More Catholic college commencement controversies

It is Catholic college graduation season again, and with it the return of the controversies over the choice of commencement speakers on some campuses. 

Despite the fact that Catholic-identity-watchdog organization Cardinal Newman Society reports that “recent years have seen a marked decline in Catholic college commencement scandals: from 24 colleges in 2006 to 14 last year,” several in particular have been in the news. 

The first was controversy over Anna Maria College in central Massachusetts, which at the request of Worcester Bishop Robert McManus rescinded its commencement speaker invitation to Victoria Reggie Kennedy, the widow of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who supports abortion rights and same-sex marriage. (The college now has also asked the bishop not to attend the commencement, saying his presence would be a “distraction.”) 

The second, and more serious given the school’s size, history and academic standing, was at Georgetown University, which named Kathleen Sebelius as a speaker at one of the commencement events. Sebelius is a Catholic who supports abortion rights, but also is responsible for the federal government’s new mandate to Catholic employers to provide abortifacients, sterilization and contraception — despite religious freedom and freedom of conscience objections. 

According to Catholic News Service, the director of communications for Washington’s Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl said the cardinal had no comment on Georgetown’s announcement. 

Against this backdrop, it was interesting that Pope Benedict XVI, in a meeting with a group U.S. bishops earlier this month, focused on the need for Catholic colleges and universities to reaffirm their distinctive identity “in fidelity to their founding ideals and the Church’s mission.” 

He said this was important given “the confusion created by instances of apparent dissidence between some representatives of Catholic institutions and the Church’s pastoral leadership: Such discord harms the Church’s witness and, as experience has shown, can easily be exploited to compromise her authority and her freedom.” 

“The question of Catholic identity, not least at the university level,” the pope said, “entails much more than the teaching of religion or the mere presence of a chaplaincy on campus.  

“All too often, it seems, Catholic schools and colleges have failed to challenge students to reappropriate their faith as part of the exciting intellectual discoveries which mark the experience of higher education. 

“In every aspect of their education, students need to be encouraged to articulate a vision of the harmony of faith and reason capable of guiding a life-long pursuit of knowledge and virtue,” the pope said. 

Read the pope’s entire text here:  

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