Undermining the Notre Dame identity
Letter to the Editor | Friday, April 1, 2016
The recent announcement of the recipients of the Laetare Medal has caused us great concern. As the Notre Dame Right to Life Club, our mission is to “promote and uphold the sanctity of all human life from conception until natural death […] in the spirit of the Catholic Church.” We would like to address why the decision of the University to bestow the award on Vice President Joe Biden and former Speaker of the House John Boehner does not align with our efforts as a club, the mission of the University and the Catholic faith.
The question we want to present is: how can it be justifiable to present an award given “in recognition of outstanding service to the Church and society” to individuals who directly oppose the Church’s teachings? Vice President Biden has supported pro-choice politics, the death penalty and therapeutic cloning of embryos. While former Speaker of the House John Boehner is pro-life on the issue of abortion, he too has supported the death penalty.
In “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility,” from the Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, the Bishops of the United States said: “The Church calls for a different kind of political engagement: one shaped by the moral convictions of well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being … We should be guided more by our moral convictions than by our attachment to a political party or interest group. When necessary, our participation should help transform the party to which we belong; we should not let the party transform us in such a way that we neglect or deny fundamental moral truths or approve intrinsically evil acts. We are called to bring together our principles and our political choices, our values and our votes, to help build a civilization of truth and love.”
As someone who considers himself a practicing Catholic, Vice President Biden has stated regarding the issue of abortion, “I accept my church’s position that life begins at conception. That’s the church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life … I just refuse to impose that on others.” In so doing, Biden has appeared to be guided more by his attachment to a political party than by his moral convictions. He has placed a desire for political correctness and avoidance of conflict above a commitment to fundamental Catholic truths.
Just this past year in the presence of the United States Congress and both politicians in question, Pope Francis called for a “global abolition of the death penalty … [for] every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with inalienable dignity and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.” Contrary to this concept of human dignity, former Speaker Boehner voted against The Second Chance Act of 2007 (H.R.1593), which was meant to expand reentry programming for offenders and their families and to enhance drug treatment and mentoring grant programs for federal inmates. Earlier in his career, Boehner voted in favor of the Effective Death Penalty Act of 1995 and also voted against an amendment to the Effective Death Penalty and Public Safety Act of 1996, which sought to protect the right of state death row prisoners to habeas corpus, an important protection against wrongful imprisonment. This disregard for the human and constitutional rights of each human life, including prisoners, is inconsistent with both Catholic teaching and what it truly means to be pro-life.
The University’s reasoning for honoring Biden and Boehner with the award is the following: “In recognizing both men, Notre Dame is not endorsing the policy positions of either, but celebrating two lives dedicated to keeping our democratic institutions working for the common good through dialogue focused on the issues and responsible compromise.” We acknowledge and understand the University’s intentions of working against political polarization; however, encouraging healthier political discourse cannot lead to compromising our belief in the sanctity of all human life from conception until natural death.
We believe that, by awarding the Laetare Medal to these leaders, the University has in fact compromised its Catholic identity. Disregarding the sanctity of life violates a very fundamental principle of Catholic moral and social teaching. The medal bears the Latin inscription, “Magna est veritas et prevalebit,” which translates to “Truth is mighty, and it shall prevail.” How can we bestow “the most prestigious award for Catholics in America” to leaders who fail to protect the weakest and most vulnerable, a basic element of justice and a fundamental truth of the Catholic faith?
As the Notre Dame Right to Life Club we are in disagreement with and saddened by the choice of the University to award Joe Biden and John Boehner with the Laetare Medal. We ask that the University live up to its Catholic identity and the purpose of this prestigious award and please reconsider its decision.
Notre Dame Right to Life Club