Culture of Death at Catholic Colleges in U.S. (Part 1)

Patrick Reilly on the Threat of Pro-Abortion Advocates

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MANASSAS, Virginia, JULY 19, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The trend of Catholic colleges hosting abortion-rights advocates has grown so much that the U.S. bishops’ conference has asked Church-related institutions to refrain from honoring those who act in defiance of Church teachings.

Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, co-authored a five-year study with the group’s Erin Butcher investigating inroads made by advocates of abortion, contraception, premarital sexual activity and physician-assisted suicide on Catholic college campuses.

Reilly shared with ZENIT the importance of the U.S. bishops’ statement and the danger of Catholic schools welcoming high-profile persons who publicly oppose the Church’s fundamental moral principles.

Part 2 of this interview will appear Tuesday.

Q: In the recent statement, “Catholics in Political Life,” the bishops’ conference stated: “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.” What was the significance of the U.S. bishops warning schools against honoring dissenters?

Reilly: The statement is laudable, formally endorsing Cardinal Newman Society’s long-held position against Catholic institutions honoring or inviting abortion-rights advocates.

Archbishop James Kelleher had already instituted this policy in Kansas City, but most other diocesan policies against pro-abortion honorees and speakers apply only to parishes and Church-owned facilities, as if the Catholic identity of those facilities has different implications than the Catholic identity of legally independent agencies.

The bishops’ statement affirms that Catholic teaching and expectations are the same not only for all Catholic individuals — with no exceptions for politicians — but also for all Catholic institutions. We hope that diocesan policies will now formally reflect this national statement, which had near-unanimous support in the bishops’ conference.

The ban on honors and speaking platforms is far-reaching, applying not only to pro-abortion Catholic politicians but to anyone who acts “in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.”

Its reference to “platforms which would suggest support for their actions” could include campus lectures and commencement addresses, especially by politicians in the midst of campaigns, regardless of the speaking topic — a direct challenge to the prevailing radical notion of academic freedom, which ignores Christian concerns about the truth and the common good.

Q: What is the danger of Catholic schools welcoming high-profile persons who publicly oppose Church teachings?

Reilly: There is always the danger that these individuals could use a platform at a Catholic institution to attack or at least erode support for Catholic teachings, even when invited to speak on a seemingly benign topic.

There are recent instances of public advocates spewing their venom on Catholic campuses, including NARAL’s Kate Michelman at Boston College, National Organization for Women president Kim Gandy at Loyola University of New Orleans, pornographer Larry Flynt at Georgetown University, radical feminist Gloria Steinem at Fairfield University, and researchers engaged in human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research at Assumption College and the College of the Holy Cross.

More commonly, speakers and honorees do not challenge Catholic teaching while on campus. Colleges select these speakers and honorees because of their legitimate expertise and accomplishments, which are unrelated to their more-harmful activities. Cannot a pro-abortion politician give a campus lecture on taxes or the military? The argument put forward by many college officials is that such an event is proper because no one explicitly advocates immorality.

Take this to the extreme, of course, and a Catholic college could invite Hitler to speak on the merits of German music and art. It is doubtful that any Catholic college would host or honor Louis Farrakhan or David Duke because of their views on race, regardless of the speaking topic.

How did Catholic college leaders come to so easily disregard speakers’ public advocacy of abortion, homosexual activity or “marriage,” fetal experimentation, physician-assisted suicide and a host of other serious problems?

An award or speaking platform places an individual in an honored and respected position, regardless of what they discuss on campus. Honorees and lecturers differ from college faculty only in degree: despite the brevity of their presence on campus, they temporarily share professors’ special status as educators and models for students. Canon law rightly insists that Catholic institutions expect “probity of life” outside the classroom for professors, and the same might be expected for lecturers and honorees.

The primary concern is scandal. Once an individual has publicly acted “in defiance of our fundamental moral principles,” that person is identified with that action regardless of the reason for the campus visit.

When a Catholic institution freely chooses to invite that individual to lecture or receive special honors, the institution publicly declares a lack of intensity in its commitment to Catholic teaching, disregards those who have been harmed by the individual’s actions, undermines efforts to expose and oppose the individual’s harmful behavior, and confuses students about the responsibilities of faithful Catholics.

When asked “Why not?” I cannot help but ask “Why?” The simplest argument against hosting honorees and lecturers who advance the culture of death is that humanity has not sunk so low as to necessitate such invitations. On any lecture topic, experts can be found who do not raise these concerns.

When choosing prominent commencement speakers and honorees, there are thousands of good options. Whereas college leaders tend to characterize any restriction on their freedom to select speakers and honorees as a death knell for quality scholarship, there is no such plight.

[Tuesday: A persistent problem]

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