SOUTH BEND, Ind. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Vice President Joe Biden and former Speaker of the House John Boehner received a warm welcome at Catholic University of Notre Dame while accepting the college's highest honor.
Following months of controversy, Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana bestowed its prestigious Laetare Medal Sunday on pro-abortion and pro-gay "marriage" Joe Biden, in addition to past Republican House Speaker John Boehner. The Laetare Medal is given annually to Catholic individuals the university deems have "ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church and enriched the heritage of humanity."
The pair were introduced by the Rev. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame, who praised the work of both men, asserting they have both pledged their lives to the benefit of society with "collegiality, patriotism, perseverance [and] courage" and relied on the Faith to find "strength and guidance."
"It is a good time to remind ourselves what lives dedicated to genuine public service in politics look like," Fr. Jenkins stated. "We find it in the lives of Vice President Biden and Speaker Boehner."
He continued, noting the university chose to award the pair with the Laetare Medal "not to endorse particular positions [they've] taken" but because both men have given their lives "to serve the common good of political leadership by [their] own best light," acknowledging that both men have cast votes about which Catholics have "grave moral reservations."
Father Jenkins has previously asserted the two were chosen as a means of renouncing a "toxic political environment where poisonous invective and partisan gamesmanship pass for political leadership." Both politicians addressed this remark.
"Engage in the tireless pursuit of finding common ground," the vice president urged the thousands of students gathered for the ceremony. "Because not only will you be happier, you'll be incredibly more successful. That's where you'll find your reward."
"I've read some accounts about how John and I are old school," he continued. "We treat each other with respect. ... Resist the temptation, when you disagree, to ascribe a negative motive. You don't know what that person's motive is and it makes it virtually impossible to reach common ground. ... Progress only comes when you deal with your opponent with respect, listening as well as talking."
Boehner echoed the vice president's words, maintaining that governing "requires us to look for common ground where it can be found without compromising our principles. ... While I'm a Republican and Joe's a Democrat, the fact is we're both Americans."
The vice president additionally praised the young crowd, asserting their generation is "the best educated, most tolerant generation in the history of the United States." He also called the Laetare Medal "the most meaningful award I've ever received in my life."
The lead-up to Sunday's ceremony was riddled with controversy, beginning with the March announcement that Biden would be among this year's recipients of the honor. A statement was issued from Fort Wayne-South Bend bishop Kevin Rhoades decrying the decision:
I believe it is wrong for Notre Dame to honor any pro-choice public official with the Laetare Medal, even if he/she has other positive accomplishments in public service. ... I also question the propriety of honoring a public official who was a major spokesman for the redefinition of marriage.
Bishop Rhoades continued, noting that honoring "a pro-choice Catholic who also has supported the redefinition of marriage" can give the wrong impression that "one can be a good Catholic while also supporting or advocating for positions that contradict our fundamental moral and social principles and teachings."
Cardinal Raymond Burke supported the proclamation from Bp. Rhoades, expressing his hope that "Notre Dame University will hear the voice of their shepherd, the successor of the Apostles in their midst, and change this gravely wrong and most scandalous decision."
The event was additionally protested by Notre Dame students and campus organizations. Dozens of students gathered near Notre Dame's front gate Sunday morning, holding signs featuring pictures of aborted babies and statements such as "Shame on Notre Dame" and "Catholic Faith Attacked From Within."
The Pro-Life Action League in Chicago also attended. The organization's executive director, Eric Scheidler, highlighted that Biden's support for abortion access flies in the face of Church teaching. "The idea that our unborn brothers and sisters would be without a voice today is unconscionable," he commented. "That's why we are here."
Shawn Sullivan, director of The Life Center in South Bend, also attended in the hopes of providing a witness for passerbys.
In addition to the Laetare Medal, both Biden and Boehner were presented with honorary degrees from the university. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. presided at the Baccalaureate Mass Saturday and accepted an honorary doctorate from the university.