Catholic World News has the story, and the text of Glendon’s letter to UND president Fr. John Jenkins:
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
Yours Very Truly,
Mary Ann Glendon
I wondered how long it would take Ambassador Glendon to bail on Notre Dame. In this letter she specifically cites Notre Dame talking points which regard her as some sort of balance for the dastardly deed of inviting President Obama, but those points were not raised initially by Notre Dame. The first place I read them was in a post by on America Magazine by Micheal Sean Winter on March 23. In this post he stated: "This crowd of conservatives does not own the Catholic Church. They certainly do not own Notre Dame. They are about to find out that they do not own Dr. Glendon either." It looks like they do own Dr. Glendon.
There's really not a great deal left to say about this situation. It saddens me that Dr. Glendon decided it was in her best interests to turn down the Laetare Medal. I see it is as a capitulation on her part to right wing political interests. She may have held out as long as she did hoping the heat would die down, but apparently she doesn't really understand the mentality of the people who were responsible for her own political successes. Perhaps it was pay back time.
In this letter she blames it specifically on Notre Dame's conferring an honorary degree in violation of the USCCB's 2004 letter which states that Catholic universities should not confer honors on those who are in direct defiance of Catholic moral principles. She does not mention that Notre Dame sought the advice of canon lawyers as to whether this letter pertained to non Catholics who are under no obligation to support Catholic moral doctrine. It seems these lawyers determined the letter did not apply to non Catholics. I guess it doesn't matter what canon lawyers think in the face of the opposition of less than 10% of the USCCB. This is a classic case of tyranny by a tiny minority over the much more vast silent majority. That's pretty much been the case in American Catholicism for the last decade. Catholicism may not be a democracy, but it's also not supposed to be a tyranny of the few over the many.
It looks to me that Dr. Glendon has decided it's better to be exploited by the right than give the perception of being exploited by the left. Which says it's not about Catholicism per se, it's about who you will let exploit you. If Dr. Glendon was operating out of personal conviction she would have turned down the Laetare Medal as soon as she heard Obama was to give the commencement address and receive an honorary degree. The fact it's taken her six weeks to come to this decision speaks more about concession to political interests than to her convictions.
It appears to me as if the Notre Dame brouhaha is all about posturing and politics. In the end not one unborn child is saved and that makes the whole thing repulsive. The backlash is coming.