The Sound of Silence: Cardinal Wuerl, Commencement Absentee


The word ‘choice’ is a smokescreen behind which those killing unborn children take refuge. Every chance you get, blow that smoke away.  (Donald Cardinal Wuerl)

Cardinal Wuerl has dispelled any notion that his acceptance of an honorary degree suggests approval of Notre Dame’s award of the Laetare Medal to Vice President Biden and has instead referred with approval to Bishop Kevin Rhoades’s denunciation of the award; Cardinal Raymond Burke has strongly endorsed Bishop Rhoades’s judgment; and John Boehner’s colorful  characterization of Ted Cruz at Stanford University  as “Lucifer in the flesh”and a “miserable son of a bitch” has raised a challenge for those composing the Laetare Medal tribute to Boehner for his “civility” and abstention from “poisonous invective.”

A key element in the narrative justifying the award of the Laetare Medal to Vice President Biden has been the implicit approval thought to flow from the presence of Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington on the Commencement platform as Biden is honored.

Thus, in his first letter declining to meet with student leaders protesting the award — he declined twice — Father Jenkins observed that Cardinal Wuerl, “who has served the Church faithfully over six decades as a priest, bishop, and cardinal,” would be “honored at our 2016 Commencement.” The implied image is of Cardinal Wuerl benignly smiling during the presentation to Biden.

As National Catholic Reporter columnist  Michael Sean Winters grandiloquently proclaimed,

[His] presence will spread a kind of imprimatur over the award the way the cold Indiana breeze will spread his red ferriola in the wind.

Not so fast!

In a letter to Bill Dempsey, the Secretary of Communication for the Archdiocese of Washington distanced the Cardinal from the award to Vice President Biden, and in a response to an inquiry by LifeSiteNews, the Archdiocese associated Cardinal Wuerl with Bishop Kevin Rhoades’s denunciation of the award.

Sycamore Trust to Cardinal Wuerl

In his letter on behalf of the Sycamore Trust board, Bill Dempsey cited the Winters article as evidence that the Cardinal’s presence at commencement would be taken as “signaling approval of the award and therefore as diminishing the importance of the Church teachings that the Vice President disregards.” (That is, the Vice President’s “strong support of Roe v. Wade and of same sex marriage” as well as “federal support for embryonic stem cell research and the abortifacient/contraception mandate.”)

In addition, Bill wrote:

Your presence will be taken as approval both of Father Jenkins’s disregard of the objection of Notre Dame’s bishop and also, more broadly, of what this means about the relationship that should obtain between bishop and university.

Cardinal Wuerl’s Disclaimer

In his reply on behalf of Cardinal Wuerl, Mr. Ed McFadden, the Secretary of Communications for the Archdiocese, stressed that no inference could be drawn from the Cardinal’s presence during the presentation of the Laetare Medal for the very good reason that he would not be present.

It is important to note that Cardinal Wuerl will not be present at the Notre Dame Commencement this year. Some time ago, he was invited to celebrate the Baccalaureate Mass and in the context of that occasion to receive an honorary degree, which takes place the day before Commencement. In fact, he will be leaving the campus that evening for a longstanding prior commitment.

More, Mr. McFadden enclosed statements by Cardinal Wuerl and editorials from the Archdiocesan newspaper evidencing the Cardinal’s outspoken opposition to actions by Catholic schools “seemingly approving of ideas that are contrary to moral truth.”

Mr. McFadden drew attention in particular to Cardinal’s Wuerl’s homily at a Mass for Georgetown students who protested the appearance of the president of Planned Parenthood at Georgetown University. In words especially apt respecting the honoring of Vice President Biden, Cardinal Wuerl declared:

The word ‘choice’ is a smokescreen behind which those killing unborn children take refuge. Every chance you get, blow that smoke away.

Cardinal Wuerl’s Citation of Bishop Rhoades’s Statement

Bill concluded his letter with a plea that Cardinal Wuerl associate himself with Bishop Rhoades’s criticism of the university’s action.

We earnestly entreat you to show your support for Bishop Rhoades in the exercise of his ‘right and duty to watch over the preservation and strengthening of the Catholic character of Notre Dame’ (Ex Corde Ecclesiae 5.2) rather than for Father Jenkins in his rejection of the bishop’s counsel.

That is precisely what Cardinal Wuerl has now done through the archdiocesan response to an inquiry by LifeSiteNews:

The archdiocese does not comment on matters involving other dioceses, but refers to the statement on the matter released by the Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

There goes Michael Sean Winters’s red ferrioloa!

Cardinal Raymond Burke Concurs with Bishop Rhoades.

On April 7, Cardinal Burke denounced Notre Dame’s action as “gravely wrong and most scandalous.” Calling Bishop Rhoades’s condemnation “absolutely true and most commendable,” Cardinal Burke said it was “difficult for him to imagine” Notre Dame’s conferring its highest honor on a Catholic “who supports anti-life and anti-family [same-sex marriage] policies.” Even if some of his positions have been praiseworthy, “other positions are in the most grievous violation of the moral law and make him ineligible to receive such an award.” To give it is to commit “a great scandal” because “most people will simply conclude that the Catholic teaching [on abortion and marriage] is not very firm and that it can be easily violated.”

The Laetare Medal – From Scandal to Snicker

On April 26 at Stanford University, awardee-designate John Boehner, having characterized presidential candidate Ted Cruz as “Lucifer in the flesh,” quite understandably declared,  “I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.”

On the incivility meter, in an instant Boehner blew right by Biden’s “They gonna put y’all back in chains” campaign brickbat, his smear of same-sex marriage opponents as “bigots,”  and his “Neanderthal” label for Republicans.

The award this year, you will recall, honors Biden and Boehner for their “service to the church and society” through their  “civility,” “respectful dialogue” and avoidance of “poisonous invective.”

Let us know what you think in the “Leave a Reply” section below.

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If you believe Notre Dame should not have awarded the Laetare Medal to Vice President Joseph Biden, please show your opposition by signing our petition to the Fellows of the University, who have the fiduciary duty under the statutes of the university to “ensure that the university maintains its essential character as a Catholic institution.” Click on the image below to sign the petition.


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