A small Catholic college that invited Victoria Kennedy, wife of the late Senator Ted Kennedy, to speak at its spring commencement has rescinded the offer at the request of Bishop Robert McManus, who cited her views as being out of line with Catholic teachings.
Kennedy, however, is still scheduled to speak at Boston College’s law school commencement this year.
Boston.com reports that the bishop told Anna Maria College that on certain issues – particularly abortion and gay rights – Kennedy’s apparent beliefs were not in line with Catholic teachings and made her an unacceptable choice of speaker.
Kennedy was also a public advocate for the enactment of health care reform and stood at President Obama’s side at the White House as he signed the legislation into law in March 2010.
Anna Maria College released a statement today placing the decision at the feet of Bishop Robert McManus, according to Boston.com:
“The College feels strongly that it followed the appropriate process leading to its initial invitation,” the statement said. “The College also maintains its belief in the appropriateness of recognizing Mrs. Kennedy’s many contributions to the societal issues they both share, especially her work with gun control and the safety of children.”
However, it continued, “concerns were expressed about the College being in conflict with the Bishop and hosting an event that could create negative publicity and a difficult situation for both Mrs. Kennedy and AMC. … After hours of discerning and struggling with elements of all sides of this issue, the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees decided with deep regret to withdraw its invitation.”
Kennedy, the widow of the late US Senator Edward Kennedy, reportedly published her own statement, saying that “by objecting to my appearance at Anna Maria College he has made a judgment about my worthiness as a Catholic. This is a sad day for me and an even sadder one for the Church I love.”
Diocese spokesman, Ray Delisle, said “the bishops of Worcester have consistently followed a statement by the US Bishops … that Catholic institutions should not be honoring Catholics who take positions publicly which are contrary to the Catholic faith’s most fundamental principles, particularly on the dignity of life from conception and the sanctity of marriage.”
Patrick Whaelen, president of the national Catholic Democrats, said the bishop took sole responsibility for his decision during their conversation concerning this issue.
“I said, ‘I’m sure you must be under a lot of pressure from people in the conservative camp’ — I was trying to express some empathy — and he reacted very sternly to that too,” said Whaelen. “He said, ‘this is my decision and mine alone, and nobody’s pressuring me to do this.’ But then he did add, ‘sometimes it’s lonely at the top.’”
Other Catholics like pro-abortion rights Jim McGovern came to Kennedy’s defense, saying Kennedy is “a terrific person.”
Sister Jane Eisner, president of Emmanuel College, said they gave Kennedy an honorary degree in 2010 and she stood by that decision.
“We think very strongly that a Catholic college should engage in open debate and discussion on the critical social issues of our time. It’s a search for the truth. We’re not afraid of it,” she reportedly said. “I find it hard to believe in Massachusetts, in 2012, that this is happening.”
Steve Krueger, chair of the Catholic Democrats, blasted the bishop’s decision, calling it “an unjust and illegitimate action.”
He also called it ”a subtle form of ex-communication” and then subtly raised the specter of the clergy abuse scandal. “Increasingly, we see more and more bishops playing the role of enforcers of the faith rather than shepherds of souls, because they squandered the trust that they once had and the authority that came with it,” he reportedly said.
Boston.com reported one anonymous source that said the bishop told Anna Maria he would “stanch the college’s funding or boycott commencement himself if Kennedy remained on the schedule.”
Anna Maria issued a press release that stated, “as a small, Catholic college that relies heavily on the good will of its relationship with the Bishop and the larger Catholic community, its options are limited.”