Ratcheting up the pressure on Notre Dame to rescind its invitation to President Obama to deliver its 2009 commencement address and receive a honorary degree, the Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon announced today that she would be turning down a significant award bestowed by the university. Glendon, a longtime consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and former ambassador to the Vatican, was to receive the 2009 Laetare Medal, described by Notre Dame as the most prestigious award given to Catholics each year. It recognizes those "whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church and enriched the heritage of humanity." (Martin Sheen won last year, for his humanitarian work and perhaps also for making President Bartlet, of "The West Wing," a proud Notre Dame alumnus; Dorothy Day is another past honoree.)
In a letter to Notre Dame's president, the Rev. John I. Jenkins, posted on the Web site of First Things (on whose editorial board she serves), Glendon wrote that she was delighted to learn, in December, that she'd be receiving the medal, and began preparing some remarks. But when she learned, last month, that Obama would be not only speaking but being honored, she was dismayed: "This, as you must know," she writes to Jenkins, "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.'" The point of contention is Obama's support of legalized abortion.
At first, Glendon planned to criticize the Obama invitation in her own speech. But then she read that Notre Dame was using her presence at commencement as part of its defense of its Obama decision.
She quotes from an unidentified press-office document: "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." Well, not anymore, she won't.
Glendon's goal, she says, is to prevent an "unfortunate ripple effect" whereby more and more Catholic universities, following Notre Dame's lead, ignore the edict on honoring public figures who support legal abortion.
In 1996, Glendon herself received an honorary degree from the university, and gave its commencement address.
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