Concerned Catholics object to Bill Clinton as commencement speaker at Loyola Marymount University

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton delivered the keynote address at Loyola Marymount University’s (LMU) undergraduate commencement ceremony May 7, and while, prior to the address, LMU President Timothy Law said President Clinton “will inspire our graduates as they seek to lead lives of meaning, purpose, and global impact,” not all in the LMU community are pleased. RenewLMU, an organization that describes itself as an alliance “to strengthen LMU’s Catholic mission and identity,” launched a petition drive to persuade Snyder to rescind the Clinton invitation.

Specific objections include Clinton’s relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky during his time in office, the inevitable politicizing of the graduation by inviting as a speaker the husband of a leading candidate for the U.S. presidency, and Clinton’s support for abortion-on-demand.

“Bill Clinton is out there actively campaigning for his wife, Hillary, who has said that religious people opposed to abortion must change their beliefs,” said Professor James Hanink, a LMU philosophy professor who retired this year. “My first reaction when I heard was revulsion.”

Some alumni also are taking umbrage with the invitation. Anne Rosen earned her undergraduate degree from LMU in 1979; her eight siblings are graduates as well.

“Bill Clinton is the husband of someone running for president, and will be speaking at LMU a month before the California primary [June 7],” she said. “It’s not right to inject LMU into this campaign.”

She further noted that Clinton’s past support for partial-birth abortion would make him “the antithesis of a person you’d want to come, particularly at a time when so many of our young people are questioning their Catholic faith.”

Larry Carstens graduated from LMU in 1989. He described the Clinton invitation as “entirely incongruous with the stated mission of a Catholic university.”

“I … don't buy the constantly repeated mantra of ‘diversity and exposure to different viewpoints,’” he said. “There's a big difference between studying different viewpoints in classes, and bestowing a prized honor on someone by inviting them to speak at a graduation ….”

Barbara Berg, a 1993 graduate, is married to an LMU math professor and has one son in the 2016 LMU graduating class and another preparing to enter the school next year. For her, the most notable thing about the Clinton speech is the “disconnect” between those in LMU’s leadership who made the decision to invite Clinton and Catholics faithful to Church teaching who oppose the decision on moral grounds.

“The leadership sees the protestors as a fringe group, motivated by political reasons,” she said. “They don’t understand why we see such an invitation as scandalous, and one more example of where Catholic universities are heading.”

She said she counts many on the pro-Clinton invitation side as friends, “but I long for them to be better catechized so that they would see why we believe this invitation is wrong. We need to help educate them about our beautiful faith, because they are confused by the culture around them.”

Hanink believes the Clinton invitation is a byproduct of LMU’s eroding Catholic identity and is due in part to the decline in the numbers of Catholics in the school’s faculty and administration. He cited a January 2016 article in Catholic World Report in which fellow LMU philosophy professor Christopher Kaczor referenced a recent Faculty Climate Survey, which revealed that just 24 percent of the faculty is Catholic. Pope St. John Paul II, in his 1990 apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae, stated that “the number of non-Catholic teachers should not be allowed to constitute a majority within the Institution, which is and must remain Catholic.”

Kaczor further noted that a disproportionate number of retiring older faculty, such as Hanink, were Catholics who were not being replaced by younger Catholic faculty. Hence, the percentage of Catholic faculty will continue to decline. The number of Catholic students on campus has declined as well. In 1998, 62 percent were Catholic; today, about 50 percent.

LMU was contacted for comment but chose not to respond.

Hanink and Rosen encouraged concerned Catholics to contact LMU and the Los Angeles archdiocesan leadership to express their concerns.

“From LMU’s perspective things are great,” Hanink said. “They have lots of money, plenty of students and are getting attention both nationally and internationally. But they are totally indifferent to the erosion of their Catholic identity. For them, it’s a nagging but manageable PR problem.”

Jim Graves writes from California.