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Professor Mary Ann Glendon, Learned Hand professor of law at Harvard University, has been appointed by Pope John Paul II to serve as president of the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences. The appointment was announced by the Vatican March 9.
"It came as a complete surprise to me," she told The Pilot in an interview.
Glendon has been a member of the academy since it was established by Pope John Paul in 1994. She is currently one of only three Americans who serve on the academy, a body of experts that advises the Church on issues such as law, politics, economics and education.
The pope modeled the organization after the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, a body that has advised popes for more that 400 years on issues relating to the hard sciences such as biology, chemistry and technology.
The 40-member international organization, which, Glendon is quick to point out, is not composed solely of Catholics, was created to “to promote the study and progress of social, economic, political and juridical sciences in the light of the social doctrine of the Church,” according to the official Vatican website.
"We are there to assure that the Holy See has the best possible information whenever it speaks on matters related to the social sciences," explained Glendon.
In a letter announcing Glendon’s five-year appointment, Msgr. Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences, declared, “I would like to take this important occasion to extend my warmest congratulations and to offer my full support and collaboration to her.”
"My first reaction was a sense of heavy responsibility and a hope that I can live up to these expectations," commented Glendon.
According to Glendon, her first official act as president of the academy will be to head a four-day summit on “Intergenerational Solidarity, Welfare and Human Ecology” — a summit that she helped to organize. Members of the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences will convene in Vatican City in early May to be immersed in the topic — with several speakers, including two Nobel Peace Prize winners, academicians and experts in the fields, presenting talks on the various aspects of the “changing relations among generations” as well as “the welfare situation throughout the world.”
"This will be four days of rather intense, closed-door discussions which will most probably conclude with a private audience with the pope, where we will present him with the most important points of our summit," Glendon said.
Born in 1938 in Pittsfield, Mass., Glendon received her Bachelor of Arts, Juris Doctor and Master of Comparative Law degrees at the University of Chicago. After five years of private practice, she began her career as an educator at Boston College Law School.
Glendon headed the 22-member delegation of the Holy See to the 4th United Nations Women’s Conference in Beijing in 1995. In 1998, the National Law Journal named her one of the “Fifty Most Influential Women Lawyers in America.”
Many local Catholics outside legal and ecclesiastical circles have become familiar with Glendon through her recent outspoken support of traditional marriage and her participation in the Catholic Defense of Marriage Information Meetings.