It is no secret that Notre Dame's selection of President Barack Obama to deliver this spring's commencement address has generated a firestorm of controversy both on and off campus. Considerably less attention has been given to the fact that Harvard Law Professor Mary Ann Glendon will be receiving the Laetare Medal at Notre Dame's commencement.
Since 1883, the Laetare Medal has been awarded annually to a Catholic "whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the church and enriched the heritage of humanity." It is considered the most prestigious honor for American Catholics.
This honor is richly deserved. In addition to her position as Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard, Glendon has served on the President's Council on Bioethics and as the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. As a public intellectual and as a diplomat, Mary Ann Glendon has impressively served our Church and our country.
Of course in the eyes of many believing Catholics, the awarding of the Laetare Medal to Mary Ann Glendon does not in any way "make up" for the selection of President Obama as commencement speaker. The frustration, hurt, and disappointment that many are feeling right now is certainly understandable.
However, Catholics who are unhappy with Notre Dame's decision should take heart. Two important facts have gone underreported by the mainstream media:
1) Mary Ann Glendon will get to make an acceptance speech
2) Her speech will come after the conclusion of President Obama's remarks.
As such, Notre Dame is offering Professor Glendon a once in a lifetime opportunity to rebut President Obama's remarks to a captive audience.
The pressure will of course be considerable. Countless pro-lifers and Catholics will be literally be praying for Glendon to deliver an effective response to the President. Appearing shrill or bitter would certainly be a mistake. Indeed, Glendon needs to use this opportunity to offer gracious, but forceful argument about the importance of the sanctity of human life to what will literally be an international audience.
This will doubtless be difficult, but if the past is any indication, Mary Ann Glendon will certainly be up to the task.
Michael J. New is an assistant professor at the University of Alabama and a visiting fellow at the Witherspoon Institute.