US bishops call on Catholic institutions to oppose culture of death

US bishops call on Catholic institutions to oppose culture of death

Patrick Reilly

The incidence of American Catholic colleges and universities hosting abortion-rights advocates has grown so much that the US Bishops' Conference recently asked Church-related institutions to refrain from honouring those who act in defiance of Church teachings.

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

The following article is adapted from recent interviews with Patrick Reilly by the Zenit News Agency.

In their document, Catholics in Political Life, the American Bishops' Conference states: "The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honour those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honours or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."

This statement is laudable, formally endorsing the Cardinal Newman Society's long-held position against Catholic institutions honouring 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 from 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 honours 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."

There is always the danger that these individuals may 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.

An award or speaking platform places individuals in an honoured 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 a campus visit.

Catholic teaching

When a Catholic institution freely chooses to invite that individual to lecture or receive special honours, 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 behaviour, and confuses students about the responsibilities of faithful Catholics.

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.

The Cardinal Newman Society has documented nearly 200 incidents of inappropriate speakers and honorees since 1999, but because our research was based primarily on published reports available in college newspapers and on the Internet, we are certain that the actual number is much higher than 200.

This is why the recent US bishops' statement calling on Catholic institutions to refrain from honouring those who act in defiance of Catholic teaching means so much to our members, especially students who have been struggling to improve campus culture.

Frequently these speakers and honorees are pro-abortion politicians. We found at least 17 visits and lectures by former President Bill Clinton at Georgetown University.

What is worse, Catholic campuses often host pro-abortion politicians for campaign events. In the current presidential campaign, Marquette University and St Anselm College hosted debates consisting entirely of pro-abortion candidates.

Of course, speakers and honorees are not the only concerns at Catholic colleges. Several host and sometimes sponsor pro-abortion student clubs, such as the Reproductive Choice Coalition at Boston College law school, and Georgetown Students for Choice at Georgetown University.

Internship and service opportunities can be a problem, such as the Planned Parenthood "clinic escort" position promoted by Nazareth College's campus ministry. Several college Web sites refer or link students to organisations including Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood, the National Organisation for Women and the Feminist Majority Foundation.

We discovered that Georgetown's Web site referred students to local abortion clinics, the College of Santa Fe provided "emergency contraception" to students, and many colleges covered contraceptives in employee health plans.

The extent to which problems at Georgetown University dominated much of our report was particularly striking.

Perhaps Georgetown's several campus publications and extensive Web site allowed for more thorough research than at many other colleges, but it is troubling to find scandals so numerous at the United States' oldest Catholic university with a charter from the Vatican.

I also find deeply disturbing the presence of culture of death advocates among the faculty members, trustees, administrators, and staff members of Catholic colleges. Here not only are Catholic colleges guilty of following social trends, but employees of the institution itself are actively working against the Church on some of the most important issues of our time.

Daniel Maguire, a former priest and outspoken dissenter on sexual morality and abortion, teaches theology and ethics at Marquette University.

Georgetown faculty members have included board members of organisations that are leading the fight for physician-assisted suicide, as well as employees of Planned Parenthood.

Screening

Catholic colleges and universities need to screen prospective employees and representatives of colleges, ban inappropriate campus speakers and honorees, provide campus health and counselling services that are consistent with Catholic teaching, monitor college Web sites and materials distributed on campus, and refuse to co-operate with organisations that advance the culture of death - such as referrals to Planned Parenthood.

As with individual Catholics, something more is also expected of Catholic institutions: they should be proactively building a culture of life. Colleges can begin with their own campuses.

This means providing counselling and health services that promote chastity, adoption and motherhood, providing comprehensive and well-promoted services for pregnant students, seeking honorees and lecturers who model pro-life activism and behaviour, and otherwise finding ways to be visibly and persuasively pro-life in all official actions and commitments.

Colleges struggling with this issue can look for advice from institutions that are consistently Catholic. A few examples include the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Thomas Aquinas College and the Catholic University of America, but there are several other good models.

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