Two views on the 2016 Laetare: Letting the Team Down

Author: David Carlin '62M.A.

A few words regarding Joe Biden and the disheartening award of the Laetare Medal.

The secularist “war” against Christianity has been going on for a little more than 300 years now, ever since Deism appeared on the scene in England in the late 1600s. Over these centuries Christianity has suffered numerous defeats, some temporary, some permanent. Among the setbacks for Christianity have been the French Revolution, the rise of socialism in Europe, the agnosticism of the Victorian age, the Communist Revolution in Russia, the Nazi Revolution in Germany, and — during the last half-century or so in America — the sexual revolution.

Photo by Matt Cashore '94

The sexual revolution is not just about sex. It’s about demolishing Christianity, especially Catholic Christianity. It is the latest form of anti-Christian secularism. By giving its moral approval to fornication, unmarried cohabitation, abortion and homosexual acts, the sexual revolution has made it very clear that it views the Catholic religion as a false and obnoxious religion, since Catholicism has condemned all those items from time immemorial. The secularist syllogism goes like this:

• If Catholicism is a true religion, then abortion, homosexual acts, etc. are immoral.
• But they are not immoral.
• Therefore Catholicism is a false religion.

This brings me to Vice President Joe Biden and the Laetare Medal. Biden, though a lifelong Catholic, and for all I know a subjectively very good Catholic, has been objectively speaking an enemy of Catholicism. Indeed he is one of the nation’s most conspicuous enemies of Catholicism. As a U.S. senator he had a voting record that was overwhelmingly “pro-choice” (a euphemism for pro-abortion); and for the past seven-plus years he has been the strong right arm of President Obama, an extremely pro-abortion president. Further, in 2012, Biden was a step ahead of Obama in giving his public endorsement of same-sex marriage.

Now I myself, like Biden, am a Democrat. As a Democrat I was a state senator in Rhode Island from 1981 to 1993. For two of those years I was the senate’s Democratic majority leader. In 1992, I was the Democratic nominee in my congressional district for the U.S. House of Representatives. (Alas, I lost badly.) In my youth I was a liberal of the FDR variety. Today, since I oppose abortion and same-sex marriage, which are articles of today’s Democratic creed, I am a heretic, perhaps the most conservative Democrat in America.

It is, in my heretical opinion, a great scandal for Notre Dame to give Biden the Laetare Medal, an award intended to honor outstanding Catholic lay persons. For to honor Biden is to honor a man who, perhaps out of invincible ignorance — but can he possibly be that ignorant? — continues to be an enemy of some essential moral tenets of the religion Notre Dame professes to stand for.

I imagine the authorities of Notre Dame will say to this, “We regret to say that Biden has been a champion of such anti-Catholic things as abortion and same-sex marriage; but we are not honoring him as a champion of these things; rather we are honoring him as a devoted public servant who has made important contributions to civil political discourse.” Ah, yes. And if John Wilkes Booth had survived, we could give him an award and say, “We are not honoring Mr. Booth as an assassin, but as a distinguished American actor.”

The University of Notre Dame means a lot to the immediate Notre Dame family — students, alumni, faculty, staff and parents of students. But Notre Dame also has an extended family: American Catholics generally. The University means a lot to them too, and has meant a lot since it first became famous by winning big football games more than a century ago.

In the eyes of this extended family, Notre Dame has been the jewel in the crown of American Catholicism. For vast numbers of Catholics, Notre Dame has been the most prominent institutional symbol of Catholicism in the United States, far more important than any other college or university, and far more important than any single diocese or archdiocese. To honor Biden — this champion of abortion and same-sex marriage — is to send what is at best an ambiguous signal to the immense Notre Dame family. At worst, it is to tell the family that the Catholic religion isn’t really serious in its opposition to abortion and sexual immorality.

One would expect that a university famous for its athletic successes would appreciate the value of teamwork. In honoring Biden, Notre Dame has let the Catholic team down.

David Carlin teaches sociology at the Community College of Rhode Island in Newport and is the author of Can a Catholic Be a Democrat? (Sophia Institute Press).