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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.

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  • Annette Magjuka

    The Sycamore Group does not speak for all alumni. I am a ND grad and a lifetime Catholic. I applaud Fr. Jenkins for standing by these awardees. Both Biden and Boehner have been examples of Catholics in the public arena who have lived lives dedicated to public service. The differences between the two underscore the breadth of views held by American Catholics. These two men have distinct differences. But they are both Catholic. Many Catholics are tired of the bully tactics of some bishops and self-appointed arbiters of our faith such as the Sycamore Trust. There are legitimate disagreements as to how one is Catholic in the public square. Many Catholics believe in the primacy of conscience. Both of the Laetare Medal nominees are deserving.

    • Thomas Muldoon

      Annette, as an ND grad (’65) and ND dad, couldn’t agree more. God bless Fr. Jenkins.

    • Walt Osgood

      Obviously you don’t understand what it is to be a PRACTICING CATHOLIC….to say “Many Catholics believe in the primacy of conscience” doesn’t mean they are correct..a person has to have a well-informed conscience to follow the Doctrines of the Church..after Vatican II, there is no longer Sin…everyone goes to communion, because their conscience has failed them in many instances…

      • Tom Z.

        This is exactly why catholicism and religion in general is dying at the pace it is. I hope you enjoy being a “correct” catholic because you may be part of the last generation that can describe themselves as such.

    • Jimbo

      Thank you, Annette. Not only do those people not speak for “all alumni;” they speak for nothing more than a sliver, for a disaffected and strident minority of cafeteria Catholics who repeatedly think they know more than those who run this world-class university, from Father Hesburgh through Father Jenkins. They know how to get attention, that’s for sure. What they don’t know is Catholic Social Teaching or what Pope Francis has to say about how we should be conducting ourselves. They are loud, but they are nothing but an embarrassing minority who do the bidding of the right-wing GOP and who, I trust, the administration will simply ignore.

      • Molly Kraker

        I am a ’90 ND grad and one of those pesky “self-appointed arbiters of our faith,” who are a part of that “disaffected and strident minority of cafeteria Catholics” referenced above. I wasn’t aware that as a proud supporter of Sycamore Trust and its petition, I had thrown in with an “embarrassing minority who do the bidding of the right-wing GOP.” If the Catholic Church and truly Catholic universities are dying as Tom Z. has suggested, I would say that is due in large part to the mealy-mouthed, inauthentic version of the faith that is so prevalent today. We are so unaccustomed to hearing the truth — in part because our PC culture often labels it hateful or bigoted or judgmental — our first reaction to those who earnestly side with the truth is to marginalize and mock them as lunatics. Here is the truth: neither John Boehner, nor Joe Biden is worthy of receiving the Laetare Medal — which seeks to honor outstanding service to the Catholic Church and society — unless Fr. Jenkins wants to emphasize the University’s increasing fealty to worldly acclaim over obedience to the Magisterium. More inconvenient truth: both men support versions of the death penalty. As a supporter of abortion “rights,” Mr. Biden has voted to support the death penalty for the over 55 million innocent unborn children aborted since 1973. Mr. Boehner supports the death penalty for convicted criminals and since 1976, there have been 1,434 executions in the U.S. Christ tells us in John 8:31-32 “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Notre Dame can’t have it both ways, trying to be culturally Catholic when it advances its image, but then shy away from its responsibility to be truly Catholic. And that means accepting objective truth and not choosing to honor those who blatantly disregard the Church’s teaching when there are plenty of worthy recipients who would be truly deserving of the Laetare Medal.

        • Jimbo

          Well, Molly, I guess it’s possible you genuinely didn’t realize that you’d “thrown in” with the right-wing GOP (though I find that a little hard to believe), but you most certainly have. Your post is the usual conclusory, sanctimonious, and right-wing claptrap. To wit:

          “If the Catholic Church and truly Catholic universities are dying” — They aren’t. They are flourishing. I know you don’t like their politics, but that doesn’t mean they’re dying. It just means, well, that you don’t like their politics.

          “due in large part to the mealy-mouthed, inauthentic version of the faith that is so prevalent today” — Complete nonsense and nothing but your unsupported, farcical opinion. It’s certainly true that many Catholics talk about more than abortion. But, again, that doesn’t make their faith “inauthentic,” however many times you repeat that cheap insult.

          ” We are so unaccustomed to hearing the truth” — Yes, you are. Look, I know you almost certainly are uncomfortable with Pope Francis and his clear command that you and yours stop reducing all of Catholic Social Teaching to the two or three issues that Ted Cruz wants to hear about. But maybe it’s time you listened to Pope Francis: “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and
          the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not
          spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when
          we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context.
          The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of
          the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the
          time.” I’d LOVE to know what issues other than those two or three you and yours talk about. Immigration? The right of workers to organize (which, by the way, our Church deems a “fundamental right”)? The U.S. Bishops’ condemnation of Paul Ryan’s proposed barbaric budget? Your silence is deafening.

          “not choosing to honor those who blatantly disregard the Church’s teaching” — Re-read your screed. It was almost entirely about Vice President Biden. Just who are you kidding? If the university were to honor just Boehner or to honor Paul Ryan, you and yours wouldn’t even think about protesting. It’s so transparently political. And yet you deny it and wrap yourselves up in your sanctimony, asserting that you have sole access to the “Truth” and condemning anyone else’s faith that isn’t in alignment with yours on these two or three issues. Just who do you think you are? This Church is as much mine (and the millions of others who are in favor of this joint award) as yours.

          • Molly Kraker

            Jimbo, I’m not exactly sure how without ever meeting me you’ve managed to discern clearly that I’m a right wing GOP zealot voting for Ted Cruz who is fond of disregarding the words of Pope Francis. You’ve defensively lashed out at me and tried to make my response about politics, but that is not why I object to honoring Mr. Boehner and Mr. Biden with the Laetare Medal. Yes, abortion is a pivotal issue for me, but like slavery, abortion is more than a political issue. Thanks to the seamless garment theology promoted by some within the Church, abortion has indeed become just one of a plethora of issues from immigration to the rights of workers of equal weight to many Catholics. But while we are truly called to care for our fellow man and serve him as if he were Jesus himself, it is spurious theology to equate abortion and these other issues. If politicians supported slavery, but also served the needs of the immigrant and the worker, it would be morally offensive to argue that those politicians deserved your vote because they did so much to help other needy segments of society. You may concede that abortion — the murder of an innocent unborn child in the womb– is at least as evil as slavery as it removes an individual’s life AND liberty simultaneously. As Catholics we’ve been given the Ten Commandments and the fifth is clear: Thou shall not kill. The Catechism tell us “human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception (CCC 2270) and that “the fifth commandment forbids directly and indirectly bringing about a person’s death. The murderer and THOSE WHO COOPERATE VOLUNTARILY IN MURDER commit a sin that cries out to heaven for vengeance (CCC 2268). As Catholics we can — and should — debate the best way to address injustice within our society and the Church recognizes that there are many acceptable ways to serve the least of our brothers. But it is crystal clear on the subject of abortion: “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. The teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life.” (CCC 2271, 2272) You ask who do I think I am. Well, I’m a Catholic — sinful and fallen, yes, but not the cafeteria version referenced above, and one who clings to the truth because it doesn’t change with the whims of a fickle world.

          • Annette Magjuka

            Molly, you are Catholic. But so am I, so is Jimbo, and so is everyone who cared enough to post on this thread. I find it troubling that only some these Catholics are telling others that they are not “real Catholics,” calling some of us “Cafeteria Catholics,” or are telling me to leave my church for the Episcopal church.

          • Molly Kraker

            1. I never said you and Jimbo were not “real Catholics.” We are indeed all Catholics. But the Church has established very real guidelines to protect our immortal souls and these are sacrosanct. You referenced the primacy of conscience. Often, but not always, it is easy to use primacy of conscience as device to advance an issue, say same-sex marriage or contraception, that is at odds with Churching teaching. The Catechism tells us that “personal conscience and reason should not be set in opposition to the moral law or the Magisterium of the Church,” (CCC 2039) because no matter how well-formed our conscience may be, we are still weak, fallen and prone to sin.
            2. I never said you were “Cafeteria Catholics.” You may want to ask Jimbo about that accusation because he was the one who called people like myself a “disaffected and strident minority of cafeteria Catholics who repeatedly think they know more than those who run this world-class university.” I was actually confused by that strange psychological projection since I’m not picking and choosing which Church teachings to follow. I have struggled all my life to be obedient to the faith and haven’t always been successful, but I think it’s important to try — especially when it’s hard. None of us are perfect, but I think there are absolute moral truths that can’t be negotiated or nuanced to accommodate the ever-changing demands of a modern world in which even genders can be fluid. I firmly believe that as I mentioned above, there can be no debate about the rightness or wrongness of the murder of innocent children. Again, as Catholics we can debate public policy about how to best alleviate poverty or aid immigrants, but not whether we should advance abortion within our society. It may make some Catholics uncomfortable, but politicians who knowingly vote to support abortion are sinning gravely. If we truly love our neighbors, we are called to tell them this so they have the opportunity to repent. As Jesus saved the adulterous woman from being stoned, he clearly said in John 8:11, “Neither do I condemn you. Go. From now on sin no more.” I pray everyday for all those involved in the abortion industry from doctors and nurses to politicians and lobbyists because I love them and want them to feel the power of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
            3. I believe it was Dave399 who told you to leave the Church for the Episcopal Church. Like me, he may be a part of what Jimbo called a loud, embarrassing minority who do the bidding of the right-wing GOP, but he may simply be stating that those who feel more comfortable with a Protestant-style of Christianity should move in that direction instead of trying to change the Catholic Church established by Christ himself into a Protestant church. I don’t know Dave and don’t want to speak for him, so if he’s reading this perhaps he would be willing to share more on that topic.
            Since we are all Catholics, I sincerely hope that inspired by the faith we all share, we can move forward starting from our belief that God gave us His only son to die for our salvation and strengthened by the Eucharist — His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity — we can work to build his kingdom here on earth. I think we have more in common than you may think.

          • Annette Magjuka

            God Bless you.

      • Blue_Max

        Who are you even talking about, clearly not the Sycamore Trust. As a long-time supporter of the Sycamore Trust, I have never even heard US politics or the Republican Party mentioned at the gatherings I have been able to watch online. (If they were taking orders from them, you’d think they would hint at it, but no, not even one little mention.)

        Have you read any of their materials? Love to see where this GOP claptrap comes from.

        If indeed you are talking about the Sycamore Trust, I must point out that I I don’t take orders from the GOP (I’m not even a member of the GOP), I am not a cafeteria Catholic as I support all of the Church’s teachings (as does every supporter of the Trust that I have ever met), and I well know Catholic Social Teaching (even to extent of teaching it at a university) as do the other (rather well-educated you will find) Trust supporters.

        And I like and support Pope Francis, and have been enjoying reading both his Church writings and his books.

    • dave399

      Annette: You simply don’t understand the Catholic religion. Nor do you understand what Catholicism means, and always has meant, by “the primacy of conscience.” Have you tried the Episcopal Church? I think you will like it.

      • Annette Magjuka

        Actually, one of the great strengths of the Catholic church is that it is less doctrinaire than any one subgroup. I am most certainly Catholic, as I have been for my entire 60 years. I do understand what “primacy of conscience” means.

    • Blue_Max

      Bully tactics . . . self-appointed arbiters of our faith such as the Sycamore Trust?

      Exaggerate much? The Sycamore Trust is being perfectly reasonable in offering a petition (that doesn’t even call for rescinding the award). How is that bully tactics?

  • Billdot

    The job has diminished the man.

  • Joe Casey

    Proverbs 26-11 “As a dog returns to its vomit, so do fools return to their folly.”

    Honorary Doctorate to Obama was a mistake. Biden’s Laetare creates a legacy of foolishness. The world doesn’t need more Harvard’s, Yale’s and Columbia’s. It needs more Notre Dame’s. In fact, it needs ‘A NOTRE DAME’. Time for regime change.


  • Frank

    I am quite disturbed by the Right Wing “outrage” over my friend, and my vice-president, Joe Biden, sharing the Laetare Medal with former Speaker John Boehner.

    I am grateful to Father Jenkins for standing firm against the maelstrom and making it clear there is much more to the totality of being a Catholic than wearing little gold feet and carrying a protest sign for an hour a month at a Planned Parenthood clinic.

    I say that as a rabidly pro-life Catholic Democrat who has been in the trenches against abortion.

    But more about that in a second.

    The Laetare is a medal that recognizes the totality of a person’s contribution to the world around him. It is awarded to a Catholic “whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church and enriched the heritage of humanity.” Actor Martin Sheen, a pro-choice Catholic activist, received the Laetare. Where was the Right Wing outrage then?

    Sen Pat Moynihan, again pro-choice, also received the Laetare for his work on welfare reform and making sure hungry people have food.

    Again, little outrage.

    Why now? Because politics has become so polarized and disagreement has become so ugly – thanks largely to the Right Wing media machine that takes a humbling, beautiful Catholic award like the Laetare and makes it political.

    That is precisely the reason recognizing Biden and Boehner is so appropriate. Two men from opposite parties who have worked together to find common ground.

    In reality, in all truth, this anti-Biden outrage is nothing more than the far-Right Wing getting their collective noses in a snit.

    Biden not a real Catholic? Why then no outrage about Boehner and the tax cuts he supported and the cuts to social programs he pushed through. These are all real-world policies that Pope Francis preaches against! Why no outrage here?

    Why was a left-wing, pro-choice Jew, Bernie Sanders, and not a right-wing, pro-life, “Christian” Ted Cruz, invited to speak at the Vatican?

    Because, as our Holy Father has made clear, there is much more to being a Catholic – a complete servant of God – than simply opposing abortion. It requires fighting for the lives of babies both IN the WOMB, and IN the WORLD.

    And I say that as someone who has done both.

    I am a pro-life Democrat who served in the PA House of Representatives for 22 years. I sponsored and voted for the Casey Abortion Control Act of 1989.

    I filed an amicus brief with the late Gov. Robert P. Casey in “Casey vs Planned Parenthood.”

    I was abused by pro-choice advocates, my home was picketed, I was SPAT UPON BY MOLLY YARD!

    I even was hit on the head with a round, navy-blue “Keep Abortion Legal” sign.

    So, yes, I have been in the trenches too.

    But, I also have seen babies without adequate health care. I have witnessed starving children. I have seen children abused by parents who could not be saved by Childrens’ Services because of huge tax and budget cuts advocated by Republicans like John Boehner.

    I have helped men and women who are scrounging for work.

    Like so many of my Notre Dame Sisters and Brothers, I have tried to live the total Catholic life instilled in me by my God, my savior, Jesus, my church, and by my beloved Notre Dame.

    Finally, I know the good things Joe Biden has done for so many.

    He has done so much more than those who would deny him the recognition of his work.

    Thank you Father Jenkins for being strong in the face of adversity and hypocrisy. It is what Jesus did at the dinner when the tax collectors criticized the prostitute for washing Jesus’ feet with her hair.

    Jesus, forgave her sins. He rejoiced in the good that the woman had done.

    It is unfortunate that so many today can’t do the same.