Vice President Joe Biden: Fighting Irish award Laetare Medal to Vice President and former House Speaker. Already protests have begun.WikiCommons

Notre Dame has awarded its Laetare Medal, one of the most prestigious given to Catholics in the U.S., to Vice President Joe Biden and former House Speaker John Boehner. They will receive the honor on Sunday, May 15.

Already the protests have begun, with 80 conservative Catholic students signing an op-ed in the Notre Dame newspaper The Observer calling for Biden to be banned for his espousal of same sex marriage, abortion and stem cell research.

“Notre Dame has once again scandalized faithful Catholics across the country, as it did when it honored President Barack Obama with an honorary degree at commencement in 2009,” the op-ed writers stated.

Not to be out-maneuvered, a liberal group of Notre Dame students took issue with Boehner for his position on immigration, the death penalty and the environment in an opposing op-ed.

Former House Speaker John Boehner.

Former House Speaker John Boehner.

On immigration the students, who referred to the need to follow Catholic social teaching, stated, “In 2013, Boehner infamously refused to hold a House vote on a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill – despite it having enough votes to pass – in an effort to appease his far-right colleagues.”

The latter is certainly true. Boehner never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity on immigration reform when speaker.

The poisonous debate we are currently having about mass deportations and massive walls would never have happened if Boehner had stood up to his right-wingers and passed a bill that had strong Republican support in the Senate.

Even so, I think Boehner should be heard and banning him and Biden would be precisely the wrong thing to do.

In Ireland not so long ago, Sinn Fein was banned from the airwaves during the IRA campaign. It did nothing to help the cause of peace and the ban was dropped as soon as the peace process began.

So keeping people at bay by not listening to their political ideas is about as clever as shutting your ears and mind to the reality all around us.

That was recognized by Father John Jenkins, President of Notre Dame and a committed supporter of dialogue not deafness.

Civility and the ability to 'agree to disagree' has vanished off the political map, and it is all bombast all the time. Jenkins has made an effort to challenge that status quo by pitting two very different but equally devout Catholics together.

“Public confidence in government is at historic lows, and cynicism is high. It is a good time to remind ourselves what lives dedicated to genuine public service in politics look like. We find it in the lives of Vice President Biden and Speaker Boehner,” Jenkins said.

“While both have been loyal and committed partisans, they were leaders who put the good of the nation ahead of partisan victory, seeking through respectful dialogue honorable compromise and progress.”

It is good to see Notre Dame take a stand for civility and discourse. I know Biden to be a truly committed Catholic, and his bravery in grief when his son died from brain cancer last year was an inspiration to all.

Boehner decided to resign after hosting Pope Francis and was in tears describing the impact of that good and holy man to the media.

Indeed there is little doubt what Francis would want: not dialogue of the deaf, but a spirited debate by the honorees where honest discourse would replace platitudes and petty hatreds.

Good for Notre Dame for standing up to be counted.