Commentary: Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients
President Biden has announced the Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients for 2022. This is the nation’s highest civilian honor and is presented, as the White House reports, to “individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavors.”
What came to mind when reading through the list, I was reminded of Matthew 6:21 where our Lord says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
I think it is very telling to see who each president chooses to honor. Certainly, there have been recipients in the past who have greatly deserved this distinction and others where the case is debatable. However, the person chosen is a reflection of the treasure of America, at a given point in history, at least according to the president and his selection team.
The list for 2022 is:
Sister Simone Campbell
Father Alexander Karloutsos
John McCain (posthumous)
Brief biographies are provided for each recipient in the White House Press Brief.
I want to offer some very brief commentary on a few of these individuals: Simone Biles, Megan Rapinoe, and Sister Simone Campbell. But before I do, I just have to say: I am so happy that Denzel Washington is receiving this award! What a great actor and seemingly very good and wise individual!!
Simone Biles is one of the most amazing gymnasts of our time, without doubt. At the last Olympics, however, Ms. Biles was held up as a “hero” for not competing. I do not desire to revisit this controversy. At the time, I took a middle position: she was selected to compete and she let her country down, but she also seemed to know her limits and did not want to risk serious injury because of her mental state.
What was striking to me, in her language, was that her response was lauded because she just was not having fun. Last I checked, competing in the Olympics was about the team and, ultimately, the country. Even if her team supported her decision, it is unlikely that this was the all-consuming meritorious action portrayed by some in the media.
Why does it matter? - What is being treasured here might be her amazing athleticism and ability. Or it is may be her quitting at the Olympics for personal reasons. My cynical bent thinks it is the latter. This is something to be respected, to an extent. We must know our limits. But the action can be respectable without being meritorious. Perhaps it is not entirely worthy of emulation.
Megan Rapinoe is a professional soccer player who captains the OL Reign of the NWSL and who played on the U.S. Women’s National Team. She is outspoken on LGBT issues and is as outspoken as her highlighter pink hair. I know little to nothing about Megan Rapinoe except that she decided to kneel during the National Anthem before matches against Thailand and the Netherlands in 2016. In 2016, her teammate Hope Solo claimed that Megan would “almost bully” members of the U.S. Women’s National Team into kneeling to join in her protestations.
Ms. Rapinoe also led a protest against the USWNT into forcing a collective bargaining agreement to have the women receive pay equal to the men’s team (one would wonder if the income for women’s sports is as high as men’s sports - generally, men’s sports generate more revenue, so the men get paid more… but I digress). In reality, Hope Solo reports that equal pay was close in 2016 for the women’s team. But, the collective bargaining stunt by Rapinoe and others produced a less-than-equal agreement.
Again, I do not know Megan Rapinoe. Ostensibly, she is a good soccer player. However, the Presidential Medal of Freedom should go to someone who actually loves America and is willing to stand during the National Anthem. You can acknowledge racial injustice while still loving our nation. For the details, listen to Martin Luther King Jr.’s incredible “I Have a Dream” Speech.
Sister Simone Campbell
Finally, I want to briefly comment on Sr. Simone Campbell. She served as the Executive Director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice from 2004-2021. She was investigated by the Vatican under Pope Benedict XVI for Communist views. She spearheaded the “Nuns on the Bus” campaign touring the country in support of the passage of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) - a move in direct opposition to the position of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. To put it plainly: she is a progressive leftist lawyer and lobbyist who is also a professed sister with the Sisters of Social Service.
Sr. Campbell is an active member of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and she was giving a speech to a group of nuns gathered in Philadelphia while I was in the city. In fact, she was speaking at the convent where I was staying while leading a mission trip for the UNC Newman Center. We were staying with the Sisters of St. Joseph in Chestnut Hill.
What I heard during Sr. Campbell’s talk still echoes in my ears. It was during the interregnum, after Benedict’s resignation, and before the election of Francis. In fact, Pope Francis was elected while I was in Philadelphia. Anyway, the nuns were thrilled that Sr. Simone Campbell was coming to speak; they talked about her the whole time we were having lunch. Later that evening, when she spoke, all I heard was pride, disdain, progressive gobbledegook.
She related a story where she was called by a major news station to get her take on Pope Benedict’s resignation. She said to the sisters assembled (and my mission team): “Why should I care who the new pope will be? I won’t listen to this guy either.” Her speech was coated in sarcasm and lifted up all of her accomplishments, especially the passage of Obamacare (as the Little Sisters of the Poor were being sued by the Obama’s administration for not providing abortion and contraceptives, by the way). She spoke at length about the deplorable state of the Church and how the patriarchy is so oppressive. It was awful. I clutched the crucifix on my rosary until my palm almost started to bleed.
Needless to say, my in-person impression of Sr. Campbell was negative. Her progressive, liberal theology is harmful to the Church and to souls. Her tepid support of life has cost the lives of countless babies and the people that she is serving are likely no closer to Jesus than they were before. And the other sisters adore her. It’s sickening.
And, so, our “Catholic” president, Joe Biden, has selected one of the worst examples of a Catholic religious sister in our nation to honor with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Summing It Up
Ok. So, why does any of this matter? Joe Biden will pick who he likes. Why did I feel spurred on to write this article? The answer is simple: because we should have higher standards and we cannot be silent in seeking the common good.
Our society is awash with virtue signaling and counterfeit humility. We should be lifting up real American treasures for awards such as these: men and women who love this country, are selfless, and who maintain integrity.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is supposed to go to “individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavors.” Today’s list shows that Joe Biden’s administration have a decidedly different prioritization that favors progressive liberalism. When we hold up what they treasure: quitting, protesting, disrespecting, dissenting, ingratitude, disintegrating, divisive, etc. - we see where their hearts are.
Let us begin close to home. Look in your own heart. How can you grow in virtue? How can you model Christian life in American today? To work hard and apply ourselves even when we don’t “feel” like it, to hold fast to what is good, to be charitable and respectful, to adhere to the teachings of Jesus and His Church, to be grateful, to have integrity, and to be a source of authentic unity. This is our task. This is our call.
“‘You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house (Matthew 5:13-15).”