With Sebelius invite, another blow to Georgetown’s Catholic identity

From left: Donald Wuerl/Post, Kathleen Sebelius/AP, John DeGioia/Post If Georgetown University wants to remain an authentically Catholic college, it must … Continued

From left: Donald Wuerl/Post, Kathleen Sebelius/AP, John DeGioia/Post

If Georgetown University wants to remain an authentically Catholic college, it must rescind its invitation to Secretary Sebelius, writes the president of The Cardinal Newman Society.

Speaking to American bishops gathered in Rome recently, Pope Benedict XVI urged the renewal of Catholic identity in Catholic colleges and universities and lamented the occasional conflicts between academia and the bishops, even as Georgetown University whipped up just such a dispute.

With a plea for compliance with the mandatum—a requirement of the Catholic Church’s canon law that theology professors pledge to teach authentic Catholic doctrine—the pope said the “importance” of such obedience:

“…becomes all the more evident when we consider 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.”

Notably, the statement came just one day after Georgetown undermined the U.S. bishops by announcing that Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) Kathleen Sebelius—the chief architect of the federal mandate forcing many religious employers to cover sterilization and contraceptives—would be one of its graduation speakers.

No doubt the pope’s statement and Georgetown’s announcement were coincidental, but in the context of the Sebelius flap, it could appear that Pope Benedict was directly confronting Georgetown’s obstinacy and that of other Catholic universities that regularly embarrass the church, not least by violating the U.S. bishops’ 2004 ban on honors to individuals who publicly oppose Catholic moral teaching on abortion, same-sex marriage and other issues.

Sebelius is one of the last public figures a Catholic university should be honoring. In 2008, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City asked the former Kansas governor to stop receiving the Eucharist because of her “30-year history of advocating and acting in support of legalized abortion.” Sebelius recently told activists gathered at a NARAL Pro-Choice America event that “we are in a war” against pro-life Republicans in Congress.

But it is her role in the high-stakes battle between the Obama administration and the nation’s Catholic bishops that has generated much outrage over the Georgetown invitation, echoing the protests two years ago against the University of Notre Dame’s refusal to rescind its commencement invitation to President Barack Obama.

The Catholic bishops are in a high-stakes battle to preserve the church’s right to uphold Catholic teaching in Catholic employer-sponsored health plans. Although Sebelius has invited comments on a proposed “accommodation” for religious groups, there has been no substantial change to the HHS contraceptive mandate since August, and the bishops have said proposals on the table remain “unspecified and dubious.”

Moreover, Georgetown and other Catholic colleges and universities are doubly harmed by the HHS mandate. That’s because the mandate affects not only employee benefits but also student insurance plans offered by Catholic colleges. Soon college freshmen at Catholic institutions will be able to go on “The Pill” or get sterilized free of charge.

Nevertheless, Georgetown has not rallied to the side of the bishops with any sort of vigor, and until now it has maintained a low profile on the issue except when student activist Sandra Fluke and other pro-contraception students stir up media attention. Forced to respond to student requests for contraceptives under the university’s student health plan, University President John DeGioia declined to allow it, but the university willingly provides such coverage for employees without any government mandate.

Over the past few decades, Georgetown has welcomed numerous clashes with the church.

Unlike many other Catholic institutions compelled by state laws to cover contraceptives for employees, Georgetown does so without coercion. That’s because the university has repeatedly embraced people and programs that are contrary to church teaching.

Georgetown hosts annual performances of ‘The Vagina Monologues,’ funds law student internships with groups advocating abortion rights and same-sex marriage, and promulgates professors who have publicly opposed the bishops’ stand against the HHS mandate.

Across town, it’s a different story. The Catholic University of America has invited New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan to deliver its commencement address last weekend. Cardinal Dolan has been the church’s lead negotiator with Sebelius over the HHS mandate, and CUA President John Garvey testified before Congress in opposition to HHS—not long after taking a few lumps for his admirable decision to return to single-sex dorms.

CUA has done much to strengthen its Catholic identity in recent years. It is one of those institutions that gave Pope Benedict hope in his remarks last Saturday, recognizing “the need to reaffirm their distinctive identity in fidelity to their founding ideals and the church’s mission in service of the Gospel.”

Can Georgetown—the nation’s oldest Catholic university—follow the same path? It must begin with proper respect for the Catholic ideals upon which the university was founded and sustained until recently. It also requires respect for the Catholic bishops. That means rescinding the invitation to Secretary Sebelius.

Patrick J. Reilly is president and founder of The Cardinal Newman Society, which works to renew and strengthen Catholic identity at Catholic colleges and universities.

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  • agentMI5

    I find it interesting that this Op-ed piece did not once mention the Jesuit identity of Georgetown University. Georgetown is a Jesuit-Catholic institution, not simply Catholic. Jesuits are devoutly Catholic, but serious trouble-makers for the Church.

  • remcincinnati

    Mr Reilly apparently does not understand what a university is. There are many issues in our society where the public are divided and different opinions clash. The idea that any university — Catholic, Christian, Islamic, public — would limit speakers to those who agree with the university’s sponsors is antithetical to what a real university is all about. Even rabidly conservative Liberty University invited Sen Ted Kennedy to speak. For those who profess to promote “Catholic universities” to then demand that they act like Madrassas shows no appreciation for how a society works, how a true church should relate to the society in which it exists or the proper role of a true university.

  • jack824

    The Catholic education model Reilly supports seems to be home schooling followed by a hermetically sealed Catholic college to keep students protected from conflicting ideas. That they cannot withstand challenge doesn’t speak too highly of the ideals Reilly supports.

  • vinsons

    9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.
    10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples.
    11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
    12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.
    13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

    But then, I suppose if Mr. Reilly thought he had anything to learn from the Bible, he’d become a Lutheran.

  • fare777

    A great university must allow for the expression of diverse views. The invitation to the Secretary is in keeping with the values of a great university. It is awful to see a great university being forced backward by the never ending dark age thought of religious leaders of doubtfull creditability.

  • srb8

    God forbid that Jesuit university allow open intelectual debate and discussions about S.E.X. Maybe they should follow the lead of the bishops and close their eyes and plug their ears to the realities of the modern world. Repressing sinful thoughts and urges has worked so well for catholic preists… oh wait… I’ve never understood how people believe that ignorance and repression is compatable with spiritual and moral strength. Jesuit institutions offer a moral framework with which to approach difficult, modern issues and become well rounded, well informed, AND morally grounded people.

  • cricket44

    The Bishops are in the wrong. The only religious freedoms in peril are those of the employees. It’s very simple: Take any federal monies and you need to follow federal law.

    So, these *businesses* (they are NOT places of worship) can feel free to go completely private and then they may discriminate as they like and/or ONLY hire adherents to that particular religion.

    The only only problem with the Catholic identity is trying to foist it onto everyone else. Believe as you like and leave everyone else alone.

  • cricket44

    Oh, and before the default false accusation is thrown, I don’t care *what* religion a company has, if they are taking federal funds, they need to follow federal law.

  • ccnl1

    Said topic is not an important issue.

    THE IMPORTANT ISSUE: (only for the newcomers)

    The Brutal Effects of Stupidity:

    : The failures of the widely used birth “control” methods i.e. the Pill ( 8.7% failure rate) and male con-dom (17.4% failure rate) have led to the large rate of abortions and S-TDs in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or co-ndoms properly and/or use safer methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.- Failure rate statistics provided by the Gut-tmacher Inst-itute. Unfortunately they do not give the statistics for doubling up i.e. using a combination of the Pill and a condom.

    Added information before making your next move:

    from the CDC-2006

    “Se-xually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain S-TDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psy-ch-ological consequences of S-TDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs as-sociated with STDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars.”

    And from:

    Consumer Reports, January, 2012

    “Yes, or-al se-x is se-x, and it can boost cancer risk-

    Here’s a crucial message for teens (and all se-xually active “post-teeners”: Or-al se-x carries many of the same risks as va-ginal se-x, including human papilloma virus, or HPV. And HPV may now be overtaking tobacco as the leading cause of or-al cancers in America in people under age 50.

    “Adolescents don’t think or-al se-x is something to worry about,” said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. “They view it as a way to have intimacy without having ‘s-ex.'” (It should be called the Bill Clinton Syndrome !!)


  • ccnl1

    Some words were hyphenated to defeat an obvious word filter.

  • amelia45

    I am also one of those Catholics who shakes her head in puzzlement at the antics of our bishops. We have to find a balance to live faithfully in a world that includes people of different opinions and different faiths. The public good is really defined by the public, not by a few members of the Catholic magisterium. And given the wide spread use and availability of contraceptives now, it makes no sense to not assure contraceptives are available in all health insurance.

    No one is forced to take a pill. Each person is free to act according to his/her own conscience. Many lives will be saved and many abortions will not occur because there will be fewer unplanned pregnancies. In the balance of preventing abortions versus allowing people to do what they are going to do anyway (take contraceptives) I suggest the Church get very real and support the reduction in the more horrific abortions than complain about the remote material cooperation with evil that the Affordable Care Mandate provide regarding contraceptive coverage.

    There is a balance the Church must find in existing within democracies. They seem to have done just fine in Europe, Canada, and Australia, for example. The Catholic hospitals and universities in those countries are just as Catholic today as they were the day before their country added contraceptives to the national health care program.

    And, what is this thing with the Susan B. Komen Foundation, the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A, and the extraordinary vowed sisters who collectively have done more to reflect the face of Jesus in the world than the Pope ever dreamed of.

  • CSNavarro

    As a Georgetown graduate, I have been monitoring the university’s invitation to Ms. Sebelius from afar as I now live in the state of Washington. I have noticed in recent press coverage that there is an emphasis on the disapproval from followers of the Cardinal Newman Society and other fairly conservative Catholic organizations which further obscures what I think is the real issue here.
    I applaud any Catholic American who uses free speech to promote Catholic values in this situation, but I think that the media emphasis on very conservative Catholics does tend to make people think that this issue is solely about controversial subjects in the Catholic Church such as birth control, sterilization, and abortive drugs rather than the issue of religious freedom which is every American’s right because of the Constitution.
    As a religious institution, I question why Georgetown would keep its invitation to Ms. Sebelius when her health plan does not allow religious institutions like Georgetown and other business people an exemption based on conscience if they feel like this coverage compromises their religious beliefs. While some members of the Georgetown community may not have a moral problem with birth control and sterilization, I think that they should take issue with a governmental agency that requires people to break the law in order to follow their consciences.
    Any person who is at all religious should be taking notice of this policy. Once the policy is in force, there is a precedent for the government to approve other policies which further compromise people’s religious values. While these particular issues may not be of concern to many, the shift towards the government deciding when it can deny religious freedom is frightening and, I believe, unconstitutional.
    Recently, the Supreme Court justices were appalled when the government argued a case involving a religious institution and a former employee and pretty much ignored the idea of religious fre

  • Aislynn

    Unless Georgetown and CU only want to employ or admit Catholics to their universities, they should NOT be seeking to impose their religious beliefs on their employees and students. Student bodies at any given university are enriched when the pool of students represents a diverse set of backgrounds and faiths. The bishops can’t have it both ways. If you want to impose your teachings, only admit those of your faith. Otherwise celebrate the glory of the variety of God’s people.

  • Aislynn

    religious freedom is enjoyed by individuals, not institutions. If a Catholic doesn’t want to take Birth Control, that is her choice. If she does, that is a decision she gets to make, balancing her faith with her personal circumstances. Requiring an employer’s health insurance company (not the employer, as with the religious exemption) to offer legal medications is not breaking any law. And the law does NOT require someone to take birth control. I’m not sure what “Law” you’re referencing that people are being required to break.

  • Secular1

    If Frigidaire could give up its exclusive use of “Frigidaire”. Catholic bishops should be prepared to give up the catholic identity of these schools which are only serving secular purposes. They should, as they preach, be content with a job well done and doing that for doing’s sake, without expectation of return or any selfish reasons of aggrandizement. Isn’t it what they say, altruism for altruism’s sake. BISHOPS LIVE UP TO YOUR PONTIFICATIONS.


    Georgetown is sounding more and more like someCatholic trailer park version of a real university, complete with a sign that says, “Non-Catholics, don’t let the sun set on you in Georgetown.”

  • reinald25

    Yes, bar all people who have had pre-marital sex from speaking too.

  • Jobsdonne

    I am a Catholic. I support University President John DeGioia’s position. I support the position of the students. These positions are the mark of a strong Catholic University. Patrick J. Reilly’s perspective on this issue is weak and rife with fear.