Monday, April 27, 2009

Mary Ann Glendon will not accept Notre Dame's prestigious Laetare Medal

April 27, 2009

The Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.
University of Notre Dame

Dear Father Jenkins,

When you informed me in December 2008 that I had been selected to receive Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal, I was profoundly moved. I treasure the memory of receiving an honorary degree from Notre Dame in 1996, and I have always felt honored that the commencement speech I gave that year was included in the anthology of Notre Dame’s most memorable commencement speeches. So I immediately began working on an acceptance speech that I hoped would be worthy of the occasion, of the honor of the medal, and of your students and faculty.

Last month, when you called to tell me that the commencement speech was to be given by President Obama, I mentioned to you that I would have to rewrite my speech. Over the ensuing weeks, the task that once seemed so delightful has been complicated by a number of factors.

First, as a longtime consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, I could not help but be dismayed by the news that Notre Dame also planned to award the president an honorary degree. This, as you must know, was in disregard of the U.S. bishops’ express request of 2004 that Catholic institutions “should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles” and that such persons “should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” That request, which in no way seeks to control or interfere with an institution’s freedom to invite and engage in serious debate with whomever it wishes, seems to me so reasonable that I am at a loss to understand why a Catholic university should disrespect it.

Then I learned that “talking points” issued by Notre Dame in response to widespread criticism of its decision included two statements implying that my acceptance speech would somehow balance the event:

• “President Obama won’t be doing all the talking. Mary Ann Glendon, the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, will be speaking as the recipient of the Laetare Medal.”

• “We think having the president come to Notre Dame, see our graduates, meet our leaders, and hear a talk from Mary Ann Glendon is a good thing for the president and for the causes we care about.”

A commencement, however, is supposed to be a joyous day for the graduates and their families. It is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame’s decision—in disregard of the settled position of the U.S. bishops—to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church’s position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice.

Finally, with recent news reports that other Catholic schools are similarly choosing to disregard the bishops’ guidelines, I am concerned that Notre Dame’s example could have an unfortunate ripple effect.

It is with great sadness, therefore, that I have concluded that I cannot accept the Laetare Medal or participate in the May 17 graduation ceremony.

In order to avoid the inevitable speculation about the reasons for my decision, I will release this letter to the press, but I do not plan to make any further comment on the matter at this time.

Yours Very Truly,

Mary Ann Glendon

Mary Ann Glendon is Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, and served as U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican from 2007 to 2009.

(Cross posted on What's Wrong with the World)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

William McGurn's Talk: "A Notre Dame Witness for Life"

As I noted elsewhere, Wall Street Journal columnist Bill McGurn was scheduled to speak this evening at the University of Notre Dame. I just returned from the talk. It was outstanding and powerful. Mr. McGurn, who I had the privilege to speak with after his lecture, offered a principled defense of his point of view while being charitable to those with whom he disagrees.

The Notre Dame Center for Ethics & Culture has published the text of the talk online, which you can find here. The following are some excerpts:
The precipitate cause of our gathering tonight is the honor and platform our university has extended to a President whose policies reflect clear convictions about unborn life, and about the value the law ought to place on protecting that life. These convictions are not in doubt. In July 2007, the candidate spelled them out in a forceful address to a Planned Parenthood convention in our nation’s capital.

Before that audience, he declared that a woman’s “fundamental right” to an abortion was at stake in the coming election. He spoke about how he had “put Roe at the center” of his “lesson plan on reproductive freedom” when he was a professor – and how he would put it at the center of his agenda as president.

He invoked his record in the Illinois state senate, where he fought restrictions on abortion, famously including one on partial-birth abortion. He said that the “first thing” he wanted to do as President was to “sign a Freedom of Choice Act.” And he ended by assuring his audience that “on this fundamental issue,” he, like they, would never yield....

In the past few weeks, we have read more than once the suggestion that to oppose this year’s speaker and honorary degree is to elevate politics over the proper work of a university. In many ways, we might say that such reasoning lies at the core of the confusion. As has become clear with America’s debates over the destruction of embryos for scientific research, over human cloning, over assisted suicide, and over other end-of-life issues, abortion as a legal right is less a single issue than an entire ethic that serves as the foundation stone for the culture of death.

With the idea that one human being has the right to take the life of another merely because the other’s life is inconvenient, our culture elevates into law the primacy of the strong over the weak. The discord that this year’s commencement has unleashed – between Notre Dame and the bishops, between members of the Notre Dame community, between Notre Dame and thousands of discouraged Catholic faithful – all this derives from an approach that for decades has treated abortion as one issue on a political scorecard. This is not the road to engagement. This is the route to incoherence, and we see its fruit everywhere in our public life.

Twenty-five years ago, on a similar stage on this campus, the then-governor of New York used his Notre Dame platform to advance the personally opposed-but defense that countless numbers of Catholic politicians have used to paper over their surrender to legalized abortion. Eight years after that, the school bestowed the Laetare Medal on a United States Senator who had likewise long since cut his conscience to fit the abortion fashion.

You can read the whole thing here.

(Cross-posted on Southern Appeal and What's Wrong with The World)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The WSJ's Bill McGurn to talk at Notre Dame, April 23, on Obama and a Notre Dame Witness for Life

This lecture is sponsored by the academic unit at Notre Dame in which I hold my visiting appointment, the Notre Dame Center for Ethics & Culture. If you are interested in attending, here are the vitals:

Thursday, April 23 - "A Notre Dame Witness for Life"

William McGurn, Notre Dame alumnus (Class of 1980) and former chief speech writer for George W. Bush (2005-2009), will be lecturing on Thursday night on the topic, “A Notre Dame Witness for Life.” Mr. McGurn, currently a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, will be speaking in Room 155 DeBartolo Hall and there will be a reception following his lecture. The lecture will be open to the public.

In his talk, Mr. McGurn will be exploring the ways in which the University of Notre Dame is of special significance for the pro-life cause globally. Mr. McGurn offered the following comments on what he plans to talk about:

“President Obama's invitation to speak at Notre Dame comes at a moment when the nation's most prominent Catholics -- our Vice President, our Speaker of the House, the nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services -- are all strong and unequivocal advocates for enshrining abortion into the law as a constitutional right. For the prolife community, the issue is not so much opposition to a commencement speaker as what we long to see at Our Lady's university: affirmation for the premier civil rights cause of our day. In a nation wounded by Roe, in a culture that sets mothers against their own children, we know this: Our church, our culture, and our country are poorer without the life witness of Notre Dame."

(Cross-posted on Southern Appeal)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

My talks at Wabash College

I had a wonderful visit to Wabash College yesterday. I was hosted by Professor Stephen H. Webb. It was such a delight to meet both Steve and his lovely wife, Professor Diane Timmerman (Butler University). I gave two talks at Wabash, one on abortion and political liberalism and the second on my return to the Catholic Church. A story about the second lecture appeared in the school paper this morning. You can read it here. I very much appreciate the feedback from Jacob Stump, the student quoted at the end of the article. I think he's right that I need to incorporate more theological points in this lecture. Having now talked about my Catholic journey at several different venues, I am always learning on how best to communicate my thoughts. Thank you, Jacob.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The new New York Archbishop's press conference

A wonderful combination of grace, intelligence, humility, and theological insight. You can watch it here. (HT: K. J. Lopez at National Review)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Speaking at Notre Dame's Catholic Student Fellowship, Four:7, on April 14

For those in the South Bend, Indiana area, I will be speaking on my return to the Catholic Church at the weekly gathering of Notre Dame's Catholic Student Fellowship, Four:7. It is scheduled for 8:30 pm in the chapel of Cavanaugh Hall on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. For more information, go here.

(cross-posted on Southern Appeal)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Randall Terry Lacks Good Judgment; Pope Catholic

Read about it here. From this morning's South Bend Tribune:
Supporters of high-profile abortion-rights opponent Randall Terry have chosen today, Good Friday, to demonstrate in Fort Wayne against President Obama’s May commencement address at the University of Notre Dame.

Organizer Joseph Landry, a coordinator for Stop Obama Notre Dame, said protesters will don Obama masks and smear fake blood on their hands to represent lives expected to be lost to abortion through Obama’s policies.

But Vince LaBarbera, spokesman for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, said the protest is poorly timed and he hopes Catholics do not attend the event, scheduled for 10 a.m. in front of the Allen County Courthouse.

We Catholics got Randall Terry, and the Orthodox have Frank Schaeffer. I suppose that's our corporate penance for liturgical dance, the clown mass, and the Kennedys.

I agree with Mr. Terry that President Obama ought not be awarded an honorary doctorate in laws by the University of Notre Dame. But this Good Friday stunt that Mr. Terry has planned diminishes both the seriousness of Holy Week and the nobility of his cause. Shame on Randall Terry.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

"She's gotta ticket to hell, and she don't care," or "There is no God, and Richard Dawkins is His Prophet."

Just saw this story online about people receiving "debaptism certificates." But given the doctrine of ex opere operato on the efficaciousness of the sacraments if properly administered, a debaptism certificate is more a ticket to hell than an original sin depravity-back guaranteed voucher. These atheists should read a little bit of St. Thomas Aquinas so that they may disabuse themselves of these bizarre nominalist superstitions.

Student newspaper account of my April 2 talk at Franciscan University.

You can read it here. Here is how it begins:
The former president of the Evangelical Theological Society came to Franciscan University to talk about his journey back to the Catholic Church on the evening of April 2.

By 8:45 p.m., Pugliese Auditorium was crammed with listeners filling all of the seats, clogging the aisles and dragging chairs into the room from the hallway so they could hear Francis J. Beckwith speak. A former evangelical Protestant who had been raised Catholic, Beckwith’s topic was his book “Return to Rome: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic.”

You can read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Bishop Alexander Sample on President Obama and Notre Dame

Alexander Sample is a fellow 1978 graduate of Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, Nevada. My friend is now the Bishop of the Diocese of Marquette (Michigan). (How cool is that?). I am proud to say that Bishop Sample has added his voice to the growing number of American Catholic bishops strongly disapproving of the University of Notre Dame's decision to award President Obama an honorary doctorate of laws as well as to have him deliver the commencement address at its May 17 graduation exercises. Bishop Sample writes:

I would like to add my voice to that of many U.S. bishops who have expressed their disappointment and dismay over the University of Notre Dame’s decision to invite President Obama to be the commencement speaker at this year’s graduation ceremonies and to receive an honorary degree from the university.

President Obama has made it clear in his campaign rhetoric and in actions he has taken since becoming president that he intends to promote and expand the destruction of innocent human life. His reversal of the so-called “Mexico City Policy,” his approval of federal funding for destructive embryonic stem cell research, and his pledge to sign into law a resurrected Freedom of Choice Act, should it come to his desk, are all evidence of this.

Given these facts, it is unconscionable to me that a Catholic university would bestow such an honor upon an individual who is so completely out of step with the Catholic Church’s teaching on the need to protect innocent human life in its most vulnerable forms, even if that individual holds the highest office in the land.

Because this has the potential to cause grave scandal to the faithful and weaken our united Catholic efforts in defense of life, I have taken the step of writing to the president of the university, Fr. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., expressing my concerns and requesting the invitation be withdrawn.

In the mystery of the Incarnation, the Eternal Son of God was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. Holy Mary nurtured that fragile life within her, giving the world its Savior. It saddens me beyond words that the great university named after Our Lady would bestow distinction and honor on a politician who would seek to expand threats to such innocent human life.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Speaking at Notre Dame Law School

On April 6, 2009, I will be speaking at Notre Dame Law School on the topic of "What's Wrong with the Courts' Religious Motive Test." Sponsored by the St. Thomas More Society, it will be take place at 12 noon in Room 3130.

Notre Dame Professor Fred Freddoso's comments at the Palm Sunday Prayer Rally

The following is a talk given by Notre Dame Professor, Alfred J. Freddoso, at the Palm Sunday Prayer Rally held today (April 5, 2009) at the University of Notre Dame. Professor Freddoso is Professor of Philosophy and Oesterle Professor of Thomistic Studies.

I stand here today as a representative of that small group of faculty that supports NDResponse and stands behind the exemplary students who have organized it in reaction to the university administration’s announcement that it will honor President Obama at the graduation ceremony in May. Their faithful witness is an inspiration and a shining example even if it is not clear what good, if any, will come of it. For as the Holy Week liturgies reminds us, Christian witness is not about power or tangible results. It’s about the life-giving truth of the Gospel and about the Father who passionately loves each individual human being.

I also stand here as the parent of four Notre Dame graduates, including a 2009 graduate, a parent who cannot in good conscience—or, in my particular case, without giving scandal—attend my own son’s graduation ceremony.

Make no mistake. This protest has to do with President Obama’s actions and with his intentions regarding future actions, and not merely with his beliefs.

Now, of course, the administrators of the university do not “condone or endorse his positions”—or, presumably, his actions—“on specific issues regarding the protection of human life.” And, to be sure, it is permissible to honor someone despite the bad things he’s done, as long as those bad things are “not all THAT bad.” So let’s look at a few of the actions that the administrators of the university consider to be “not all THAT bad.”

President Obama has overturned the Mexico City Policy that had prohibited taxpayer money from going to groups that promote or perform abortions in other nations. “This is bad,” the administrators of the university admit, “but it’s not all THAT bad.”

President Obama has, in Michael Gerson’s words, “signalled that he will overturn [the previous president’s] executive order protecting health workers from firing and discrimination if they refuse to perform actions they consider morally objectionable.” “This is bad,” the administrators of the university admit, “but it’s not all THAT bad.”

President Obama has lifted the previous president’s already weak-kneed restrictions on the use of taxpayer money for embryo-destructive stem cell research—which research, by the way, unlike non-destructive stem cell research, has yet to result in curing anyone of any disease. “This is bad,” the administrators of the university admit, “but it’s not all THAT bad.”

President Obama has nominated an enthusiastically pro-abortion Catholic to become Secretary of Health and Human Services, the department that oversees the medical profession along with other human services. “This is bad,” the administrators of the university admit, “but it’s not all THAT bad.”

The list goes on, and the point is absolutely clear. When it comes to issues that bear upon the protection of innocent human live at its earliest stages, issues which, as one administrator put it, “we care so much about,” there just is no bad action on the part of President Obama that was going to count as “all THAT bad.” No wonder Cardinal George was driven to say, “Whatever else is clear, it is clear that Notre Dame didn’t understand what it means to be Catholic when they issued this invitation.”

And, in fairness to President Obama, it is not as if he had not made it perfectly clear before the election what he intended to do. So no one can pretend that the administrators of Our Lady’s university, who undoubtedly issued their invitation to the President long before Inauguration Day, were ignorant of his intentions. (In fact, I hear that there was a pre-election New York Times bestseller, written by a Notre Dame graduate, that spelled out those intentions in great detail and with impeccable documentation.) Yes, the administrators knew all this full well, and they nonetheless chose “prestige over truth,” to use Bishop D’Arcy’s apt words. In fact, choosing prestige over truth seems to have become something of a way of life around here.

And despite their protestations to the contrary, the administrators of the university have made themselves complicit in the culture of comfort and convenience over against the culture of sacrifice and self-giving; they have made themselves complicit in the culture of fearfulness and quiet despair over against the culture of gratitude to and hope in the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ; they have made themselves complicit in the culture of individual autonomy and individual self-creation over against the culture of faithful and enduring commitment and of shared dependency within a rich communal life—and, sad to say, they have done it under the mantle of the Catholic Faith which they profess with their lips. This would be sobering even if we didn’t find ourselves at the beginning of Holy Week.

Today we have prayed to Our Lady and her Son in atonement for this betrayal, as well as in atonement for our own individual failures to bring the life-giving and liberating message of the Gospel to those around us. Mary is the patroness not only of this university, but also of the Congregation of Holy Cross, under the title of Our Lady of Sorrows. Think of the Fourth and Thirteenth Stations of the Cross. Think of Mary standing under the cross, joining her unspeakable suffering to the suffering of her Son. Think of the hardships—the crosses, if you will—joyfully embraced by that hardy group of immigrants, Father Sorin and his companions, in order to found this school.

May these examples inspire us all to re-dedicate ourselves to the proposition that Catholic universities have the most to offer our culture when they are not afraid to be distinctive, when they do not accept the facile assumption that intellectual excellence and fidelity to Christ need to be balanced off against one another, when they do not value worldly glory and prestige more than the truth that sets us free.

Mary, Mother of Sorrows, pray for us.

Robert P. George on EWTN to discuss Obama administration's attack on prolife conscience protection

Princeton professor Robert P. George will be appearing this evening (Sunday, April 5th) on Fr. Benedict Groeschel’s show on EWTN to discuss the Obama administration’s attack on conscience protection for pro-life physicians and other health care workers. The show is in the 7:00 – 8:00 pm hour in the Eastern Time Zone.

How Notre Dame could have had it both ways.

Although I have spilled many bytes on this blog over the Obama-Notre Dame commencement-honorary doctorate controversy, I have offered no suggestion on how Notre Dame should have responded when presented with the opportunity to invite President Obama to address its graduates. Over the last couple of days, however, I have given it some thought, and here is one possible scenario.

The ND administration could have had it both ways. It could have invited President Obama to give the commencement address while not offering him an honorary doctorate. A few days after the president's hypothetical acceptance of this invitation, curious reporters would no doubt begin to notice that every other president who had given a commencement address at ND was also awarded an honorary doctorate. Press inquiries to ND would soon follow. And ND President, the Rev. John Jenkins, could have then said with complete moral integrity, “Although we respect and honor President Obama’s historic election as well as his accomplishments, we cannot award him an honorary doctorate in laws since he is actively engaged in making sure that a large segment of the human community, the unborn, are permanently sequestered from the protection of the laws. This, of course, does not mean that we do not respect his office and the many possible ways in which Catholics may work with the president on a variety of issues and common causes. Because we know that President Obama respects Catholics and Catholic moral theology, we are convinced that he understands, appreciates, and respects our stance.” This would have made it nearly impossible for the Right or the Left to have cried foul. Certainly, it would have put President Obama in an awkward position. But, if he really wants to dialogue with those with whom he disagrees, a condition of that dialogue can not be that his hosts remain silent and administratively impotent on the veracity of their own fundamental principles.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

150,000 new or returning Catholics to be received into Church in 2009

According to an article in the California Catholic Daily:
As many as 150,000 new or returning Catholics are expected to join the Catholic Church in 2009 in the United States. Many of them will do so at the Easter Vigil liturgies, April 11, in parishes across the country.

In some cases the numbers show the growth and vitality of the Catholic Church in places where it has traditionally been a small minority. For instance, the Archdiocese of Atlanta estimates that 513 catechumens and 2,195 candidates will join the ranks of the Archdiocese in 2009. About 1,800 of them will do so at Easter. These numbers do not include infant baptisms, which are recorded separately.

You can read this article in its entirety here.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Upcoming Rally and Prayers at Notre Dame

From Fumare:
The Notre Dame students mobilizing a response to the Obama invitation have several events planned, which include:

Palm Sunday Prayer Rally
The coalition has announced plans for its first official demonstration, a prayerful rally to be held in front of the University's Main Building at 2:00 p.m. after the noon Palm Sunday Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on April 5, 2009.

Nightly Rosary
Please join us every night, either in spirit, or in person at the Grotto at 9:30 pm to pray the rosary for the conversion of Barack Obama, greater respect for life, and the Catholic Identity of Our Lady's university.

You can find out more information here.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Newt Gingrich becomes Catholic

On Sunday, March 29, 2009, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was publicly received into the Catholic Church. You can read about it here.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Speaking at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio

On the evening of April 2, I will be speaking on the topic of my book, Return to Rome, at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. The talk is scheduled for 8:45 pm. For more information, please contact the Franciscan University's theology department: (740) 284-5320 or theology[at]

iMonk's review of Return to Rome

You can find it here. Here's an excerpt:
It’s a very good book. Short. Well-written. Quite personable. No axes to grind at all. Gracious to everyone. No name calling. No apologies or triumphalism. Lots of good questions, insight and humility. If you want to spend an couple of hours with a very intelligent, articulate Catholic revert from the heart of evangelicalism, this is a great book.

I am really humbled by such remarks. Michael Spencer, the iMonk, is one of my favorite online writers. So, it's quite an honor to receive such high praise from him.

You can read the whole thing here.