SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — The University of Notre Dame should not award Vice President Joe Biden its top award because it sends a message that a politician can support abortion rights and gay marriage and still be a good Catholic, the bishop of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese said.
Notre Dame announced March 5 it would award the Laetare Medal to Biden and former Speaker of the House John Boehner for their leadership, civility and dedication to the nation. The Rev. John Jenkins, the Catholic university's president, said at the time that the university was not endorsing the public positions of either man.
In a statement released Monday, Bishop Kevin Rhoades said that while he understands the school's efforts to recognize Catholics from different political parties, Biden's early and vocal support for same-sex marriage and his backing of abortion rights does not sit well with the teachings of the Catholic Church.
"The church has continually urged public officials, especially Catholics, of the grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that supports or facilitates abortion or that undermines the authentic meaning of marriage. I disagree with awarding someone for 'outstanding service to the Church and society' who has not been faithful to this obligation," Rhoades wrote.
"There are many important values which we seek to teach, uphold, and live in our Catholic colleges and universities. These are the values we should look for in the lives of those we wish to honor," he said.
Jenkins responded that while he and Rhoades don't always agree, "I'm gratified that he acknowledged, in his words, 'Notre Dame's efforts to encourage civility, dialogue, mutual respect and cooperation in political life.'"
The university awards the Laetare Medal every year to a Catholic "whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the church and enriched the heritage of humanity."
Past recipients have included President John Kennedy, Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill, actor Martin Sheen and jazz composer Dave Brubeck.
In 2009, Harvard University law professor and anti-abortion scholar Mary Ann Glendon, also a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, announced she wouldn't accept the medal because of the university's decision to have President Barack Obama speak at commencement. Rhoades' predecessor, the late Bishop John D'Arcy, skipped Notre Dame's commencement that year to protest Obama being awarded an honorary degree.