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Professor Rejects Notre Dame Medal Over Obama Invite

5 years ago
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The drama over President Barack Obama speaking at Notre Dame's Commencement heightened again Monday when the woman the University had announced would receive a special medal at the ceremony declared she would no longer accept it due to the Obama invitation.
Mary Ann Glendon, the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and current Harvard Law School professor, was due to receive the 2009 Laetare Medal, the oldest and most prestigious honor given to American Catholics. The medal was established at Notre Dame in 1883 and has been awarded annually to Catholics including President John F. Kennedy, Catholic Worker foundress Dorothy Day and actor and social activist Martin Sheen.

Notre Dame announced publicly on March 22 that Glendon would receive the medal at the May 17 Commencement ceremony, but Monday Glendon sent a letter to Notre Dame president Fr. John Jenkins, saying thanks but no thanks to the award. Glendon recounts in her letter, which is posted on the Christian Broadcasting Network's Web site, that she learned she'd been awarded the medal in December and started preparing for her speech to the graduating class. When Glendon, who is strongly anti-abortion, found out Obama would be speaking, she decided to rewrite her speech.

But she realized rewriting the speech wasn't enough, she said in the letter. She disagreed with Notre Dame's decision to award Obama an honorary degree, which she views in violation of a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops document regarding honoring people who espouse views contrary to the Catholic Church. She also did not like that Notre Dame was claiming her speech would serve to balance the event.

A commencement, she said, "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."

Glendon, like many others who have spoken out against the Obama invitation, opposes Obama's pro-choice stances and decisions.

But Glendon has been trained in diplomacy. Shouldn't being in the same place and engaging someone of an opposing view be right up her alley? Wouldn't the better decision be to use her platform -- or at least her proximity -- to persuade Obama to change his views?

Her diplomatic style seems to be less suited for U.S.-Vatican relations and more for U.S.-Cuba relations.

This is one more headache for Jenkins, Notre Dame's president, who is probably already making plans to find the least controversial figure in America to speak at commencement next year. He issued a statement Monday in response to Glendon's decision to say no to the medal.

"We are, of course, disappointed that Professor Glendon has made this decision," Jenkins said in the statement. "It is our decision to grant the Laetare Medal to another deserving recipient, and we will make that announcement as soon as possible."

That's going to be an awkward phone call.

"Hey, Fr. Jenkins here. You weren't our first choice, but you're a pretty outstanding Catholic person, too. ... You'll take it? Great! Oh, by the way, you also have to give a speech in three weeks. In front of 2,000 students and their families. And the President of the United States. And it will probably be on television. And everyone will think the award is disingenuous because you were our second choice. Good luck coming up with something!"

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