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Catholic Social Teaching and Laetare honorees

| Monday, March 21, 2016

In a letter published in The Observer on March 18 entitled, “Objections to the Laetare Medal Decision,” several students criticized the University and its administrators, specifically Fr. Jenkins, for their decision to award the Laetare Medal to Vice President Joe Biden and former Speaker of the House John Boehner. The authors of the aforementioned article objected heavily to Biden’s reception of the award, with little to no evaluation of Boehner’s right to the same honor. The letter states that “giving the award to Speaker Boehner at the same time [it is given to Biden] does not alleviate the scandal committed by the University,” suggesting Boehner deserves the award.

The letter focuses on Biden’s stance on two contentious issues: same-sex marriage and abortion. The authors are correct in one sense: Biden’s views on both issues run contrary to Church teachings. This is irrefutable. However, the authors mysteriously neglect to mention Boehner’s own political positions, including both their practical implications, and consistencies with Church doctrine. Yes, Boehner’s views on same-sex marriage and abortion align with those of the Church. Despite this, his political positions regarding immigration, environmental issues and capital punishment are lacking in the face of Catholic Social Teaching (CST).

On the issue of immigration, CST maintains that individuals have the right to “migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families.” CST also calls on countries to “regulate their borders with both justice and mercy.” On any given day, roughly 30,000 illegal immigrants face detention in the United States with the threat of deportation and separation from their families. In 2013, Boehner infamously refused to hold a House vote on a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill — despite it having enough votes to pass — in an effort to appease his far-right colleagues. The bill would have provided a path to citizenship and deportation relief for productive workers and children. Additionally, House Republicans under Boehner’s leadership have approved bills that would terminate the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, effectively eliminating deportation relief for over 500,000 young immigrants. These are just a few examples of Boehner’s failure to live out his Catholic faith by acting compassionately toward those who have “migrated to sustain their lives.”

The Church’s stance on environmental issues has always been made crystal clear. Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” addresses climate change, calling global warming the product of “great concentration of greenhouse gases released mainly as a result of human activity.” In his final encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate,” Pope Benedict notes that “the protection of the environment, of resources and of the climate obliges all international leaders to act justly and to show a readiness to work in good faith.” Despite these Papal addresses, Boehner voted against both the enforcement of CO2 pollution limits and tax credits for investors in renewable energy. In 2009, Boehner wavered in acknowledging human contribution to global warming, stating that the “idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical.”

Finally, both Boehner and Biden have actively supported the death penalty. Boehner, by voting “no” on a bill that would have changed death penalty sentences to life imprisonment and by voting to suspend the rights of habeas corpus in death penalty appeals cases. These positions blatantly ignore the Church’s stance on the right to life — a concept the previous viewpoint’s authors argue so passionately for.

Both the assessment and challenge of the worthiness of Laetare Medal recipients is certainly important. After all, the University touts it as “the oldest and most prestigious award for American Catholics.” However, in failing to equally examine both recipients of the award, the issue is placed under a staunchly partisan lens, only giving a greater voice to Fr. Jenkins’ warning that those “who disagree often will vilify, attack, demean the opposition and [thereby] cannot work with the opposition,” which causes an “impasse of acrimony of intransigence” that “doesn’t serve society.” While “attack” and “demean” are perhaps strong words to describe the previous viewpoint’s criticisms of Biden, their critiques undoubtedly fall the hardest on the political left’s nominee and ignore the right’s, despite the numerous disparities between both awardees’ stances and those of the Catholic Church. Such obvious partisan bias leads to an unfair assessment of the issue and fails to contribute any constructive commentary regarding how the University should award the Laetare Medal.

Performing thorough reviews of the honorees is an important exercise. However, it is unproductive to do so when one maintains a preference for certain ideologies and issues.  We do not wish to endorse or refute either awardees’ worthiness to receive this honor, but simply calls on dissenters of the University’s decision to acknowledge the importance of all Catholic Social Teachings, not simply those they believe are the most important.

Jake Maginn

Micaela Powers

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • MC

    I agree fully with these article. I don’t think either truly deserves the award, even though I have huge political respect for both. Neither has really committed themselves to Catholicism in a way that merits such a prestigious honor.

  • Two enthusiastic thumbs-up Michaela and Jake!

  • Annette Magjuka

    Thank you for a thoughtful letter. I agree with your analysis. The two award recipients are Catholics who live in a secular world and practice their faith according to conscience. It is important for Catholics to understand the importance of lifelong conscience formation, and the responsibility that comes with it. These two men are very different politically, but both are Catholics. I applaud Fr. Jenkins for nominating both men.

  • John Robin

    Good points. The Church certainly teaches there are many social issues of great importance. Yet it does not teach that all social issues are of equal priority. Certainly it is important to improve our immigration system, our care for the environment, and the American penal system. And honest people may debate about how best to accomplish those goals.

    But no properly formed conscience -Catholic or otherwise- can fail to recognize that legal elective abortion is an injustice whose gravity is no less than legal slavery was in the U.S. in the nineteenth century. The injury is profound, and the number of victims staggering.

    Slavery tore a gaping wound in the soul of our nation, a wound which has not fully healed. Abortion is cutting a new wound of even greater magnitude. It is right to strongly emphasize its high priority in the hierarchy of pressing moral issues.

    Really… What was Notre Dame thinking?

    • NDaniels

      It appears that there are those who profess to be Catholic who believe that as long as we continue to debate The Truth, we do not need to embrace The Truth. Let us Pray for the “courage to be Catholic”.
      Who can deny the Sanctity of human life from the moment of our conception, when we were created In The Image and Likeness of God, equal in Dignity, while being complementary as a beloved son or daughter, and the Sanctity of marriage and the family as God intended, and believe that “A Catholic university draws its basic inspiration from Jesus Christ as the source of wisdom and from the conviction that in him all things can be brought to their completion”.

      Truth will not contradict The Word of God.

      The issue we confront is not due to politics or policy, it is one of universal truth. We can know through both Faith and Reason, confirmed by Science, that speciation occurs at the moment of our conception; a human person can only conceive a human person, thus every son or daughter of a human person can only be a human person. Only a man and woman can exist in relationship as husband and wife as marriage cannot in essence be existing in relationship as husband and wife, and not existing in relationship as husband and wife, simultaneously.

      “Love Thee, Notre Dame”

      • Mr. Pockets

        Would you agree that support for the death penalty would also disqualify one as it shows an equal disregard for human life?

        • John Robin

          I would not agree with that assertion, nor does that position fully agree with Catholic teaching. Even Pope John Paul II who argued passionately in opposition to the use of the death penalty, did not deny that the death penalty may be justifiable in some circumstances. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, echoing Pope St. John Paul II, says, “the cases in which execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.'” (CCC 2258-2330) Very rare, but not necessarily nonexistent.

          By contrast, the Catechism states, “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception… Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable.” (CCC 2270-2271) In other words, a direct abortion, deliberately procured, is never justified.

          Therefore, it would be inconsistent with Catholic teaching to confuse abortion and the death penalty as equally evil.

          • RandallPoopenmeyer

            What you are missing is that John Paul said that because the option of life in prison exists there is not a justification for the death penalty.
            Besides, why do I have to live by your bible?

          • John Robin

            Hi, Randall,
            1. I didn’t miss that, actually. That possibility is evident in the reference I provided: CCC 2258-2330. However, that option does not necessarily exist always and everywhere, and this is why the death penalty can sometimes be a legitimate option, in the view of JPII and the Catholic Church.
            2. You don’t have to live by “my” Bible. It’s not my Bible, it’s God’s. I can’t hold you accountable for living by it, but eventually we’ll all have to answer to God. Since every one of us falls short of the mark in some way, our only hope to is to seek God’s mercy. Fortunately, God has revealed that He is full of mercy and desires to offer us mercy.

          • RandallPoopenmeyer

            Your god is not my god.
            What the heck makes you think your god is right and real, but Thor, Zeus and every other god is wrong and fake?

          • John Robin

            Randall, well, as far as I can tell Thor and Zeus are nothing more than interesting mythological characters without real existence.

            In contrast, Jesus of Nazareth is a real, historical figure who lived and died about 2000 years ago. It is recorded by His contemporaries that He claimed to be God. Of course that doesn’t make Him God. Perhaps He was either delusional or a liar.

            But the fact that He prophesied His own crucifixion, death, and resurrection, and then rose from the dead in fulfillment of those prophecies, persuades me that His words are trustworthy. His disciples were so convinced of this that most of them died martyrs’ deaths refusing to recant their testimony. I’m aware of no other “god” that has that kind of historical credentials.

            Because of the evidence found in the Bible and in secular history, I’m convinced that Jesus is exactly whom He claimed to be: God.

          • RandallPoopenmeyer

            Well, when YOU figure out why you dismiss other religions, you will understand why I dismiss yours.

          • John Robin

            Randall, an essential mark of sanity is differentiating between truth and fiction, reality and fantasy. I try to have sincere love and respect toward people regardless of their religious beliefs. But I’m not going to pretend that all religions are equally anchored in the truth. Respect and tolerance require treating people well, but this does not require agreeing with everyone else’s beliefs: nor is it possible, as different people hold contradictory beliefs.

          • RandallPoopenmeyer

            There have been religions that have lived and died before anyone else knew they existed. Zeus and such were a part of an ancient religion, meaning it is, well, ancient, more so than your religion, so it is obviously harder for people to find any evidence, artifacts, scriptures, etc talking about it.
            Someone obviously created those religions, and don’t forget that Muhammad and Joe Smith were real people as well…
            so again… what is your proof that you are right?

          • John Robin

            Randall, it doesn’t really matter which religion is the oldest. What matters is which is true, and which has the best evidence supporting it. Joseph Smith is dead. Muhammed is dead. Both of them claimed to be God’s prophets, but frankly I have no reason to believe those claims are true. I have no reason to believe either worked any miracles.

            Jesus Christ claimed to be God. He worked miracles in the presence of witnesses. He predicted His arrest, torture, crucifixion, death, and resurrection, all of which took place. He was subsequently seen by numerous witnesses, many of whom were tortured and killed because they would not recant their testimony of what they had seen. He was believed and followed by thousands when doing so was illegal and brought a sentence of ridicule, torture, and death. These are historical facts. This persuades me that Jesus was trusted by those who personally knew Him, and can be believed and trusted today. He can be trusted when He says: that He and His heavenly Father are one; that He loves us as His children, despite our sins and defects; that He offers us complete forgiveness, a fresh start, and a new life; that He will never abandon us if we ask for His mercy. He is not a god like Zeus or Thor, who ruled by ruthless force. Rather, He’s the God who came as a servant, out of love for us, to suffer and die for us, and to save us and bring us eternal life.

            It’s quite a deal, Randall! But if you’re still skeptical, I suggest a very simple experiment. Try talking to God… “If you’re really there, Heavenly Father, please help me understand the truth about you.” And keep open your eyes, mind, and heart. I am certain He will not ignore such a sincere request.

    • RandallPoopenmeyer

      I see forcing women to be incubators as slavery…

      • aguest

        You see incubators, some see dead children.

        • RandallPoopenmeyer

          I see my body, as under my control. No matter what.

      • John Robin

        Merriam-Webster defines “incubator” as, “an apparatus by which eggs are hatched artificially…”.

        Randall, your comment implies that you view pregnant women as incubators, whether willing or unwilling. That view is rather demeaning toward women and motherhood. It suggests your perspective of this topic is distorted by a rather low view of womanhood, as well as of the unborn child.

        You do realize that you were a developing fetus years ago, don’t you? But now that you have survived your prenatal phase without being dissected and vacuumed from your mother’s uterus, you don’t feel that other unborn children likewise deserve to be permitted to live?

        • RandallPoopenmeyer

          The definitions I found say nothing about it being artificial, but just a means to gestate offspring. Not like it matters. I don’t care what I was years ago, if my mother did not want me, I would want her to do what was best for her. I would be dead, so I wouldn’t care about anything. I think that women should have 100% control over their bodies at all times. I am a woman, so I am not being demeaning towards women, you are.

          • John Robin

            1. That’s odd, Randall, because every single credible definition of “incubator” that I found in this context refers to a “device” or “apparatus”. Where did you find your definitions?
            2. Your suggestion that you’d have no reason to object if your mother had killed you, because in death you “wouldn’t care about anything”, is absurd. Your position could easily be used justify any murder. After all, how can any murder victim object to having been murdered?
            3. Your assertion that “women should have 100% control over their bodies at all times” is an empty slogan. Does that mean you are morally or legally free to use your body to carry out violent crimes against others? No, neither the law nor Catholic teaching holds that view. There are legitimate limits to our freedom: yes, this applies even to women.
            4. Wikipedia claims that “Randall is a masculine given name in the English language”. Perhaps, as you claim, you are really a woman with the name Randall Poopenmeyer. I have my doubts. Perhaps you are a woman hiding behind a man’s name. I assume you realize that using a false name in an important discussion calls into question the sincerity and seriousness of your claims.

          • RandallPoopenmeyer

            Randall Poopenmeyer is a character. It has nothing to do with me. We obviously aren’t going to agree, might as well par ways now.
            Saying that I have full control over my body means just that, MY body. I can’t injure someone else, unless they are inside of my body without my permission.

          • John Robin

            So, just to be clear, you believe that you have a valid right to injure or kill another person if that person is inside your body without your permission.

            You do acknowledge that the unborn child is a person, since you used the term “someone”, and that term means “some person” (Merriam Webster).

            I wonder if that logic applies to a person you find inside your home without your permission. Do you feel you have an absolute right to kill that intruder?

          • RandallPoopenmeyer

            Again, doesn’t matter what it is, a human, a dog, it could be the second coming of Jesus, but if Jesus doesn’t have my permission, then too bad.
            Also, yes to the second question. If I feel the person is there to harm me before help can arrive, then yes.

          • John Robin

            Then prepare to spend years in prison for murder or manslaughter. The law does hold that you have an absolute right to use deadly force upon finding a stranger in your home uninvited. Dealing out death to someone legally and morally requires a higher standard than their mere, unwelcome presence.

          • RandallPoopenmeyer

            Actually, no, in many places I can kill an intruder. I can defend my castle, and protect my uterus according to the law.

          • John Robin

            Yes, you can defend your life and your “castle”, but that principle does not give an absolute right to use kill someone simply because their presence on your property is uninvited. Your right to use lethal force has moral and legal limits. Simple trespassing does not justify killing.

          • RandallPoopenmeyer

            I know it does not. I would not kill someone on my lawn, even if they ignored orders to leave. I would not kill someone approaching me while I am in my vehicle unless my life was absolutely at risk. I would not kill anyone outside of my home or my womb.

          • John Robin

            Well, Randall, you sound reasonable. You acknowledge there are limits to our freedom, our control, or else we infringe on the basic rights of others. And I acknowledge that our right to make basic decisions about our bodies and our lives is a fundamental right which should not be infringed on lightly.

            Thank you for your thoughts, and best wishes to you!

          • RandallPoopenmeyer

            I am glad I sound reasonable. I usually am not so reasonable. This upsets me very much, especially after Pence passed that HB 1337. This is just horrible for women in my opinion. Thank you for your thoughts and I appreciate the civility.

          • RandallPoopenmeyer

            And I don’t care about Catholic teachings, I am not your religion, so I don’t have to follow it.

          • Johnny Whichard

            Gender card pulled. You lose the argument.

          • RandallPoopenmeyer

            My body, my rules, so you lost already.

          • John Robin

            Randall, is that the measure of college level feminist thinking on campus? I sincerely hope not.

          • RandallPoopenmeyer

            What more do you want, everything needs my permission first.
            At least my thoughts aren’t based on some crazy sky daddy.

  • NDaniels


    Now, understand — understand, Class of 2009, I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. Because no matter how much we may want to fudge it — indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory — the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.

    This is what compromising looks like, despite the fact that Planned Parenthood admits that they have baby body parts in their possession. Human organs can only come from the sons and daughters of human persons. Oh what a tangled web has been weaved. Our Lady, Untier of Knots, Pray for us,



    • João Pedro Santos

      “Life Site News” is clearly a reliable news source (NOT!).

  • RandallPoopenmeyer

    Maybe the award should not be given to politicians. They are always controversial figures.

  • Dan Wynne

    “Illegal” end of story on migrants.

  • daveseavy

    I am very impressed! Of course, I’m prejudice, since Jake is my nephew. Way to go Jake! Another writer in the family 🙂