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Jenkins defends Laetare Medal decision

| Friday, April 15, 2016

University President Fr. John Jenkins defended his decision to award the Laetare Medal to Vice President Joe Biden and former Speaker of the House John Boehner in an interview with the Observer on Tuesday, his first comments since the University announced this year’s recipients in a press release on March 5.

FrOlivia Mikkelsen

The decision sparked a controversy — on campus and on a national scale — and has received both criticism and support from various members of the Notre Dame community.

“I don’t think controversies are necessarily a bad thing if they lead us to have serious conversations, to think deeply about issues,” Jenkins said in the interview.

The Laetare Medal is awarded to an American Catholic at Notre Dame’s Commencement each year in recognition of outstanding service to the Church and society. The award honors Catholics in all different fields; recent recipients include singer Aaron Neville, biologist Kenneth Miller and poet Dana Gloria.

The decision to honor two Catholic politicians was not a timely one in light of the upcoming election, Jenkins said, but instead meant to recognize Biden and Boehner’s many years of service to the country as their political careers begin to wind down.

“We’re not endorsing the active politicians who are going to have a campaign,” he said. “But I thought it was an opportunity to recognize people who had risen to the very highest level of political leadership. For their dedication to public service, their willingness to work with others for the common good, we recognize them with the Laetare.”

Jenkins said the decision to award the medal to two members of different political parties was to avoid any perception of the University endorsing one or the other.

“I said before, and I’ll say it again, this award does not endorse the particular positions of either person,” he said. “… I think it’s significant these two men, despite being of different parties disagreeing on so much, became and remain friends.”

The decision was meant to address the division and animosity present in today’s political environment, Jenkins said.

“I do want, with this award, to fight against the tendency that those who disagree with us are necessarily evil or worthy only of our disdain,” he said. “We can disagree — and even disagree on significant moral issues — and still find laudable qualities in those with whom we disagree.”

Each year, a committee provides recommendations to Jenkins, who is free, but not required, to select an honoree from the list of suggestions. Biden and Boehner were not on this year’s list of proposed recipients, but Jenkins chose to award the medal to the two individuals after discussing the matter with the committee, he said.

In response to Jenkins’ decision, Bishop Kevin Rhoades, of the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese, released a statement condemning the University’s choice due to Biden’s stances on abortion and same-sex marriage. Rhoades said he is concerned honoring Biden and Boehner will provoke “scandal,” as defined in the Catholic sense.

“That is a somewhat technical word in Catholic thought that means that the action creates the impression that we’re sanctioning or encouraging immoral or unjust actions,” Jenkins said. “I have the greatest respect for the bishop and want to respond by explaining our intentions, in the hope that I can counter any misperceptions leading to scandal.”

Multiple groups have written letters to the editor in the Observer’s Viewpoint section voicing their dissent. More than 2,700 individuals — many Notre Dame alumni — have signed a petition professing their agreement with the bishop, urging the University to reconsider the decision.

Jenkins said he wants to articulate the meaning of the award and his reasons for choosing it, a lesson he learned when the University invited Obama to speak at Notre Dame’s 2009 Commencement.

“What I’ve tried to do, and will try to do, is just explain clearly what we’re doing,” he said. “People can disagree; I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, as long as it leaves to substantive, constructive discussion and not just acrimony.”

A majority of the criticism is directed at Biden, which Jenkins said he is afraid reflects a one-sided partisan approach.

“I’m certainly not saying that I support all the Vice President’s positions,” he said. “But I do find, in the record, that he took account of his Catholic faith, even while trying to make decisions on legislation — that’s often complex in a nation on issues on which the nation is deeply divided.”

Ultimately, Jenkins said he thinks a public servant can exemplify what it means to be a Catholic leader, regardless of his or her political affiliation.

“I think it’s important to evaluate, to take account both of that range of [Catholic] teachings and take account of the complex realities of our nation that is so deeply divided on these issues,” he said.

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About Katie Galioto

Katie, the Observer's current Managing Editor, is a senior majoring in political science, with minors in Business Economics and Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She's a former Walsh Hall resident who now lives off campus and hails from Chanhassen, Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter @katiegalioto.

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  • David Kashangaki

    If the Laetare Medal does not “endorse the particular positions of either person,” then what are they being honored for? Aren’t what a person stands for part of who a person is? I do not understand this separation. Being Catholic without professing and living their faith?

  • Disgraceful. The bishop is right. Jenkins is dishonoring the Laetare Medal and all it stands for.

  • Thomist

    As far as I’m concerned, he is just John Jenkins. Any semblance of following his priestly vow to support the cannon of the Catholic church was cast aside a decade ago.

    • Earthskimmer

      “[T]he cannon of the Catholic Church” has clearly not been silenced. Witness the explosive volleys of arrogant bigotry above. The Canon of the Church, however, continues to sound the call to faith which seeks understanding.

      • Thomist

        The intent of your comment, is not quite clear to me. If you are referring to the expressed outrage at the choice of Joe Binden as a meritorious Catholic, and disagree with that opinion. That’s your prerogative.

  • MC

    Being a Catholic requires us to stand up for the faith even when it means losing everything else. Ask the Little Sisters of the Poor. Joe Biden is an embarrassment to the faith and Boehner is barely a sliver better. What an incredibly misguided and shortsighted decision by Father Jenkins and an awful explanation for it. The Laetare medal is now nothing more than a pawn for making political statements and getting attention for the university.

    • Thomist

      Well said!

    • NDaniels

      The Sactity of human Life, and The Sanctity of marriage and the family, are universal truths, bot political statements.

    • Kevin Byrnes

      Maybe I’d join your act of judgment on others — if I could only get the board out of my own eye.

      • MC

        I don’t judge Biden and Boehners worth as persons, but I do condemn their specific sins and don’t believe those who have openly committed such sins should receive an award for service to the faith. Nor do I judge Fr Jenkins worth as a person, only his decision to involve the university in such a scandalous act.

      • maize

        Do try.

    • maize

      Has Notre Dame’s Jenkins forgotten Biden is part of the ACA and the Obama Administration:

      In January 2012
      (CNSNews.com) – Pope Francis on Thursday told the president and trustees of the University of Notre Dame–which is suing the Obama administration for mandating that its health insurance plans cover sterilizations, contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs–that Notre Dame should defend the freedom of the Catholic Church.

      The Catholic Church teaches that sterilization, artificial contraception and abortion are intrinsically immoral.

      “The vision which guided Father Edward Sorin and the first religious of the Congregation of Holy Cross in establishing the University of Notre Dame du Lac remains, in the changed circumstances of the twenty-first century, central to the university’s distinctive identity and its service to the Church and American society,” the pope told the delegation from Notre Dame, which visited with him at the Vatican.

      “Essential in this regard is the uncompromising witness of Catholic universities to the Church’s moral teaching, and the defense of her freedom, precisely in and through her institutions, to uphold that teaching as authoritatively proclaimed by the magisterium of her pastors,” said the pope, according to a transcript published by the Vatican.

    • maize

      Joseph Biden was excommunicated long ago.
      Canon 915. The canon states, Those who are excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.

      LifeSiteNews.com reported on September 2, 2008:
      The Catholic bishop of Scranton, Pennsylvania, Bishop Martino.has confirmed that pro-abortion vice presidential candidate Joseph Biden would be refused Holy Communion in his diocese, according to the Scranton Times.
      So has the Diocese of Colorado Springs, Bishop Michael Sheridan.

      In 2013, Biden’s claims about Church teaching on abortion had to be corrected by his own Bishop:

      “But throughout the church’s history, we’ve argued between whether or not it is wrong in every circumstance and the degree of wrong. Catholics have this notion, it’s almost a gradation,” Biden claimed.

      Not so, said Rev. W. Francis Malooly, the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington.

      He wrote in a letter to the editor that Biden “presents a seriously erroneous picture of Catholic teaching on abortion.”

      “This is simply incorrect,” he said then of Biden’s interpretation. “The teaching of the Church is clear and not open to debate. Abortion is a grave sin because it is the wrongful taking of an innocent human life.”

      In Delaware, his own Bishop Saltarelli wrote, “Our Catholic institutions will not honor Catholic politicians who take pro-abortion legislative positions or invite them to speak at our functions or schools. While they are to be treated civilly, respectfully and with gospel charity, they should never be put forward as a model of a Catholic in public life.”

      Regarding the claim from many Catholic politicians that they personally oppose abortion but do not seek to promote their belief or impose it on others, Bishop Saltarelli said, “No one today would accept this statement from any public servant: ‘I am personally opposed to human slavery and racism but will not impose my personal conviction in the legislative arena.’”

      Vice President Joe Biden strongly supports the Obamacare mandate and abortion and gay marriage.

  • Yankeegator

    Jenkins is a Modernist Heretic!!!

    • João Pedro Santos

      LOL do you really think calling someone “heretic” is an insult?

      • Yankeegator

        Do you think Modernist Wolves destroying The Bride of Christ and millions of souls going to perdition because of weak emasculated Priests and Bishops is a joke?

        • João Pedro Santos

          I actually laughed when I read your most recent comment.

          • Yankeegator

            I am praying for you! Sounds like you have been seduced by the world. Socially Engineered by the ‘enlightened’ United States. Sad really by looking at your name…

  • NDaniels

    God Is The Author of Love, of Life, and of Marriage. One cannot deny Genesis and be a Catholic in “good standing”.

    It is what divides one from The Body of Christ, that keeps one from being in communion with Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

    We can know through both Faith and Reason, that man did not evolve, as speciation occurs at the moment of conception, when ever human person has been created in The Image and Likeness of God, equal in Dignity, while being complementary as a beloved son or daughter, Willed by God, worthy of Redemption. We can know through both Faith and reason that only a man and woman can exist in relationship as husband and wife; marriage cannot be and not be, existing in relationship as husband and wife, simultaneously.

    It is not Loving or Merciful to lead someone to believe that they can remain in communion with Christ, and His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, while denying The Christ.
    (Catholic Canon 750)

    There is no division in The Body of Christ.

    The Eucharist is the source and summit of our Catholic Faith, outside which, there is no Salvation..

  • NDaniels
  • maize

    No one needs a priest that is embarrassed and afraid to practice his Catholic religion in public, who refuses to stand up for the teachings of Christ, who is too cowardly to admit he made a mistake in naming an excommunicated Catholic–Joe Biden–to receive a prestigious Catholic Medal, leading the greatest Catholic University in the world–the University of Our Lady–tThe Most Blessed Virgin Mary–The University of Notre Dame.

    Mortal sin is not up for discussion Father Jenkins.

  • maize

    “Biden and Boehner were not on this year’s list of proposed recipients, but Jenkins chose to award the medal to the two individuals after discussing the matter with the committee,” he said.

    So Jenkins is acting unilaterally and refuses to listen to anyone. Where the Superiors of the Holy Cross Fathers? This man should be defrocked.

  • Joe Casey

    Quaint naivety. Or a legacy of foolishness. Read Proverbs 26-12. Time for regime change. jc