Approving Catholic Commencement Speakers

Each year, the choice of commencement speakers and honorees becomes an occasion for debate about the religious identity of many … Continued

Each year, the choice of commencement speakers and honorees becomes an occasion for debate about the religious identity of many Catholic colleges. Should a Catholic college publicly honor a pro-choice politician? An advocate of gay marriage? A Catholic who publicly dissents on other serious moral issues?

In 2004 the U.S. bishops tried to resolve the matter with a clear mandate: “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

The following year, pro-choice presidential hopefuls Rudolph Giuliani and Sen. Hillary Clinton were invited to address the graduates of Catholic colleges. The invitations proved explosive: Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore publicly refused to attend the ceremony at Loyola College featuring Giuliani, and officials of Marymount Manhattan College in New York discarded the college’s claim to a Catholic identity rather than conform to the bishops’ mandate.

The trend since then has been a decline in scandalous commencement speakers and honorees at Catholic institutions. The Cardinal Newman Society identified 24 in 2006, 13 last year and just seven thus far in 2008.

What’s more, this year we saw a Catholic college make the very unusual and courageous decision to rescind an invitation to its commencement speaker once concerns were raised. Presentation College in South Dakota withdrew its invitation to pro-choice state Sen. Nancy Turbak Berry and instead invited the local Catholic bishop to address graduates last weekend.

For the increasingly marginalized colleges that choose to ignore the bishops’ mandate, the embarrassment must be painful. Fr. John Jenkins, C.S.C., president of the University of Notre Dame, this week defended his choice of graduate school commencement speaker to The Boston Globe, yet acknowledged that “it’s appropriate to look at [a potential speaker’s] public record, to see how does that life size up.” It’s difficult to reconcile that with his commencement choice—Marye Ann Fox, chancellor of the University of California-San Diego—who has staked her reputation and career on an ambitious $115 million initiative in embryonic stem cell research.

Likewise the College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York, chose as this year’s commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient New York Governor David Paterson. The new governor is a staunch advocate of abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research—as if his revelation of an extramarital affair immediately following the scandals of his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, isn’t awkward enough for a Catholic college named for the virgin saint from Peru.

But increasingly these are anomalies, and the problem of commencement scandals at Catholic colleges may soon be behind us. Last month in Washington, Pope Benedict XVI urged Catholic educators to fidelity and “public witness to the way of Christ.”

So the question may be asked: Is Pope Benedict’s vision for Catholic education—one that puts faith in the Catholic Church’s teaching on moral issues above the prestige and publicity of a commencement speaker—already becoming reality? It’s too soon to tell, but with God there is always hope.

Patrick J. Reilly is president of The Cardinal Newman Society, an organization of more than 20,000 members that works to renew and strengthen Catholic higher education in the United States.

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  • James C Webster

    By the examples he chose, Patrick Reilly reveals that the Cardinal Newman Society is not really interested in insuring that commencement speakers at Catholic colleges and universities reflect the sweep of the moral teachings of the Church. By his very selective citation of only those who may disagree on narrow sex and gender issues, he shows the “cafeteria Catholic” bias that ignores the more complete moral code that we are called to follow by the Gospel of Matthew: “For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in.” Why does he not object to speakers who fight against providing food or shelter to to the needy or refuse to welcome immigrants?

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    Catholic universities should teach the “fems” of Judaism, Catholicism and Christianity first and the choice of commencement speaker would then be a lot easier.A synopsis of “fems” (flaws, errors, muck and stench) of Judaism, Catholicism, and Christianity:1. Abraham founder/father of three major religions was either the embellishment of the lives of three different men or a mythical character as was Moses, the “Tablet-Man” who talked to burning bushes and made much magic in Egypt. Many of the 1.5 million Conservative Jews and many of their rabbis have relegated Abraham to the myth pile along with most if not all the OT. The muck and stench in Judaism you ask? Belief that that the Jews are god’s chosen people and its resulting consequences. 2. Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/ simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a mamzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). Analyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, On Faith panelists) via the NT and related documents have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus’ sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects. The 30% of the NT that is “authentic Jesus” like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus’ case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hittites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics. earlychristianwritings.com/theories.html For added “pizzazz”, Catholic/Christian theologians divided god the singularity into three persons and invented atonement as an added guilt trip for the “pew people” to go along with this trinity of overseers. By doing so, they made god the padre into god the “filicider”. The muck and stench of Catholicism you ask?Pedophiliac priests, atonement theology and original sin!!!!3. Luther, Calvin, Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley et al, founders of Christian-based religions, also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of “pretty wingie thingie” visits and “prophecies” for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immaculate conceptions).The muck and stench of non-Catholic Christian churches you ask? Adulterous preachers, “propheteering” evangelical profiteers, and atonement theology.

  • Anonymous

    ooops!”MODERN-MORALITY” is the Superior of any BiBLiCAL-Morality (above Monarch and or Theocracy et al)!

  • robert Buckenmeyer

    Having taught Philosophy at at two Catholic colleges and one Catholic University, two Jesuit, I found two things reprehensible: first, that the Catholic colleges sold out on the traditional Humanities’ curricula, including Philosophy, specifically Ethics as a condition for graduation and secondly, one hired a Jewish self-proclaimed atheist to Chair what they called the Religious Studies’ Department.

  • Sister Maureen Paul Turlish

    About the Vatican and Aliens it would appear that someone fell out of his tree over in gardens, enough said.I would really like to see or hear of some of “enabling” bishops being disinvited because of the terrible way they mishandled and continue to mishandle the sexual abuse problems of our church. There is a wide selection of bishops to choose from.How about disinviting Roger Cardinal Mahony from one his scheduled commencement addresses as a response to his boorish behavior in writing that ghastly letter of a few days ago to Australian Bishop Geoffrey Robinson? Mahony would be on the top of my list.What the bishops really need to do is t find out and address what, why and how everything went so terribly wrong what with their collusion, conspiracy and cover-up of the clergy sexual abuse scandal just here in the United States.I have just returned home from an all day synposium on REBUILDING THE CATHOLIC CHURCH at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Australian Bishop Geoffrey Robinson opened his U.S. tour with his talk on Friday evening drawn from his book, “Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church.”Bishop Robinson was presented with the 2008 Hans Kung ARCC Catholic Rights Award and the end of his talk on Friday.Besides Bishop Robinson other speakers were:Joseph F. O’Callaghan, Professor Emeritus, Fordham University,David P. Efroymson, Professor Emeritus, Sister Christine Schenk, CSJ, Rev. Paul Stanosz, Pastor, St. James Catholic Church,Leonard Swidler, Professor of Catholic Thought and Interreligious Dialogue,Robert Blair Kaiser, AuthorSad to say but in the current atmosphere, I have no doubt that the institutional church would flag them all.

  • Sister Maureen Paul Turlish

    About the Vatican and Aliens it would appear that someone fell out of his tree over in gardens, enough said.I would really like to see or hear of some of “enabling” bishops being disinvited because of the terrible way they mishandled and continue to mishandle the sexual abuse problems of our church. There is a wide selection of bishops to choose from.How about disinviting Roger Cardinal Mahony from one his scheduled commencement addresses as a response to his boorish behavior in writing that ghastly letter of a few days ago to Australian Bishop Geoffrey Robinson? Mahony would be on the top of my list.What the bishops really need to do is t find out and address what, why and how everything went so terribly wrong what with their collusion, conspiracy and cover-up of the clergy sexual abuse scandal just here in the United States.I have just returned home from an all day synposium on REBUILDING THE CATHOLIC CHURCH at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Australian Bishop Geoffrey Robinson opened his U.S. tour with his talk on Friday evening drawn from his book, “Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church.”Bishop Robinson was presented with the 2008 Hans Kung ARCC Catholic Rights Award and the end of his talk on Friday.Besides Bishop Robinson other speakers were:Joseph F. O’Callaghan, Professor Emeritus, Fordham University,David P. Efroymson, Professor Emeritus, Sister Christine Schenk, CSJ, Rev. Paul Stanosz, Pastor, St. James Catholic Church,Leonard Swidler, Professor of Catholic Thought and Interreligious Dialogue,Robert Blair Kaiser, AuthorSad to say but in the current atmosphere, I have no doubt that the institutional church would flag them all.

  • cathy

    It’s about time! Thumbs up to the courageous Catholic bishops!!

  • Sister Maureen Paul Turlish

    Following is Bishop Geoffrey Robinson’s brief but very direct response to the statement by the Australian Catholic Bishops…Response to the Statement of the Australian BishopsThe statement of the Australian bishops is not unexpected, but it is disappointing. My book is about the response to the revelations of sexual abuse within the church. Sexual abuse is all about power and sex, so it is surely reasonable to ask questions about power and sex in the church.In their statement, the bishops appear to be saying that, in seeking to respond to abuse, we may investigate all other factors contributing to abuse, but we may not ask questions concerning ways in which teachings, laws, and attitudes concerning power and sex within the church may have contributed.This imposes impossible restrictions on any serious and objective study, and it is where I have broken from the Bishops Conference. We must be free to follow the argument wherever it leads.Bishop Geoffrey Robinson15th May 2008Letter of support from another priest…Coincidental with the statement arriving from Bishop Robinson, Catholica Australia, also received a letter from Fr Daniel Donovan in response to yesterday’s news story. Here is the text of Fr Donovan’s letter. It has also been published in the Catholic forum.Cardinal Mahoney and the American Speaking Tour of Bishop Geoffrey RobinsonThe Churches in Australia and for that matter around the world have been mired for many years in the allegations of sexual abuse of persons by members of the clergy. This has led to universal condemnation for two major reasons. Firstly, there was an abuse of power by the perpetrators who took advantage of their position to harm the vulnerable. Secondly, the failure of Church leaders to deal effectively with the victims’ complaints and the attempts to cover up the matter. Bishop Geoffrey Robinson in Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus, has had the courage to place this issue in the public forum. Robinson does not deny or call into question any teaching of the Church nor does he either in the book or at any time in his public lectures attack the teaching magisterium of the Church.The Australian Bishops claim that the people “have a right to know clearly what the Catholic Church believes and teaches, and the Bishops have a duty to set this forth…” Robinson has never denied this. Rather he has addressed those issues which (as noted above) the Bishops were not setting forth in clear and specific teaching. Daily the Church was facing serious criticism for its failure to respond officially to the sufferings of victims of sexual abuse and their families.It seems to me unconscionable that both the Australian Bishops and Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles would turn on a brother Bishop because he has called for not a change in orthodox teaching but rather he emphasises orthopraxis. No one, least of all Robinson, is questioning truth but there is the corresponding duty to communicate the truth and this has been the importance of Robinson’s contribution. If the Church is to take seriously the healing process then it must not deny debate and ban dialogue. This would be to substitute intellectual abuse for sexual abuse. It is always unsettling when debate and discussion is stifled in the name of truth! It might be worth adopting the advice of the Pharisee, Gamaliel, who counsels the Sanhedrin “to take no action against these men” (the apostles, Acts 5:38). Gamaliel goes onto explain that if the if the teaching is “of human origin” then it will disappear but if it is of “divine origin” then they might be “fighting against God” (Acts 5:38-39).Fr Daniel Donovan

  • Albino Lucani

    Roger Mahony has less moral authority to be requesting anything of anyone than The Devil Himself.We applaud Bishop Robinson’s courage and truthfulness, sorely LACKING in the institutional Roman Catholic Church, in true actions, and punishment of guilty cardinals and bishops.Mahony is the single largest pedophile enabling, aid and abetter, with a personal body count of over 1,200 raped, sodomized, orally copulated, mentally tortured, extorted, physically maimined children, over 30 years in Fresno, Stockton, and LA, than any other cleric in the history of the american Roman Catholic Church.Roger Mahony makes Bernie Law look good.To date, Mahony and his fellow cardinal and bishop felonious obstructors of justice, in the several hundred globally, have cost the American Roman Catholic laity at least $2.8 Billion Dollars, with no end in sight, child endangerment still pervasive, and no punishment of their overt criminality.The solution is simple, the laity who contributed 100% of all Church revenue MUST STOP DONATING to force Rome’s hand in removing EVIL men like Mahony, canonically censoring each, and placing each under life house arrest, as was done to proven serial pedophile founder of the Legion Of Christ, Marciel, or alternatively each needs to be swiftly EXCOMMUNICATED. By the way, this is the true CHRISTIAN MERCY option, versus what each and every one of these sad and sick criminals really deserves.For daily verified coverage of the ongoing criminal cover up of the Roman Catholic Curia, we recommend: http://www.bishop-accountability.org/abusetrackerAlso we recommend over 80 recently published books on the ongoing criminal curai cover up at http://www.amazon.com from such 100% factual authors as: Richard Sipe, Leon Podles, Jason Berry, David Yallop and Fr. Thomas Doyle, OP.For FREE you can watch the 2006 US Academy Award BEST DOCUMENTARY nominated ‘DELIVER US FROM EVIL’ at http://www.youtube.com, or find is for free at you local public libraries on DVD.A recent excellent 100% factual documentary on the subject is ‘VOWS OF SILENCE’, also out on DVD.Again, Laity, Go With God, But Keep Your Your Wallets Zipped Closed!Albino Lucani

  • DoTheRightThing

    My Answer: Most hopefully, YES!Patrick Reilly’s Question: Is Pope Benedict’s vision for Catholic education — one that puts faith in the Catholic Church’s teaching on moral issues above the prestige and publicity of a commencement speaker — already becoming reality?