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Alumni sign petition opposing Laetare Medal decision

| Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The announcement of the 2016 Laetare Medal recipients, Vice President Joe Biden and former Speaker of the House John Boehner, came with no lack of controversy in the Notre Dame community, and one of the strongest responses came in the form of a national petition opposing Biden as a candidate for the medal.

Allison Gower, the campaign manager of the national petition against the Laetare Medal decision, said the petition was a result of Notre Dame alumni and Catholics expressing their disapproval of Biden as an appropriate candidate. The petition was created by Sycamore Trust, an alumni organization dedicated to preserving and protecting the Catholic identity of the University of Notre Dame.

“These people are angered because they feel Biden goes against many Catholic principals and beliefs the award should uphold,” Gower said in an email. “For example, Biden does not support pro-life policies and is for same-sex marriage. The petition declares, ‘We should seek to honor those who act to protect human life and dignity, from conception to natural death, who respect true marriage and the family,’ which they feel Biden does not.”

Bill Dempsey, the creator of the petition and member of Sycamore Trust, said the group rarely proposes petitions, but that this was a particularly egregious case that he felt the group needed to combine their voices of protest and share their reasons.

“This action is even more objectionable than was the honoring of President Obama, who is not Catholic and whose opposition to the Church, so far as it was known at the time, was limited to abortion,” Dempsey said in an email. “Vice President Biden’s opposition is broad. He is the highest-ranking Catholic pro-choice politician who also supports same-sex marriage, public funding of embryonic stem cell research and the Obamacare contraception mandate that Notre Dame is fighting in court. [Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades] is plainly right in condemning Notre Dame’s action as scandalous.”

Dempsey said the decision to award Biden the medal shows that Notre Dame does not take seriously the Church teachings that Biden rejects.

“Notre Dame’s action will confirm in their error Catholics who share Biden’s dissenting views and arm dissenting Catholic politicians in their opposition to Church position,” Dempsey said. “Besides, what I find incomprehensible is that [University President Fr. John Jenkins] would take this action knowing full well that it would once again open a breach with Notre Dame’s bishop and once again bring strife into an occasion that should be one of unalloyed celebration for graduating seniors and their families.”

Gower said the original goal of the petition was 1,000 signatures. However, as of April 6 the petition has over 2,400 signatures that range from members of the Notre Dame community to people in foreign countries.

Dempsey said Sycamore Trust did not propose rescinding the award because they thought it would be futile.

“What we hope is that the fellows and trustees will take appropriate action to insure against a repetition and to repair relations with Bishop Rhoades,” Dempsey said.

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About Selena Ponio

Selena Ponio is from Dallas, Texas and is currently a senior at the University of Notre Dame. She is the Associate News Editor for The Observer. Selena lives in Breen-Phillips hall and is majoring in International Economics with a concentration in Spanish and is minoring in Journalism, Ethics & Democracy.

Contact Selena