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A History of Catholic Commencement Scandals

May 15th, 2009
Cardinal Newman Society (www.cardinalnewmansociety.org/)

The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. (U.S. Bishops)

MANASSAS, Va. (Cardinal Newman Society) - As protests continue against the University of Notre Dame’s plan to honor pro-abortion President Barack Obama this Sunday, including public statements by more than 70 U.S. bishops, it is helpful to consider the context of the bishops’ policy against such honors.

For 16 years, The Cardinal Newman Society (CNS) has encouraged the renewal of Catholic identity at Catholic colleges and universities. CNS has publicly identified Catholic institutions that choose commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients whose public actions and statements are contrary to key moral teachings of the Catholic Church.

In 2004, the U.S. bishops approved a policy stating, in part: “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 number of commencement scandals at Catholic institutions has declined rapidly in recent years, from 24 in 2007, to 13 in 2006, to eight in 2007, and just six identified thus far in 2009, including Notre Dame.

“Given the bishops’ clear policy against Catholic honors to pro-abortion leaders, and the proven success of that policy throughout most of Catholic higher education, it should be no surprise that the bishops have responded so strongly to Notre Dame’s betrayal,” said Patrick J. Reilly, President of The Cardinal Newman Society.

A recent Rasmussen Reports poll shows that when respondents are made aware of the Catholic bishops’ policy, Americans overwhelmingly oppose Notre Dame’s selection of President Barack Obama as commencement speaker and honoree. The poll, released on May 5, finds that Catholics oppose the honor by a 60% to 25% margin and all Americans oppose it by a 52% to 25% margin.

Below are selected developments concerning commencement ceremonies at Catholic colleges and universities in the past decade. Other than the Presentation College cancellation in 2008, which occurred before CNS was aware of the situation, The Cardinal Newman Society publicly protested each of these honors.

• 1999: New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen, a pro-abortion Catholic, withdrew as Villanova University’s (Penn.) commencement speaker.

• 1999: Worcester (Mass.) Bishop Daniel Reilly boycotted the Assumption College (Mass.) commencement ceremony honoring pro-abortion Lt. Gov. Jane Swift of Massachusetts.

• 2003: Worcester (Mass.) Bishop Daniel Reilly and Scranton (Penn.) Bishop James Timlin boycotted commencement honors for pro-abortion MSNBC host Chris Matthews at the College of the Holy Cross (Mass.) and University of Scranton (Penn.).

• 2003: After CNS urged Marist College (N.Y.) to replace pro-abortion commencement speaker New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, Marist publicly acknowledged that it is no longer Catholic.

• 2004: After years of CNS complaints about scandalous speakers and honorees at Catholic colleges, the U.S. bishops mandated: “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.”

• 2005: Baltimore Cardinal William Keeler boycotted Loyola College’s (Md.) commencement address by pro-abortion Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

• 2005: New Orleans Archbishop Alfred Hughes to boycott the Loyola University New Orleans (La.) commencement honoring pro-abortion Sen. Mary Landrieu.

• 2005: After CNS urged Marymount Manhattan College (N.Y.) to replace pro-abortion commencement speaker Sen. Hillary Clinton, the College publicly acknowledged that it is no longer Catholic.

• 2007: Roberta Wilhelm of the pro-abortion Girls Inc. withdrew as commencement speaker at the College of St. Mary in Omaha (Neb.).

• 2008: Presentation College (S.D.) withdrew its invitation to pro-abortion Sen. Nancy Turbak Berry to speak at commencement.

• 2008: CNS led 18 national Catholic organizations in a joint statement urging Catholic institutions to ban pro-abortion politicians as speakers or honorees.

• 2009: New Orleans Archbishop Alfred Hughes boycotted the commencement ceremony of Xavier University (La.) on May 9, because of the university’s selection of pro-abortion Donna Brazile as speaker and honoree.

• 2009: Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia will host pro-abortion media personality Chris Matthews as the Jesuit university’s commencement speaker on May 16, and will award him an honorary doctorate in communications.

• 2009: St. Vincent College (Penn.) invited Senator Robert Casey to give a commencement address. King’s College (Penn.) and the College of the Holy Cross (Mass.) have invited Sen. Robert Casey, Jr., to deliver their commencement addresses and receive honorary degrees. Casey voluntarily backed out of the St. Vincent College ceremony without explanation, amid the outcry about Notre Dame. Scranton (Penn.) Bishop Joseph Martino has reprimanded King’s College for the invitation.

• 2009: The Jesuit University of San Francisco (Cal.) has invited South African Bishop Kevin Dowling to deliver its commencement address and receive an honorary degree on May 22. Dowling has publicly dissented from the Vatican on the use of condoms and his statements were condemned by the South African bishops conference.

• 2009: More than 360,000 Catholics have signed the CNS-sponsored petition at NotreDameScandal.com in opposition to the University of Notre Dame’s plan to honor pro-abortion President Barack Obama as commencement speaker and with an honorary law degree on May 17. Fort Wayne-South Bend Bishop John D’Arcy has announced that he will boycott the ceremony, and more than 70 U.S. bishops have spoken out against the honor.

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