yet where I fall on all this.

  8. April 27, 2009 12:34 pm

    JB – I think what we are likely to see is that the only time this becomes an issue is when it relates to abortion. On the other hand, pro-war, pro-death penalty Catholics are welcome, are honored, and share the spotlight with our “courageous” bishops who otherwise witness so strongly on behalf of life (pre-born life, anyway).

  9. awakaman permalink
    April 27, 2009 12:39 pm


    He is a politician and by definition he is not honorable. Politicians are lying, cheating, power hungery individuals, who lack any honor what so ever. This applies to Obama, Bush(s), Reagan, Clinton, Carter, Ron Paul, Robert Taft, Abe Lincoln, Geo Washington.

    As MM pointed out in his earlier post there is basically no difference between Obama and Clinton and a vast majorities of Republicans.

    It is amazing how Notre Dame became the esteemed instituion it is by not feeling obligated to give politicians a forum during the first 100+ years of its existence.

    I’m a big believer in the separation of church and state and it is not for the purpose of protecting the state from bein influenced by the state – it does not usually work in that direction.

  10. ron chandonia permalink
    April 27, 2009 12:55 pm

    I am sorry ND is still going to present the award, and I think it would now be a big mistake for any faithful Catholic to accept this (though I’m sure there are plenty of people who would).

    It seems to me that (wittingly or not) ND has been enlisted in the effort to re-define “pro-life” from “favoring legal restrictions on abortion” (the Republican stance) to “favoring policies that might change some of the conditions that lead women to choose abortion” (the stance articulated by some Catholic Democrats before the election). Unfortunately, in actual practice the last really means “supporting the Democratic domestic agenda, without legal restriction of abortion.”

    Even those Catholics who believe that more generous social policies would probably discourage some abortions (as I do) are unwilling to give up on the idea of using the law to convey social disapproval of abortion (the point Mary Ann Glendon made in Abortion and Divorce in Western Law). I expect that only a “pro-life” Catholic who has abandoned the idea of restricting abortion would now be willing to accept the Laetare medal.

  11. Policraticus permalink
    April 27, 2009 1:04 pm

    Everything I have seen has indicated the opposite, that a large majority, if not a consensus of the university officials, the student body and the graduating class are supportive and excited about the President’s participation in their commencement ceremony.

    That’s what several news stories have said. But word from campus is that there is a lot of resistance from faculty and students.

    • April 27, 2009 1:10 pm

      But what kind of resistance; from what I can tell, it is a vocal minority, just like we see on the online Catholic blogosphere. Every stat I’ve seen, save from the “inner circle” of the critics themselves, has been very open to Obama.

  12. April 27, 2009 1:15 pm


    I suspect one of those other schools she is talking about might be Xavier in New Orleans where we have a similar crisis. Thankfully the Archbishop is boycotting that

  13. April 27, 2009 1:20 pm

    If they want to give someone else an award instead, I’d be glad to take it, I could use more awards on my CV. If any one asks, let them know where to find me. I really hope this works out.

  14. April 27, 2009 1:20 pm

    Not sure “crisis” is the best term to use for what is happening at Notre Dame. Health care in the u.s. is a “crisis.” The Notre Dame situation is merely an interesting occurrence.

  15. Kurt permalink
    April 27, 2009 1:23 pm


    As I have said before, you are going to have to find me a really good Jesuit to explain to me how the President is honorable but not honor able.

    As for Xavier, I have always admired Donna’s deep Catholic faith and have long believe Dr. Norman Francis has more class that then entire American episcopate put together. I think I’ll raise my contribution to XULA this year and make it in honor of Donna!

  16. Miguel permalink
    April 27, 2009 1:24 pm

    Go Prof. Glendon.

    That took guts, and her rationale came across as extremely sober. Hopefully this gets the press that it should.

    • April 27, 2009 1:28 pm

      Sober? Someone who uses the “bishops” as an excuse to “shame” Notre Dame, though the bishops themselves have told her to go and accept the award? That’s sober? Sure, it was not a command, but I think the inherent contradiction of that serves to question whether or not it was a rational response.

      Secondly, it is more than a little strange to now talk about graduation as a day in which no one wants to hear challenging commencement speeches. Why this new interest in “cheery speeches” at graduations; critics of Cardinal Arinze said the same thing (and I think they were wrong, just as I think this excuse is wrong, here, too).

      Why does it appear more like “I got to keep away from the Samaritan” than it does anything else to me?

  17. Ursus permalink
    April 27, 2009 1:27 pm

    Isn’t it always a “vocal minority” even when there might be a “silent majority”? Anyway, ND donors have, in one week, said they will withold $8.2 million. That’s a pretty significant statement.

    • April 27, 2009 1:33 pm

      What does money have to do with the quality of the response and the number of people who support Notre Dame? Maybe you could make the case that the vocal minority is vocal because they are also a richer minority, and that would not be surprising, but would also explain why they can be more vocal.

  18. April 27, 2009 1:39 pm

    Henry – Both good points!

  19. April 27, 2009 1:45 pm

    Kurt as to

    Donna’s Seep Catholic Faith as you refer to it

    From CNN last Year

    WOLF BLITZER: If you had been at that news conference, Bill, and you had a chance to ask one question, today, what would you have asked, if you were a reporter?

    BILL BENNETT: I think when he brought up Chicago I would have said “why are you to the left of NARAL, Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein when it comes to abortion? Are you really there?” Not that it’s the only issue in the campaign, but I gotta question the guy’s moral judgment, who doesn’t see a problem with killing a baby after it’s been born after eight months.

    DONNA BRAZILE: But he’s had an opportunity in several debates to talk about his position on abortion —

    BENNETT: What is the answer to that question?

    BRAZILE: Bill, look —

    BENNETT: What is the answer?!

    BRAZILE: You want to have a conversation about narrow issues —

    BENNETT: That is not: that is fundamental!

    BRAZILE: It is a fundamental issue, but the American people want to talk about gas prices —

    BENNETT: Fine.

    BRAZILE: They want to talk about the economy.

    BENNETT: Fine.

    BRAZILE: They want to talk about housing [inaudible] —

    BENNETT: I want to talk about all of that. Wolf asked me if there were one, if there were one [question I could ask.]

    BRAZILE: So if you want to go back to talking about same-sex marriages and abortions —

    BENNETT: I didn’t say anything about same-sex marriage. I asked about that [Obama’s abortion position].

    BRAZILE: Again, Bill, Senator Obama, perhaps you missed all of the Democratic debates—I didn’t—Senator Obama has talked about all these issues.

    BENNETT: He hasn’t answered the question.

    Yes Gas Prices.

    I like Donna and had the privildge of talking to her on several occasions. She is one of the more interesting polticos out there. Still she should not be honored by XAVIER

  20. April 27, 2009 1:56 pm

    For a nine year old girl to not be forced to carry her rapist stepfather’s offspring, a pregnancy she would probably not have survived, THAT is a human rights issue.

  21. Ursus permalink
    April 27, 2009 2:07 pm

    Henry, I wasn’t making a statement on the quality of the response, which I’m not sure any of us at our current vantage point can know with any accuracy until some time has passed. It is however worth noting that people are withholding a significant amount of money which usually indicates a level of seriousness. Moreover, do you not think it is reasonable to ask whether a “vocal minority” might actually respresent a “silent majority”? Most people rarely protest about anything – even when they feel strongly. The point being is that often the term “vocal minority” is merely used as a rhetorical device to undermine a cause they may have validity and significant backing. I think this is most likely the case in this situation.

    • April 27, 2009 2:12 pm

      Ursus, you feel it is likely to be the case, why? Because you want it to be the case? Seriously, since the majority of ND students VOTED for Obama, even among the Catholics, that should begin to answer the question. More importantly, people are withholding money for many reasons, including the fact we are in a recession. Moreover, you have to ask if the reason why they are opposed to Obama at Notre Dame is all about his pro-choice stand on abortion… there can be many other hidden factors easily covered with a facade of goodness. History shows that often. But what we do have are polls, and the polls show the majority support Obama’s presence. The polls show the majority voted for Obama. Now do I think polls mean much? But I think we should at least be honest with the evidence we have as it now stands.

  22. Dale Price permalink
    April 27, 2009 2:10 pm

    “Why does it appear more like ‘I got to keep away from the Samaritan'”?

    What? No, seriously–what are you getting at with this analogy?

    And: Any thoughts about ND’s use of Glendon’s Laetare award to deflect criticism?

    • April 27, 2009 2:20 pm

      Dale Price

      I think they are right in pointing out who they give that award to, to show that they are indeed interested in the issues of life. Indeed, it would seem a catch-22 situation for them. If they give award, it’s all meant to “deflect criticism” and if they don’t, “see, they aren’t pro-life enough.” It’s a tautology, one which seems to follow the “Notre Dame is bad” meme I’ve seen for sometime. Perhaps a different question is whether or not “abortion” is being used as a cover for other reasons as to why some people are upset Obama will be at Notre Dame? See, we can do that kind of “game.” Or maybe this should be the question: if the Lateran can honor the French President, who is pro-choice, with a higher honor than anything Obama is getting at Notre Dame, why is the criticism all at Obama and not with what happened over at the Vatican? Oh, I know, it’s tradition. So is inviting the new President to Notre Dame!

  23. Kurt permalink
    April 27, 2009 2:29 pm

    Anyway, ND donors have, in one week, said they will withold $8.2 million.

    And can do so without jeopordizing their football tickets!! Don’t want to take sacrifice too far now!

    Anyway, for all I know its $8.2 million from five rich Republicans.


    I don’t think being constantly interrupted by “Gamblin’ Bill” Bennett makes one ineligible to receive a degree from XULA (Obama got one in 2007!).

  24. April 27, 2009 2:32 pm

    Why does it appear more like “I got to keep away from the Samaritan” than it does anything else to me?

    Because you want it to be the case?

  25. April 27, 2009 2:36 pm

    And can do so without jeopordizing their football tickets!! Don’t want to take sacrifice too far now!


  26. April 27, 2009 2:42 pm


    Why would I want it to be the case?

  27. Ursus permalink
    April 27, 2009 2:48 pm

    Michael, Henry, Kurt – thanks for the charity you’ve shown me here. It’s a shining example of our Catholic faith. I’ll go back and fight what I believe to be right with my unconcious, nefarious meta-narrative (racism against a black President and Republican political expediency) underlying my belief that abortion should be priority #1 in Catholic life issues.

  28. Ursus permalink
    April 27, 2009 2:53 pm

    Henry, I just needed your help. Thank you for knowing my motivations better than myself. Keep me in your prayers I discover new and ever darker things in my subconcious.

  29. jeremy permalink
    April 27, 2009 2:56 pm

    I don’t see anything wrong with what she did. She originally thought she was getting an award, but circumstances changed, and the award turned into a political football, and she politically decided to punt it. Can you blame her?

  30. April 27, 2009 3:07 pm

    Why would I want it to be the case?

    That’s between you and your spiritual director.

    I was just repeating the soul-reading question you had asked Ursus.

    • April 27, 2009 3:16 pm


      Where have I said anything about Ursus’ person? You, however, have said something about my person (and not just here on VN; yes, I know exactly what you have said elsewhere, words which did not represent my position, but aimed to insult based upon your strawman).

  31. April 27, 2009 3:18 pm

    And can do so without jeopordizing their football tickets!! Don’t want to take sacrifice too far now!

    With the way they’ve played as late, it may be more of a sacrifice to go to the games.

    • April 27, 2009 3:20 pm

      Solution to the football question: outlaw football. That way no one will have a reason to give money to institutions they would rather not give money to.

  32. jeremy permalink
    April 27, 2009 3:37 pm

    outlaw football.
    No kidding – in fact, I say outlaw any game without a round ball – if you can’t even get the shape of a ball right, you need a little more time in the classroom.

  33. Peter H. permalink
    April 27, 2009 3:38 pm

    Professor Glendon sounds like she didn’t want to write a speech, and fill a role, that she felt was unsuited to a commencement exercise. It’s evident from her letter that her motivation isn’t being on the same platform as Obama – it’s ND turning the Obama invitation into an “invitation to dialogue,” which from the beginning was a ludicrous idea for a commencement. It has nothing to do with “challenging” commencement speeches – it has to do with the nature of a commencement. It is not a debate. And Glendon knows that.

    Let no one impute some sort of political motive to Glendon’s actions. She is a little-known figure in American or Catholic politics. She does no campaigning. She teaches at a fundamentally secular law school and gets no mileage out of being one of the “token Catholics” there. Her decision to refuse the medal takes her out of the limelight, not into it. Obviously people can disagree with her reasoning, but I think her character is beyond doubt here.

  34. April 27, 2009 3:41 pm

    “outlaw football.”

    No kidding – in fact, I say outlaw any game without a round ball – if you can’t even get the shape of a ball right, you need a little more time in the classroom.

    Don’t stop there, outlaw any game without a puck or a round ball played by scantily clad girls on the beach.

  35. April 27, 2009 3:48 pm

    Peter H

    I would remind you, she was told by bishops she should continue to go, because she could use it as an opportunity to teach. In that way, it was not Notre Dame, but the bishops, who suggested that direction, and Notre Dame seemed to like it. Is it wrong for Notre Dame to do so? To suggest that she could be a witness against abortion? What, she shouldn’t speak about abortion? Are you pro-choice?!

  36. April 27, 2009 3:50 pm


    I think we should just outlaw the association of sports with universities beyond amateur clubs; no money should be associated with sports, and that way, the university can stop giving awards and honors to those who are pro-abortion and play sports.

  37. jonathanjones02 permalink
    April 27, 2009 4:03 pm

    Outstanding news. I saw her briefly in Rome at Christmas and regret not talking more in depth. This action should be strongly commended.

    The significance of Glendon’s refusal is enormous. The most accomplished Catholic laywoman in America — former ambassador of the United States to the Holy See and current president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences — has refused to accept Notre Dame’s highest honor. It is a signal moment for the Catholic Church in the United States. It is a signal moment for the Church’s public witness. It is may even be a signal moment for Notre Dame. What Glendon will not say at Notre Dame will finally be a fitting response to what Gov. Mario Cuomo said there some 25 years ago.

    It has been 25 years of deliberate confusion, ambiguity and equivocation at Notre Dame in regard to her presidents — Fathers Hesburgh, Molloy and Jenkins — and abortion politics. What New York Gov. Mario Cuomo did in 1984 was with the willing connivance of Father Theodore Hesburgh. Father Jenkins thought he could outdo the master himself, but he has been taught that this is no longer Father Ted’s Notre Dame. Notre Dame is no longer untouchable by the American bishops and the lay faithful.

  38. Kurt permalink
    April 27, 2009 4:09 pm

    Dear Ursus,

    I thank you for contributing your thoughts and opinions. I am appreciative. However, I don’t feel charity requires me to refrain from noting that in the “replace jenkins” link you posted (referring the the Very Rev. Fr. Jenkins), the webpage goes to pains (with underscoring and CAPS) to show how ND alumni can withhold donations without jepordizing their access to football tickets.

    Given what I find to be the rather strong history of political conservativism supporting the interests of the economically powerful, I think it is fair to ask how many people this $8 million represents.

    I fully respect the discernments you have made about the defense of human life — the political strategies you find advantageous, the programs, initiatives, and policies you think are beneficial and effective, the way you choose to intergrate this advocacy with other important issues, etc.

    I simply wish you would give that same respect to the discernment of others.

  39. M.Z. permalink
    April 27, 2009 4:13 pm

    I’m still trying to figure out what we won, whether that we is the bishops that opposed Obama coming to Notre Dame or the people that insisted that his coming should trump the wishes of significant members of the episcopate. Losers are easier to find:
    1) The Laetare Medal itself.
    2) Notre Dame
    3) The episcopacy’s relationship with their flock.
    4) The church’s relationship with the Democratic Party.
    5) Concommitant to (4), the Church’s relationship with those that make law and policy.

    I am assured by everyone though that none of this is really important.

  40. digbydolben permalink
    April 27, 2009 4:20 pm

    If I were Obama, I’d make darn sure that I refused Notre Dame’s invitation now, and I’d appoint Kmiec as United States ambassador to the Vatican, and I’d end all “dialogue” with the American Catholic Church.

    America is not a Catholic country, and if the vocal minority of right-wing American Catholics want to continue to put their church into the position of being the increasingly unpopular “Republican Party on its knees,” I say let them do it, and see how far it gets them in actually BEING instrumental in countering the “culture of death”!

  41. Kurt permalink
    April 27, 2009 4:38 pm

    There was some indication that the President was thinking of using this opportunity to outline a new immigration policy, the thinking being that if you are going to talk about immigration, you talk to a Catholic audience and the Catholic Church is your #1 partner in all of this. Given <10% of the bishops have negatively shot off their mouths about this, it may still happen. But it certainly has to be tempting to to give a pedestrian speech and then go engage the Presbyterians on the immigration issue. Should help with the Korean-American vote.

  42. April 27, 2009 5:18 pm

    Oh Kurt


    A Predident in Chief that betrayed people on an immigration Policy!!!

    I love this in a way. We had a GOP guy that was in their corner but Catholic Social Justice Catholics Types killed Mccain over it thought McCain was their their friend

    Perhaps another Judas moment of mostly white Deomocrat Catholics that thought we can get Health care if only we screw the Mexicans

    A litte bit of “conseqentalism” that is not popilar on here

  43. April 27, 2009 5:51 pm

    If only WE were more like germany.

  44. April 27, 2009 6:57 pm


    I think you bring up great points. How is any of this helping us evangelize the culture?


    Unfortunately, I don’t know how to trackback on blogger, but I’ve written a related post comparing this with the issues local to me of Brazile speaking at Xavier and Jindal at Loyola.

    What role does scandal have in all this? Is ND causing scandal? Would they have been without all the controversy? Can Xavier or Loyola cause scandal on a smaller scale? Would Jindal be less scandalous b/c he is wrong on capital punishment rather than abortion? Can we affording to be inconsistent?
    How can we effectively dialogue with the culture in this atmosphere?

  45. digbydolben permalink
    April 28, 2009 1:35 am

    The people who comment on the Op-Ed columns in the New York Times have more sense than most of the folks who comment here:

  46. grega permalink
    April 28, 2009 9:15 am

    Thanks for the link digbydolben – I certainly very much enjoyed those comments -of course chances are the New York Times reaches a much broader audience than this site – and obviously draws from a much larger pool of comments.
    Thus it is a bit unfair to the fine engaged folks behind this blog and the various contributors to fundamentally question their judgment.

    Personally I fully agree with you and find this sudden American Catholic ‘Sturm und Drang’ more than a tad deliberate and faux ‘dramatic’.
    Plenty of folks that could not be bothered the prior eight years around here to stand up for catholic core virtues now all of a sudden attempt to cover their shortcomings and wrap themselves into the blanket of ‘Abortion’.
    But hey this is a free world – may the best argument prevail. For the time being most democratic and industrialized societies gravitate toward the kind of solution to the issue of Abortion on the books in our various countries.
    It is obvious that quite a few rather respectable and serious folks like for example Prof.Glendon come to a different conclusion than you and me.
    The dirty little secret is 75% of the citizenry perhaps do not have the stomach to truly see through a re criminalization of Abortion.
    Look how great that sort of legislation of morals works in Arab countries.
    Friend and foo in the West are rather comfortable with the status quo. We did not arrive here by accident.

  47. Ronald King permalink
    April 28, 2009 9:28 am

    I am extremely disappointed that Glendon has declined to participate at commencement. It seems to me that we are not to be conformed to the ways of the world. Yet, by her refusal to attend she exhibits being conformed to the defense of avoidance of unwanted distress thereby increasing the distress associated with this experience. I do not say that she is wrong for refusing to attend because she may have felt too conflicted or fearful to participate in this controversy.
    It seems to me that a strong faith would enable us to directly face those who differ from us in belief and provide us with the words needed to express our faith in a way in which God is working through us to create the best possible environment for conversion. By opposing and/or avoiding Obama’s visit the expression of our faith is being mutated into human emotions that depict opposition instead of wisdom.

  48. digbydolben permalink
    April 28, 2009 9:41 am

    Amen, Ronald.

  49. April 28, 2009 10:09 am


    I don’t for a second think Glendon is fearful of Obama. Put her in a debate setting with Obama and I think she’d wipe the floor with him.

    What Glendon is saying is that a commencement is not that setting. Commencement is not a time to engage in an abortion debate, yet that was what Notre Dame seemed to want her to do in order to justify its Obama invitation. Notre Dame was cheapening the Laetare Medal, the Commencement, everything. Glendon as a matter of principle refused to be a part of it, instead choosing to uphold the dignity of the Medal and the rest.

    • April 28, 2009 10:13 am

      “Commencement is not a time to engage in an abortion debate” unless you are Cardinal Arinze and anyone who says it is not the proper place are wrong.

      Since it is a Catholic institution, since her award would have been based upon her work with life, since bishops told her to do so, it IS the proper place.

  50. Ronald King permalink
    April 28, 2009 10:41 am

    Michael, The honorary degree and the Laetare Medal are human awards that are representations of achievements as recognized by the particular institutions that create them. These ceremonies are structures that human beings have created as symbols of achievements.
    God and faith are not limited to these structures. God and faith have no limits except in our perception.
    My limited perception now demands that I go and earn a living.
    God Bless.

  51. Dale Price permalink
    April 28, 2009 4:25 pm

    “since bishops told her to do so”

    No. One bishop–D’Arcy–*encouraged* her to speak.

    And that was before ND advertised that she was the fig leaf, suggesting that the Laetare was a crude exercise in political calculation. As was confirmed by Jenkins’ promise to regift ASAP. No, the woman’s place was properly dictated by her conscience.

    Putting the blame on Glendon–going so far as to accuse her of cowardice, on no evidence whatsoever–is a remarkable exercise in mental gymnastics. It also does a fine job of exonerating the clerical bureaucrat who created the problem.

  52. April 28, 2009 6:32 pm

    One wonders what Glendon’s original acceptance speech said. Why did she feel she could not deliver it with Obama present? Did she have a mere lack of courage? Or was there something else? Why did she feel it necessary to rewrite her speech? Was she anticipating a captive audience? Did Obama’s presence complicate the scenario she envisioned? Did her message suddenly seem small? If so, why and how?

    Clearly, much went on before her letter was written. She struggled to write a new speech but ultimately failed. She agonized. She couldn’t visualize how she would fit in the larger venue defined by Obama’s presence. She realized her award was not to be an unmixed blessing. Increasingly, the event looked messy, a curse. Unable to reconcile the tension, she decided the only way forward was to decline. But decline was a fear-driven response.

    Glendon’s written rationale is not persuasive. At most, it is an afterthought. But it allowed her to retreat to a more comfortable place. So be it. The world moves on.

  53. David Nickol permalink
    April 28, 2009 6:42 pm

    And that was before ND advertised that she was the fig leaf, suggesting that the Laetare was a crude exercise in political calculation. As was confirmed by Jenkins’ promise to regift ASAP. No, the woman’s place was properly dictated by her conscience.


    I am curious as to why — if it is a clear-cut violation of a directive given by the American bishops for Obama to be invited to give a commencement speech and get an honorary degree at Notre Dame — it took so long for Mary Ann Glendon to back out. It seems to me that mounting pressure must be the reason. I am not necessarily criticizing her for ultimately making the decision she did. It just seems that if it was the obvious thing to do, on principle, it would have come sooner.

    And of course it seems to me many people, including Bishop D’Arcy himself, suggested she would be a counterbalance to Obama. He said on March 4, “I have encouraged her [Mary Ann Glendon] to accept this award and take the opportunity such an award gives her to teach.”

  54. David Nickol permalink
    April 28, 2009 6:49 pm

    Clearly, much went on before her letter was written. She struggled to write a new speech but ultimately failed. She agonized. She couldn’t visualize how she would fit in the larger venue defined by Obama’s presence. She realized her award was not to be an unmixed blessing. Increasingly, the event looked messy, a curse.


    Expand on this and you have a novel — a psychological thriller. This is the first time I have read to the end of a Vox Nova comment because it was suspenseful!

    I think you are clearly correct, and I am not being sarcastic or facetious. It would be fascinating to know what went on behind the scenes. I believe she has made a point of saying, however, that she will have no further comment.

  55. April 28, 2009 7:22 pm


    You made me laugh. I wish I could write novels. Not in my blood though.

    But there is more to the story. She alludes to it in her letter. But, like you said, she has no plans for further comment. Oh well.

  56. Dale Price permalink
    April 29, 2009 11:52 am


    Well, we could take her at her word, which suggests that the Laetare was awarded with mixed motives, and she was the “equal time.” Rather like the relatives invited to round out Bilbo’s gross at his eleventy first birthday party.

    Note also that she (properly) does not object to Obama speaking, but rather the conferral of the honorary degree.

    My rebuttal to those who criticize her is to ask why it is that Notre Dame needs an outsider to present the pro-life position? Norte Dame isn’t a conference center hosting a seminar–it is a Catholic university, and thus has a dog in the fight.

    Now is the time for Fr. Jenkins himself to step into the void to give witness to the truth, firmly and charitably. He can give a speech instead of engaging in a sordid, hasty search for a replacement.

    He’s the only one who can mend things at this point, and it is his responsibility to do so.

  57. Kurt permalink
    April 29, 2009 12:11 pm

    He’s the only one who can mend things at this point…

    There is nothing that needs mending. Fr. Jenkins is doing the right thing by just moving ahead.

    As for Glendon, she helped award Obama a law degree once. If she doesn’t want to participate in doing so a second time, that is her decision.

  58. Dale Price permalink
    April 29, 2009 1:22 pm

    “There is nothing that needs mending.”


    Regardless, Fr. Jenkins can still give that speech. Notre Dame is not a caterer. It is an institution that gives witness to Catholic truths. At least that’s what the fundraising letters and course catalogues say.

    It doesn’t need to hire a proxy to do that witness.

  59. April 29, 2009 2:09 pm

    As for Glendon, she helped award Obama a law degree once. If she doesn’t want to participate in doing so a second time,…
    To assume that a given individual might fall for a line like that implies an astonishingly low regard on your part — bordering on contempt — for his or her basic intellect. And yet, it explains so much about all your other posting here.

  60. Kurt permalink
    April 29, 2009 2:39 pm


    If the President says anything at ND that attacks Catholic Truth, then I am sure the Very Rev. Fr. Jenkins will rise to the occassion.

    As far as the theory that the President’s mere physical presence is an attack on Catholic truth, Notre Dame has joined with all other decent people in rejecting that theory. I don’t think it is open to discussion.

  61. April 30, 2009 9:22 am

    Now, no one is going to get the award this year. But someone who has been given it before will speak– Judge Noonan, who, among other things, has led the NRLC.

    So, I wonder what all the voices will say about that. Is he not pro-life enough that he will help in the honor of Obama? Is he wrong in thinking he can speak at a commencement? Or will the new voice be something else this time?

  62. April 30, 2009 10:22 am


    Fr. Jenkins appears to have made a good decision. My sense is they could not have chosen another recipient this year without cheapening the award.

    I wonder how this episode will look in ten years time. Will it be a watershed moment or an exhibition of silliness?

  63. April 30, 2009 11:12 am

    Excellent move by Mary Ann Glendon.

    I echo Kat’s and Michael I.’s comments.

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