From NBC's Christopher Wilson
Mary Ann Glendon, a conservative Harvard law professor who was U.S. ambassador to the Vatican under George W. Bush, has announced that she will not be accepting the Laetare Medal at the University of Notre Dame's commencement ceremony on May 17. In her letter to Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins, Glendon stated that she would no longer be accepting, citing the conflict with President Barack Obama's presence as both a commencement speaker and a recipient of an honorary degree.
Glendon is staunchly anti-abortion, and she expressed disappointment that Notre Dame was awarding someone -- in this case the president of the United States -- whose position on abortion is so starkly different from Catholic Church's and 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," she wrote. "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."
Glendon also pointed to statements by Father Jenkins -- "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", he said -- which she thought attempted to turn the commencement ceremony into a sort of debate on the issue.
"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."
The Notre Dame campus has been buzzing since the announcement last month that Obama would be at the Class of 2009's graduation. Anti-abortion groups have already stated they plan to be out in force at the May 17th ceremony, while the Notre Dame student body prepares for more unwanted attention as the end of the semester approaches.
The Laetare medal (pronounced Lay-tah-ray) was established in 1883, and is considered one of the oldest and prestigious awards that can be given to an American Catholic. It's given out annually at the University of Notre Dame commencement ceremony. Previous recipients include President John F. Kennedy, Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day, and fictional American president Martin Sheen, who received the award last year.
*** UPDATE *** "President Obama is disappointed by former Ambassador Mary Glendon's decision," Spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki, "but he looks forward to delivering an inclusive and respectful speech at the Notre Dame graduation, a school with a rich history of fostering the exchange of ideas. While he is honored to have the support of millions of people of all faiths, he does not govern with the expectation that everyone sees eye to eye with him on every position, and the spirit of debate and healthy disagreement on important issues is part of what he loves about this country."