Georgetown’s Kathleen Sebelius invitation called a ‘direct challenge’ to bishops

It’s May. Graduation gowns are flowing. Families are flocking to campuses, digital cameras in hand, ready to document what has … Continued

It’s May. Graduation gowns are flowing. Families are flocking to campuses, digital cameras in hand, ready to document what has now become an annual ritual of higher education: It’s graduation speaker controversy season.

Brendan Hoffman


Sebelius is in the middle of another Catholic controversy.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will be the speaker for Georgetown University’s Georgetown Public Policy Institute’s “Tropaia” awards ceremony on May 18, the university announced Friday. The Catholic former governor has a long list of credentials in the public policy world, detailed by the university below, but it’s her role at the heart of this year’s debate over religious liberty, contraception and Catholic institutions that has conservative activists animated in opposition.

Princeton University’s Robert George, who the New York Times called the country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker, wrote of Georgetown’s choice of Sebelius:

The Cardinal Newman Society, which advocates for greater orthodoxy on Catholic campuses, said the choice of Sebelius “can only be interpreted as a direct challenge to America’s Catholic bishops,” and invited opponents to petition Georgetown President Jack DeGioia.

For its part, the Catholic Jesuit university framed the choice of Sebelius as one emphasizing her work for the “nation’s most vulnerable populations” through Affordable Care Act:

While the Catholic Church has long advocated for “health care for all,” it has continued to raise concerns about coverage of abortion services in the Affordable Care act and called the HHS regulations requiring Catholic institutions to cover birth control “unjust and illegal.”

Georgetown University has been in the midst of some of the largest culture war debates this year, with law student Sandra Fluke’s congressional committee testimony on contraception coverage, and more recently with a speech by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) where he argued that his budget upheld Catholic social teachings.

The university’s commencement controversy joins a growing list of speaker squabbles unfolding around the country.

— Massachusetts Bishop Robert McManus asked Anna Maria College “to rescind its invitation to Victoria Kennedy because of concerns over her position on some social issues that counter Catholic teachings,” according to the AP. The small Catholic school withdrew its invitation to the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s widow, the Boston Globe reported.

— More than 700 people signed a petition condemning [Jesuit] Gonzaga University’s choice of South Africa’s anti-apartheid activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu as its 2012 commencement speaker, based on Tutu’s support of abortion rights and gay rights.


Elizabeth Tenety Elizabeth Tenety is the former editor of On Faith, where she produced "Divine Impulses," On Faith’s video interview series. She studied Theology and Government at Georgetown University and received her master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. A New York native, Elizabeth grew up in the home of Catholic news junkies where, somewhere in between watching the nightly news and participating in parish life, she learned to ponder both the superficial and the sacred.
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