The Bravery of Glendon


Mary Ann Glendon

Mary Ann Glendon

While some leading Catholic universities in America are so anxious to curry favor with the secular culture that they are willing to compromise their very identity, one woman stands unafraid…

By Andrew Rabel

MONDAY, APRIL 26, 2009

Dear friends,

I am here late in the evening in the office of Inside the Vatican in Rome, and I have just learnt this fabulous news- that the former US Ambassador to the Holy See, the Catholic professor of law at Harvard, Mary Ann Glendon, has declined Notre Dame University’s invitation to attend its commencement in May and receive an award.

 Let me tell you, I am no gymnast, but I have been doing cartwheels over the wooden floor.

 But to be serious, this is one of the most extraordinary actions taken by a Catholic for a long time, due to the outrage she and many of us fellow Catholics feel at the decision to invite President Barack Obama to Notre Dame University to give the commencement address there next month, despite the fact that he is the most pro-abortion president the US has ever had.
I have just been on the phone to Mary Ann’s daughter, Elizabeth Lev, who works as an art historian and occasional columnist here in the Eternal City, and she is as delighted as I am.

Mary Ann was being used by the likes of Fr Jenkins (Notre Dame’s president) and company, to give the event some respectability.

After a succession of less than traditional Catholic American women in recent years, like Geraldine Ferraro, Nancy Pelosi, and Kathleen Sebelius, here is one American woman who shines with her love for Jesus Christ and His Church and who abhors this terrible destruction of lives in the womb.

Hopefully the spirit of St Thomas More will come back to more Catholics in public life, at this time.

Mary Ann, we are so proud of you. It can’t be a coincidence that you have the names of the mother and grandmother of Our Lord in your name. God bless.

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

Mary Ann Glendon is Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. A member of the editorial and advisory board of First Things, she served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican from 2007 to 2009.

 Mr. Peters presents an excellent observation on the AMERICAN PAPIST


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