In the wake of the Notre Dame commencement scandal, Catholic college leaders representing some of the worst violators of the U.S. bishops’ 2004 ban on honoring public opponents of fundamental Catholic teachings are lobbying the bishops to withdraw their policy.
Yesterday the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU), which represents more than 200 Catholic institutions, released its summer 2009 newsletter, including a report on the ACCU’s board of directors meeting last week. The ACCU directors concluded “that it would be desirable for the [U.S. bishops] to withdraw” their 2004 policy, according to the newsletter.
The policy in question is found in the U.S. bishops’ 2004 statement “Catholics in Political Life,” which reads 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 bishops gather today in San Antonio, Texas, for their biannual meeting.
“Why is it so hard for Catholic college leaders to understand that a Catholic institution does great harm when it honors or gives speaking platforms to those who work against core Catholic values?” said Patrick J. Reilly, president of The Cardinal Newman Society.
“The more than 367,000 people who signed The Cardinal Newman Society’s online petition and the scores of American bishops who publicly criticized Notre Dame’s honor for pro-abortion President Barack Obama clearly recognize that such actions by Catholic colleges are scandalous.”
The ACCU leadership suggests moreover “that juridical expressions of bishops’ or universities’ responsibilities should be kept to a minimum” in order to maintain a good relationship between the bishops and educators.
Reilly surmised that, in other words, Catholic colleges and universities would prefer that there are no clear rules to govern their conduct. He also pointed out that t he statement implies that the educators believe that the bishops, and not college leaders, are responsible for tensions arising from scandalous activities on Catholic campuses.
“Catholic colleges and universities would like all of the privileges of being Catholic, but none of the responsibilities of being high-profile witnesses for the fullness of the Catholic faith,” Reilly said.
Allowing for the possibility that the bishops might not agree to simply eliminate the 2004 ban, but might instead draft a new policy concerning Catholic honors and platforms, the ACCU’s directors proposed that the policy “should acknowledge more clearly the differing roles of campus authorities and bishops.” Reilly said that this phrase appears to be an attempt to get bishops to refrain from commenting on internal decisions at lay-controlled Catholic institutions.
In May, ACCU President Richard Yanikoski told the South Bend Tribune that he saw a “degree of ambiguity” in the bishops’ 2004 policy. He claimed that the Church’s canon lawyers disagree whether the policy applies to speakers or honorees who are not Catholic, regardless of whether those individuals oppose Catholic teaching. Several bishops strongly rejected that same argument when it was made by Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins, C.S.C., to defend his decision to honor President Obama.
In April, the leaders of the nation’s 28 Jesuit colleges and universities were put on record by Rev. Charles Currie, S.J., president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, as supporting Notre Dame’s honor of President Obama. Father Currie also indicated to the National Catholic Reporter that lobbying of the bishops had already begun: “[We] have been talking to individual bishops to see if we can’t lower the volume and lessen the heat of the discussion.”
“It is sadly all too clear that the many secularized Catholic colleges and universities are more concerned with doing away with the rules than ending the scandals,” concluded Reilly.
“Lobbying the bishops to back off a perfectly reasonable policy would be a shameful action by the Catholic higher education establishment, and hardly an appropriate response to Notre Dame’s betrayal of the nation’s bishops and the university’s own Catholic mission.
“The lesson of the Notre Dame scandal is clear: even our leading Catholic universities have lost their way, and they need precisely the sort of clear direction from the bishops that the 2004 policy on Catholic honors and platforms represents.
“Only those who find nothing wrong with honoring pro-abortion leaders, hosting productions of the vile The Vagina Monologues, employing dissident theologians and snubbing the bishops would find it helpful to weaken or withdraw guidelines meant to safeguard the souls of Catholic college and university students.”