SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican said Monday she won't accept the University of Notre Dame's top honor at commencement next month because of the Roman Catholic school's decision to have President Barack Obama speak to graduates.
Harvard University law professor and anti-abortion scholar Mary Ann Glendon said in a letter to the school president that giving Obama an honorary degree violates the U.S. bishops' 2004 statement that Catholic institutions shouldn't honor people whose actions conflict with the church's moral principles.
"That request, which in no way seeks to control or interfere with an institution's freedom to invite and engage in serious debate with whomever it wishes, seems to me so reasonable that I am at a loss to understand why a Catholic university should disrespect it," she wrote in the letter to the Rev. John Jenkins.
The letter posted on the Web site of the conservative journal First Things.
Glendon was ambassador to the Vatican in the final year of President George W. Bush's administration. She was to receive the school's Laetare (Luh-TAR'-eh) Medal.
Dozens of bishops have criticized the Obama invitation because of his support for abortion rights and embryonic stem-cell research.
Jenkins issued a statement Monday saying the university was "disappointed that Professor Glendon has made this decision."
"It is our intention to award the Laetare Medal to another deserving recipient, and we will make that announcement as soon as possible," he said.
At the White House, Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters the president looks forward to giving the commencement address May 17. He also said Notre Dame has a history of vigorous discussion and looks forward to visiting.
University spokesman Dennis Brown said he did not know of anyone else who had agreed to accept the award but then declined it.
The Laetare Medal, which the university describes as the most prestigious honor for American Catholics, has been awarded annually since 1883 to a Catholic "whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the church and enriched the heritage of humanity."
Previous winners have included President John F. Kennedy, anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean, actor-activist Martin Sheen and jazz musician Dave Brubeck.
A message was left for Glendon at her Harvard office. She said in the letter to Jenkins she planned no further comment.