The University of Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal is one of the prestigious awards that can be bestowed on Catholics in the United States since 1883. One of the requirements for recipients is that they have illustrated the ideals of the Catholic Church and enriched the heritage of humanity. Intended as an American substitute for the papal bestowal of The Golden Rose, the medal is announced on Laetare Sunday during Lent. The Latin inscription on the medal highlights its great importance, “Magna est veritas et praevalebit,” meaning “Truth is mighty, and it shall prevail.”
This year the University of Notre Dame announced that two individuals as the recipients of this American Catholic distinction, Vice-President Joseph Biden and the former Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner. In making the announcement of the 2016 Laetare Medal’s recipients the University of Notre Dame qualified the reasons for bestowing the award on these two men with the following statement:
“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.”
Both Vice-President Biden and Speaker Boehner have indeed merited the award based on their lives in the political arena. They have without a doubt contributed to the principles of compromise and the pursuit of the common good for many years in the Senate for Vice-President Biden, and as a member of the House of Representatives for John Boehner. However, the unique disclaimer by Notre Dame University that indicates, “…Notre Dame is not endorsing the policy positions of either,” is highly significant in considering each man for the award.
Speaker Boehner throughout his career in the House of Representatives has always been a staunch Pro-Life Advocate. This position is clear in his voting history that consistently maintained his Pro-Life and Catholic faith’s position on the sanctity of human life from conception to the natural end of life. His outstanding opposition to any legislation that enabled federally funded abortions, birth control, Planned Parenthood and similar organizations herald his Catholic convictions and the Speaker’s determination to pursue and overturning of Roe V Wade. His political career and his voting record is an exemplary example of a faithful Catholic, engaged in the political life of the United States has maintained and integrated his faith with his political ideology. Speaker Boehner should be lauded for his contributions to both the effective applications of mutual cooperation and dialogue throughout his years as a member of the American Congress. The Catholic Church in the United States should be especially proud of John Boehner’s ability to synthesize his personal faith with his political obligations of office into a cohesive statement of his position as a legislator and as a Catholic.
Vice-President Biden however has not always been a consistent Catholic politician throughout his service in the United States Senate. While always maintaining his personal beliefs in the Catholic Church’s teachings on the sanctity of human life, the now Vice-President has not always supported legislation that is reflective of the Church’s teachings. The Vice -President when asked on his views on abortion had the following response:
“My religion defines who I am. And I’ve been a practicing Catholic my whole life. And it has particularly informed my social doctrine. Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who can’t take care of themselves, people who need help. With regard to 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. But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews and–I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the congressman. I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that women can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor, in my view. And the Supreme Court–I’m not going to interfere with that. “Source:2012 Vice-Presidential debate, October 11, 2012
The quoted statement from Vice-President Biden is in itself tangible proof that the bestowal of the Laetare Medal demands that the University of Notre Dame explain and justify the award’s presentation to the Vice-President. Clearly, with his own answer when queried, Vice-President Biden vacillated between his commitment to the Catholic faith and his more pressing political stance while running for reelection in 2012.
When asked if the Federal Government should provide funding to procuring abortions, the Vice-President maintained that there should be no funding on the part of the government for abortion, but qualified his response with the following in his own book.
“I remember vividly the first time, in 1973, I had to go to the floor to vote on abortion. A fellow Senator asked how I would vote. “My position is that I am personally opposed to abortion, but I don’t think I have a right to impose my few on the rest of society. I’ve thought a lot about it, and my position probably doesn’t please anyone. I think the government should stay out completely. I will not vote to overturn the Court’s decision. I will not vote to curtail a woman’s right to choose abortion. But I will also not vote to use federal funds to fund abortion. “
“I’ve stuck to my middle-of-the-road position on abortion for more than 30 years. I still vote against partial birth abortion and federal funding, and I’d like to make it easier for scared young mothers to choose not to have an abortion, but I will also vote against a constitutional amendment that strips a woman of her right to make her own choice. “Source: Promises to Keep by Joe Biden, p.104-105, July 31, 2007
What precisely does the University of Notre Dame consider as an, “individual that has illustrated the ideals of the Catholic Church,” when naming Vice-President Biden as the recipient of the oldest and most (allegedly) prestigious Catholic award in the United States? Yes, Joe Biden’s activities as Vice-President have indeed made him an admirable politician. His great success’ in providing the navigation for the Obama Administration has proved to be an invaluable asset to the continued consistency of the work of the Federal Government throughout a pugnacious presidential relationship with the Congress. However, these achievements, fit nicely into the disclaimer promulgated by Norte Dame University when announcing the 2016 award recipients.
Unfortunately, the Vice-President’s legislative voting history as a member of the United States Senate are far too excessive against Catholic Church teachings to concur with this accolade given to Vice-President Biden. Consistently, throughout his political career, he has clearly stated that he opposes any attempt to overturn Roe V Wade, which de facto should place him outside of the Catholic sphere of consideration for this uniquely Catholic award, that celebrates first and foremost the doctrines and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. How can Notre Dame call itself a Catholic University, while lauding praise on individuals that are at least mediocre about supporting the Catholic Church’s traditions in the public forum.
The integration of personal faith with one’s professional vocation as a politician presents perhaps an oxymoron of conscience for Joe Biden. Personally he maintains he is a practicing Catholic. From all observations this indeed is true, however the danger resides with the public proclamations of the Vice-President that delineate the fine line he walks between a cohesive personal integration of his Catholic faith with his political allegiances is not a position Notre Dame University should reward with the Laetare Medal. While the Vice-President might indeed be properly motivated with adhering to the precepts of the Catholic faith, but not willing to apply them to the principles of his political life indicates a distorted Catholic schizophrenia that is a malady that afflicts not only the Vice-President, but many individuals and institutions that call themselves, Catholic in the United States.
Understandably, it is easier for Notre Dame University to recognize the Vice-President’s political career as an exemplary indication of the great success achieved as a politician. It is inconceivable that a Catholic university would qualify the bestowal of the penultimate Catholic award in America to an individual that has yes to personally synthesize his Catholic faith with the everyday activities of his political manifesto, which at a minimum is contrary to many precepts of Catholicism and clearly dismiss Church teachings on the dignity of all human life as sacred.
Many Catholics will applaud the award that recognizes Vice-President Biden’s stellar political career and his unique ability to diplomatically work with a President and a United States Congress that have alienated themselves from cooperation for almost eight years. Indeed, Joe Biden deserves kudos and admiration for this sensitive political balancing act.
However, awarding the Laetare Award to Vice-President Biden undermines the intrinsic purpose the medal was initiated to celebrate, namely outstanding service to the Church and one that illustrates the ideals of the Church. In this category, the Vice-President is not an obvious recipient of the coveted Catholic accolade.
Finally, Notre Dame University in making this award one that celebrates the political achievements of both Speaker Boehner and Vice-President Biden compromises its essential understanding of what it means to be a Catholic university that pursues rewarding nuances of political correctness at the expense of Catholic moral teachings that extol human life and dignity in order to bestow a politically balanced platform for the recipients of the Laetare Award.
The administration and faculty of Notre Dame University should read the inscription on the Laetare Award before they announce subsequent conferees. The inscription frankly leaves nothing left to say or interpret.
“Magna est veritas et praevalebit,” meaning “Truth is mighty, and it shall prevail.”