Laetare medal misstep
Eddie Damstra | Thursday, March 17, 2016
Earlier this month, the University of Notre Dame announced this year’s Laetare Medal recipients. According to the University website, the award, which has been awarded since 1883, “is presented annually to an American Catholic in recognition of outstanding service to the Church and society.” In order to emphasize its significance, the university website notes that the medal “is considered the oldest and most prestigious award for American Catholics.”
This year, the University of Notre Dame decided to give the prestigious Laetare medal to two men: Vice President Joe Biden and former Speaker of the House John Boehner. When I learned that Joe Biden would be receiving the Laetare medal, I was gravely disappointed. The decision to award Biden upsets me and I am not even Catholic. Given that I am Protestant, some may wonder why I am so passionately disappointed with the University’s decision. Some may even question whether I have the right to judge the University’s decision. The reason for my disappointment is found in the decision’s inherent hypocrisy. One does not need to be Catholic to recognize blatant inconsistencies between a description of an award and the words and actions of its recipient.
While I recognize that Joe Biden is a Catholic who has garnered immense success within the American political system, I also am forced to acknowledge the fact that Biden’s success is filled with support of ideas and legislation that are indisputably and absolutely opposed to basic Catholic doctrine. Joe Biden vocally supports the legality of abortion and has displayed so through his voting record.
The National Right to Life Committee, which rates politicians based on the degree to which they support legislation that protects the unborn, has given Vice President Biden extremely low ratings throughout his political career, often times rating his support for legislation protecting the unborn at zero percent. Conversely, Biden scored very high with the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) Pro-Choice America, often receiving ratings of 100 percent for supporting legislation that furthered the pro-abortion cause. This voting record is in direct conflict with Catholic doctrine. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person — among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.” Biden’s political history is not in line with this doctrine. Joe Biden has chosen not to utilize his power and influence to protect the unborn.
It is important to note that I do not intend for this article to be a political cheap shot at the Vice President. My political affiliation has nothing to do with my disappointment with the University’s decision. I respect the Vice President and do not doubt that he is a faithful Catholic. However, the fact of the matter is Joe Biden has endorsed a position that is against a fundamental moral principle of the Church. While this obviously does not mean he can not be Catholic, it does mean that he can not be awarded the “most prestigious award for American Catholics.” I would love for the University to invite Joe Biden to speak and engage in discussion, as that is the purpose of true education. However, presenting the Vice President with the Laetare Medal is wrong, and it undermines the meaning of what the award represents.
In addition to evaluating the University’s decision to award Joe Biden, it is also important to assess the decision to award the Laetare Medal to former Speaker of the House John Boehner. However, I believe that judging the decision to give the Laetare Medal to John Boehner is much more difficult. While Joe Biden’s political history presents a rather stark divergence from the Church on a core fundamental principle, the grievances many have with John Boehner receiving the award seem to center on issues that are less black and white in terms of Church doctrine.
Some would argue that the former Speaker is misaligned with the Church on the issue of immigration, maintaining that Boehner is in favor of overly stringent immigration laws. Others may insist that Boehner’s position on social welfare programs are inconsistent with the Church.
Given that I am not Catholic, I find it hard to judge whether Boehner’s positions are in line with the Church. I do know that the Catholic Church, and Christianity as a whole, is open to all and embraces immigrants. I also know that many within the Church disagree over what specific laws should be in place and how they should be enforced. Similarly, I know that the Catholic Church, and Christianity as a whole, is devoted to serving the poor and disenfranchised. However, there are many disagreements amongst prominent Catholics over the methods of serving the poor and the role government should play. Social welfare programs and immigration policy are hotly debated within the Catholic, and there is often not a clear answer.
I do not know if John Boehner is deserving of the Laetare Medal. Being a part of a different sect of Christianity makes it difficult for me to judge whether someone’s positions are in line with the Catholic Church unless there is explicit and generally agreed-upon teaching on the matter.
What I do know, however, is that Joe Biden should not be given the Laetare Medal. The reason I am able to say so is due to the stark contrast between Vice President Biden’s support for abortion and the explicit and universally agreed-upon doctrine within the Church that emphasizes the importance of protecting the unborn. I believe that an award that is, according to Notre Dame’s statement on the matter, supposed to honor those “whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church and enriched the heritage of humanity” should not be bestowed upon an individual who actively promotes the legality of abortion. Supporting and promoting legislation that is associated with the murders of thousands of innocent human lives each day is not enriching the “heritage of humanity” but rather harming it.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.