National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  June 6, 2003

Bishops join college commencement protests

Cardinal Arinze causes walkout at Georgetown


Two U.S. bishops joined the ranks of college commencement protests, refusing to share stages with a speaker who has espoused views that support laws favoring abortion.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Francis Arinze, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, caused a walkout at Georgetown University when he told graduates that “the family is under siege … mocked by homosexuality, sabotaged by irregular unions.”

Arinze had been invited by Jane McAuliffe, dean of the university’s school of arts and sciences to speak on Christian-Muslim relations at the school’s graduation ceremonies May 17. Instead, Arinze spoke of the importance of family to the Catholic church, according to news reports.

“In many parts of the world, the family is under siege,” Arinze said according to a transcript released by the university. “It is opposed by an anti-life mentality as is seen in contraception, abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. It is scorned and banalized by pornography, desecrated by fornication and adultery, mocked by homosexuality, sabotaged by irregular unions and cut in two by divorce.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other media reported that Theresa Sanders, a professor of theology at the university, left the stage while Arinze was speaking and several students also left. About 70 faculty members sent a letter May 21 to McAuliffe protesting the cardinal’s speech.

In an e-mail to faculty, the dean said she was “very surprised” by the content of Arinze’s speech. “I’m sure that Cardinal Arinze did not intend to hurt any of his audience, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” she wrote in the e-mail, the Journal-Constitution reported.

Later McAuliffe issued a two-sentence statement acknowledging that she had been contacted by several students and faculty “to express their reaction, both negative and positive” to the cardinal’s address. “As an academic community, vigorous and open discussion lies at the heart of what we do, and there are many different voices in this conversation.”

Protesting bishops

Two Catholic universities -- the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and Jesuit-run University of Scranton in Pennsylvania -- selected TV commentator Chris Matthews as a speaker at their respective graduation ceremonies May 23 and May 25.

Matthews, a best-selling author and host of the show “Hardball” on the cable news channel MSNBC, graduated from Holy Cross in 1967, but the college’s invitation had drawn criticism since it was announced in March. Several weeks ago, 11 Holy Cross alumni wrote an open letter to Matthews asking him to withdraw because he has spoken in favor of laws supporting abortion.

Consequently, Worcester Bishop Daniel P. Reilly decided not to attend the Holy Cross ceremonies. “I cannot let my presence imply support for anything less than the protection of all life at all its stages,” Reilly said in a May 18 statement.

Bishop James C. Timlin of Scranton, followed suit, declining to attend the University of Scranton’s proceedings. The Associated Press quoted Timlin as saying he would not go to the commencement because Matthews “espoused a view on abortion which Catholics believe to be contrary to the moral law.”

In his statement, Reilly noted that his absence did not imply that he was “questioning the fidelity of the College of the Holy Cross to its mission as a Catholic college or its dedication to the mission of the Catholic church.”

C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, called the bishop’s decision not to attend the graduation “an act of courage, integrity and fidelity.”

Katherine McNamara, director of public affairs at Holy Cross, released a statement saying, “Bishop Reilly is a devoted friend of the college and we’re sorry he won’t attend commencement this year.”

McNamara also defended Matthews, saying he has not questioned the Catholic church’s stance on the morality of abortion.

“Chris Matthews represents Holy Cross in a wonderful way,” she said. “He has a probing intellect, engages in passionate discussions on the most important topics of our day, especially moral issues, and shows a special care for the poor and marginalized in our society.”

Community protests

In Brentwood, Calif., demonstrations were held May 10 on the campus of Mount St. Mary’s College in opposition to commencement speakers Reps. Loretta and Linda Sanchez, both D-Calif., for their stance on abortion.

In Poughkeepsie, N.Y., about a dozen people protested outside of Marist College May 17, holding various signs and photos of dismembered fetuses to protest the college’s choice of New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer as its commencement speaker.

Marist College was founded by Marist Brothers but has been an independent college since 1969. Tim Massie, public affairs officer for the school, told Catholic News Service that the college “accepts no money from the church” and does not “feel obligated to use the litmus tests of abortion, the death penalty or any single issue in determining who we invite to speak or honor.”

The Voice Ledger, the local daily newspaper, quoted Massie as saying that people connected with the Catholic church want to control the administration of any college that has a Catholic heritage; who comes to speak, what movies to be shown and what plays to produce. “We don’t believe that that’s the purpose of higher education in America,” Massie told the paper.

“Eliot Spitzer’s speech on ethics and values gave us one of the most substantive talks we have ever had at any Marist graduation,” said Massie. He said Spitzer got a standing ovation.

Watching campuses

The Cardinal Newman Society, a Virginia-based organization that describes its purpose as “restoring Catholic identity in America’s Catholic colleges,” challenged St. Louis University’s commencement address invitation to St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan.

The society objected to McClellan’s “pro-choice views, support for embryonic stem-cell research, and ridicule for a law that would mandate counseling for women considering abortion.”

The society also criticized Quincy University, run by Franciscan friars in Quincy, Ill., for inviting radio broadcaster Paul Harvey who has said abortion is a decision “that should be left to a woman and her God and her doctor ... and the government ought to stay out of it altogether.” Harvey canceled the address.

National Catholic Reporter, June 6, 2003

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