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viewpoint

Undermining the Notre Dame identity

| 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

March 25

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  • Annette Magjuka

    I understand the points you make. However, as an old (60!) lifelong Catholic and ND grad who has experienced a lot, I would like to comment. I was once a proud Right to Life person. As a young girl I marched in several RTL events. But something happened that changed my entire view. My mom got early onset breast cancer in the early 70’s. She had a mastectomy and chemo. A month or so after her chemo was over, she thought she was pregnant. The doctor was horrified, saying, “I didn’t know that was even a possibility–your baby would have zero chance of being normal with all the chemo drugs you took.” I then saw my mom go through the worst three days of her life as she waited for the blood test to be completed (there were no instant pregnancy tests back then). She suffered like I never saw anyone suffer. She anguished. Even priests told her, “You have to use your conscience. There is no clear answer for this.” It ended up that my mom was not pregnant. As a devout Catholic, I do not think she would have had an abortion. But I realized that there are medical situations, ambiguous moral issues and extremely complex and highly personal things a woman and her family can confront. I realized clearly why this must be left to the woman herself, along with her family and religious advisors. I never marched in a RTL event again. I now want abortion to be safe and legal, although I personally do not approve of most abortions.

    The two men being honored are both lifelong Catholics, and are publicly devout. They are real life human beings with all the complexities that involves. They are both public servants using their religious beliefs and individual consciences to do the best they can. I am proud of ND for honoring both of them. I am proud of the students for thinking about what it means to be lifelong Catholics and how messy that can be. Pope Francis calls for the “messy church.” Maybe this is an example.

    • Annette, Thank-You for your words:

      “But I realized that there are medical situations, ambiguous moral issues and extremely complex and highly personal things a woman and her family can confront. I realized clearly why this must be left to the woman herself, along with her family and religious advisors. I never marched in a RTL event again. I now want abortion to be safe and legal, although I personally do not approve of most abortions.”

      Absolutely.

      • Annette Magjuka

        Yes, I understand your comment. I just want you to hear my life experience: I was first sure and strident, and then later, with experience and age, realized the full complexity and personal nature of this topic. The life experience changed me. I still value and accept the moral authority of the church but also know all are not Catholic, and each Catholic Is responsible for his own soul and that conscience is a big part of that.

    • Anonymous

      The possibility of being born with birth defects is not a medical situation that calls moral issues into question. Imagine talking to a child with down’s syndrome or malformed limbs. Are they not people too, deserving of all the same human rights we enjoy? Think about it.

  • Three items about this op-ed:

    1.)Why aren’t the officers of Notre Dame Right To Life (NDRTL) mentioned by name, as has been “Observer” practice when “letters to the editor” by groups have been published by the “Observer” in the past? Are the officers of NDRTL fearful of being publicly connected to this letter? Why? Job market free-out?

    2.) “‘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.”

    As a good Christian, Vice President Biden is not forcing his beliefs on others who are also Christians, e.g., Presbyterians and Methodists for example. This is what is meant by the term “pro-choice”, “I do not wish to stand in the way of someone else being able to exercise her *constitutionally protected* right.”

    One is a Christian first, then a Sectarian.

    3.) NDRTL should, however, be commended because it explores reasons for not awarding a Laetare to Rep. Boehner, although the surname “Biden” is used 25 % more than “Boehner”.

  • veritatis3

    The Pope released his Proclamation on the Modern Family(April 8, 2016). It reaffirms
    Church Teaching on Marriage. Those in the media probably are disappointed.
    Marriage is only between a man and woman. Gay marriage is wrong. Abortion is
    condemned. Reaching out to gays and the divorce are reiterated but nothing has changed in these areas. Conscience may play a role for divorced Catholics.
    Pope left alone the wording describing homosexuality as a “disordered condition.” Regarding Biden’s invite to ND, I have concluded that the worse moral
    aberration comes from those at ND and other “Catholic Universities”
    who ignore their Church’s teachings. I believe they are the ones that have a most
    “disordered mental condition” by their own actions. Their disorder has caused
    the disordered thinking in many Catholics. They cannot see the truth because
    they are blinded by their pride and arrogance.