The Laetare Medal Misfire, Chapter 2


Notre Dame has chosen a dissident priest to receive the 2017 Laetare Medal.

After last year’s unsettling award of the Laetare Medal to Vice President Joe Biden despite his championship of abortion rights and same-sex marriage, one might have hoped for a respite this year.

It was not to be.

On March 26, Notre Dame announced that the Laetare Medal will be awarded at Commencement this year to Rev. Gregory J. Boyle, founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles.

The announcement describes Father Boyle’s laudable work for some 30 years with men and women who have been incarcerated and involved with gangs. His organization “is now the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world.”

That’s on the plus side. There is, unsurprisingly, quite a negative side: Father Boyle has openly dissented from the Church’s doctrine on same-sex marriage and has ridiculed its teachings respecting ordination of women and reception of Communion by Catholics married outside the Church.

In a widely publicized 2010 interview in connection with California Proposition 8, the referendum to ban same-sex marriage that was strongly supported by the Catholic bishops, Father Boyle not only disagreed but put the bishops on the wrong side of God.

Father Boyle said that, in judging the proposal, it was important to ask, “How does God see sexual orientation” and “Does God feel like same-sex marriage could happen?”

Father Boyle’s answer:

I don’t think anybody who has a connection to God and God’s understanding and depth of compassion who’s going to say no.

“And this,” he said, “is contrary to the party line.”

Later on in the interview, Father Boyle characterizes opposition to same–sex marriage – the “party line” – as “demonizing people.”

Shifting to the question of women priests, Father Boyle said the Church’s justification for the teaching was “shameful, “nonsense” and not “honest.” What would be honest, he added, would be to say, “I’m frightened that women will be ordained.”

Finally, as to the withholding of Communion from Catholics married outside the Church:

Hello?! What are we doing? Come on!

To be clear, we do not suggest that anyone who has at some time expressed disagreement with a significant Church teaching is automatically disqualified for the Laetare Medal. But here we have a prominent priest telling a television audience in the context of one of the most heated political battles in California history, not simply that he disagrees with the Church on the issue, but that he regards the Church’s teaching on homosexual sex and same-sex marriage as contrary to God’s will.

Nor did he simply say that he disagreed with the Church’s teaching on the ordination of women and the discipline respecting the Church’s central Sacrament. Rather, he ridiculed the teachings and by extension the Popes and bishops who established them.

In sum, Father Boyle displayed an utter contempt for the magisterium and its – that is, the Church’s – “party line.” He looks for truth elsewhere.

And so once again Notre Dame is scorning the bishops’ injunction against honoring persons who oppose the Church’s “fundamental moral principles” while it is also repurposing the Laetare Medal.

The Medal’s stated purpose is to honor Catholics “whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church and enriched the heritage of humanity.”

Father Boyle’s impressive history of good works, which we, too, admire, surely meets the “enrichment” standard. It is the “illustrated the ideals of the Church” element that is the sticking point with honorees like Vice President Biden and Father Boyle. The unstated but evident rephrasing to accommodate the honoring of Father Boyle is “illustrated some ideals of the Church while ridiculing others.”

Commencement will see an unusual pairing: Vice President Pence, a former Catholic who strongly agrees with Church teaching on same-sex marriage, and Father Boyle, a Catholic priest who dissents from that teaching and is being honored for “illustrating the ideals of the Church.” Perhaps the notion is that it all comes out even this way.

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