Thursday, April 30, 2009

Laetare Thursday: a Medal Two-Fer

And the 2009 Laetare Medal goes to....

Nope, ain't happenin'.

Three days after Mary Ann Glendon declined the US church's most prestigious prize and the University of Notre Dame began seeking out another recipient -- all in light of the Golden Dome's invitation to President Obama to serve as its commencement speaker next month -- this morning the following announcement came from South Bend:

Judge John T. Noonan Jr., the 1984 recipient of the Laetare Medal, has accepted an invitation to deliver an address in the spirit of the award at Notre Dame’s 164th University Commencement Ceremony on May 17. His speech will be in lieu of awarding the medal this year.

“In thinking about who could bring a compelling voice, a passion for dialogue, great intellectual stature, and a deep commitment to Catholic values to the speaking role of the Laetare Medalist – especially in these unusual circumstances – it quickly became clear that an ideal choice is Judge Noonan,” said Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., president of Notre Dame. “This commencement ceremony, more than anything else, is a celebration of our students and their families. Judge Noonan will join with President Obama and other speakers in that celebration, sending them from our campus and into the world with sound advice and affirmation.

“Since Judge Noonan is a previous winner of the Laetare Medal, we have decided, upon reflection, to not award the medal this year.”
Noonan was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 1985 by President Ronald Reagan.

In addition to his service on the federal bench, Noonan has been a consultant for the Presidential Commission on Population, the National Institutes of Health, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the American Law Institute.

Noonan has served as a consultant for several agencies in the Catholic Church, including Pope Paul VI’s Commission on Problems of the Family, and the U.S. Catholic Conference’s committees on moral values, law and public policy, law and life issues, and social development and world peace. He also has been a governor of the Canon Law Society of America, and director of the National Right to Life Committee.

A Boston native, Noonan was graduated from Harvard University in 1946, studied English literature at Cambridge University for a year, and returned to this country to earn master’s and doctoral degrees in philosophy from the Catholic University of America. Noonan received his J.D. degree from Harvard Law School in 1954 and went on to serve on the Special Staff of President Eisenhower’s National Security Council. He subsequently practiced law in Boston for six years.

Noonan’s long teaching career began in 1961 when he joined the faculty of Notre Dame Law School. He taught at Notre Dame from 1961 to 1966, also serving as editor of the Natural Law Forum, later the American Journal of Jurisprudence. He taught at the University of California Law School at Berkeley from 1966 to 1986. He also has been a visiting professor of law at the Angelicum in Rome, Notre Dame, Boston College, Harvard, UCLA, Southern Methodist University and Stanford. He has been the Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Lecturer at Harvard Law School and the Pope John XXIII Lecturer at Catholic University.

Noonan is the author of numerous books, including “A Church that Can and Cannot Change: The Development of Catholic Moral Teaching,” “Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by Catholic Theologians and Canonists,” “Power to Dissolve: Lawyers and Marriages in the Courts of the Roman Curia,” “Bribes,” “The Lustre of Our Country: The American Experience of Religious Freedom,” and “Narrowing the Nation’s Power: The Supreme Court Sides With the States.” He also has contributed essays, articles and reviews to such magazines and journals as Commonweal, The Tablet, The Wilson Quarterly, National Review, America, and The New York Times Book Review.

...meanwhile, as Glendon isn't speaking to the press after deciding not to accept the 126 year-old prize, a web column critiquing the former Vatican ambassador's decision to decline the Laetare was suitably blasted by her daughter, the Rome-based art historian and writer Elizabeth Lev:
The Laetare Medal is the highest honor conferred on Catholics in the United States. For a Catholic, it has greater prestige than a Nobel Prize for a scientist or an Academy Award for an actor, as the award is given for career-long achievement, for "staying the course" in the words of St. Paul. It doesn't just showcase a single discovery or film role.

To renounce it, therefore, is not the lightest of matters. Professor Glendon has spent a month thinking, consulting, and given her deep faith, praying about this decision. (This, for those of you who don't know, means asking God to help one put aside one's own personal concerns and act in the way that will produce the greatest good). (Kaitlynn) Riely's dismissive "thanks, no thanks" rendering of her decision, while pithy, is reductive.

Professor Glendon was to have been honored for not only for her scholarship, but for her second career, her pro-bono work -- ranging from the civil rights movement of the 1960s to the great civil rights issues of the present day -- namely, the defense of human life from conception to natural death. Her concerns range from the aging and dying population to the unborn to the well-being and dignity of every life, regardless of race, religion, or economic status. Her outstanding work in this field has earned her the respect of the most brilliant minds of the international community, regardless of whether they agree with her position. So again, to see her merely as "strongly anti-abortion" instead of as a tireless defender of the dignity of life, is to reveal not only a lack of understanding of the subject's work, but also the writer's real interest in this question.

Furthermore, during his first 100 days in office, President Obama has worked tirelessly to undermine Professor Glendon's lifetime of work; he is funding abortion out of the bailout package and planning to suppress the protection of conscience for health care workers.

Your notion that her "training in diplomacy" might somehow ease this situation does not take into account that she has a five-minute acceptance speech and he will have a lengthy commencement speech. There is no "engaging" here. Diplomacy generally teaches that if you have a rapier and your opponent has a missile launcher, try not to engage.

That Professor Glendon "did not like that Notre Dame was claiming her speech would serve to balance the event" is again facile and simplistic. What is there to like in being the deflector screen for inviting a profoundly divisive figure to give the commencement speech? What is likeable about a Catholic University named for the most important woman in Christianity exploiting a woman who has already dedicated her life to protecting the Church's teaching by turning her into a warm-up act for a grotesque twist on a reality show?

Finally, after 50 Catholic bishops condemned the university for its direct defiance in honoring a man in open conflict with the Church's teaching, it is right that Professor Glendon let her silence speak louder than her five-minute allotment of words would have.
Now resigned from the ambassadorship and back at Harvard Law, it's worth noting that Glendon remains in Vatican service as president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

The Holy See's global think tank of economists, political scientists, lawyers and sociologists, Pope John Paul II named Glendon to head the academy on its founding in 1994.

With the university's boards of trustees and fellows slated to meet tomorrow, bound lists of the first 300,000 signatures of a petition opposing Obama's presence on the commencement dais -- where he'll receive an honorary doctorate of laws alongside giving the day's big speech -- were sent yesterday to Notre Dame's president, Fr John Jenkins CSC, and numerous Vatican officials.