Catholic College Commencement Scandals Increase in 2009

May 29, 2009

MANASSAS, VA (MetroCatholic) - In the Spring of 2009, at least 12 Catholic colleges and universities hosted scandalous speakers and honorees at their commencement ceremonies, according to The Cardinal Newman Society’s annual review. This marks a troubling reversal of the recent decrease of Catholic commencement scandals – merely seven took place in 2008, down from 24 in 2006.

“It is a very sad development, to see so many Catholic colleges and universities joining Notre Dame in their disrespect for Catholic morality and for the U.S. bishops,” said Patrick J. Reilly, president of The Cardinal Newman Society. “The bishops’ policy against such honors and platforms is crystal clear and is only the bare minimum expected of Catholic institutions.”

The 2009 commencement scandals occurred despite the unprecedented public opposition of 83 U.S. bishops to the University of Notre Dame’s honor for President Obama at commencement. None publicly supported Notre Dame’s action.

Most of the protesting bishops referenced the 2004 USCCB statement “Catholics in Political Life” as support for their opposition. The statement reads: “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 Cardinal Newman Society compiled the following list of Catholic colleges and universities whose commencement speakers have publicly opposed or acted against Catholic values on key moral issues:

***Creighton University (Neb.)
Christopher J. Elias, M.D., was the commencement speaker and honorary Doctor of Science degree recipient at Creighton University on May 16. Elias is the President and CEO of Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH). PATH, a nonprofit organization to address health concerns around the world, promotes abortion and contraception. PATH worked in Nepal to shift “cultural norms” toward an acceptance of abortion by means of “dialogue groups.” The organization’s website states: “This is where PATH comes in: helping address the long-held beliefs that still stand between women and safe abortion.”

***Dominican University of California
Willie L. Brown, Jr. was the commencement speaker and honorary Doctor of Laws degree recipient at Dominican University of California, where he is a board member, on May 15. Brown has served as Mayor of San Francisco and as Speaker of the California State Assembly, and he is an advocate of abortion rights and homosexual marriage. According to a review of his autobiography, Basic Brown: My Life and Our Times, “Willie Brown shows how some of the most far-reaching and socially advanced legislation in American history — like… legalized abortion, gay rights… — was carried out under his guidance and on his watch.” In 1996, Archbishop William Levada protested when San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown officially recognized 175 same-sex couples as “domestic partners” in a proceeding that was very similar to a marriage ceremony. Last year Brown publicly opposed California’s Proposition 8, which legally defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

***Fordham University (N.Y.)
Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York City, delivered remarks and received an honorary degree at Fordham University’s commencement on May 16. Bloomberg is pro-abortion. reported in 2006 that Bloomberg said, “Reproductive choice is a fundamental human right, and we can never take it for granted. On this issue, you’re either with us or against us.” Reproductive choice is a euphemism for abortion. Bloomberg also supports homosexual marriage. According to New York Magazine, he has stated, “I think anybody should be allowed to marry anybody.” Charles Schumer, a U.S. Senator from New York, also spoke at the Fordham University commencement exercises, according to Catholic News Agency. Schumer has received a 100% voting record from NARAL Pro-Choice America. He has voted to expand the availability of contraceptives, voted for expanding research to more embryonic stem cell lines, voted against notifying the parents of minors who get out of state abortions, and voted against a ban on partial-birth abortion.

***University of Notre Dame (Ind.)
Barack Obama, President of the United States, was commencement speaker and honorary Doctor of Laws degree recipient at the University of Notre Dame’s commencement on May 17. Obama is vigorously pro-abortion. Before becoming president, he stated at a Planned Parenthood conference that his first act as president would be to sign into law the Freedom of Choice Act (a bill that would remove all existing restrictions on abortion); the bill has not yet passed. He also opposed a ban on partial-birth abortion. As president, Obama has worked to overturn conscience protections for healthcare workers, appointed numerous pro-abortion cabinet members (including the Secretary of Health and Human Services), dedicated federal funds to harvest embryonic stem cells, and overturned the Mexico City Policy which prevented U.S. funds from being used to promote abortion overseas. Obama reaffirmed his pro-abortion stance two weeks before the Notre Dame commencement ceremony, and again during his commencement address. More than eighty bishops have opposed Notre Dame on account of this matter.

***College of the Holy Cross (Mass.)
King’s College (Pa.)
Robert Casey, Jr., a U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, was commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient at both the College of the Holy Cross and King’s College commencement ceremonies (May 22 and 17 respectively). These went forward despite the fact that Casey’s own bishop in Scranton, Pa., Bishop Joseph Martino, has been repeatedly critical of the senator’s record in recent months. This criticism included Casey’s vote opposing an amendment to reinstate the pro-life Mexico City Policy, which prohibits federal funds to groups that promote or perform abortions. Bishop Martino also scolded Casey for his vote to confirm pro-abortion Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services. The bishop called the decision of King’s College to honor Casey “an affront to all who value the sanctity of life,” saying Sen. Casey lacks “the moral stature” to properly address the challenges faced by the graduates.

***Xavier University of Louisiana
Donna Brazile, a political commentator and activist, was commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient at Xavier University of Louisiana on May 9. Brazile supported President Obama’s reversal of the Mexico City Policy which previously barred taxpayer funding from supporting abortion services overseas. She said that “this will save lives.” In a CNN segment during the 2008 presidential campaign, Brazile suggested that public discussion of Barack Obama’s legislative support for infanticide should be diminished in light of high gas prices. Additionally, in a 2006 article, Brazile expressed her support for across-the-board availability of contraceptive services, including her support for the Prevention First Act. New Orleans Archbishop Alfred Hughes boycotted the ceremony on account of the selection of Brazile.

***St. Francis College (N.Y.)
Yvette Clarke, a U.S. Representative from New York, was the commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient at St. Francis College on May 27. In 2007, Clarke voted for the expansion of federal funding to include more research of embryonic stem cell lines. In the same year, Clarke co-sponsored a bill that would have ensured access to and federal funding of contraception.

***Saint Joseph’s University (Pa.)
Chris Matthews was commencement speaker and honorary Doctor of Communications degree recipient at Saint Joseph’s University on May 16. Matthews is the widely-recognized host of MSNBC’s Hardball, and has repeatedly and publicly supported legalized abortion. Last March, he referred to pro-life advocates opposing the nomination of pro-abortion Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services as “terrorists.” Cornel West, a Princeton University professor, also received an honorary degree at the commencement ceremony of Saint Joseph’s University. In 2006, West opposed the Federal Marriage Amendment by signing onto the public statement “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage: A New Strategic Vision For All Our Families and Relationships.” The group supporting the statement (at proposed that “Marriage is not the only worthy form of family or relationship, and it should not be legally and economically privileged above all others.” They sought to “reframe the narrow terms of the marriage debate” and advocated legal recognition of “a wide range of relationships” regardless of “conjugal status.”

***Stonehill College (Mass.)
M. Elizabeth Fini was Stonehill College’s commencement speaker. Fini currently serves as the Vice Dean for Research at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine. According to the Daily Trojan, Fini expressed enthusiasm at the prospect of utilizing embryonic stem cell lines for research at USC. “Because we got this jumpstart, it makes all the difference for us,” she said. “Our researchers are ready to go, where other schools are going to have to get this started.” As scientific director and vice chair for research at the University of Miami’s Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in 2007, Fini helped establish a partnership between Moorfields Eye Hospital in England and Bascom Palmer. According to the South Florida Business Journal, Moorfields previously received a “$7 million donation to conduct embryonic and adult stem cell research to treat macular degeneration,” and Fini intended to work with the Hospital on that project, even looking for a matching donation for Bascom Palmer.

***University of St. Francis (Ill.)
A. J. Wilhelmi, an Illinois State Senator, was commencement speaker at the University of St. Francis on May 9. In 2007, Senator Wilhelmi voted for a bill that permitted Illinois state funding for research on embryonic stem cell lines.

***University of San Francisco (Cal.)
Most Reverend Kevin Dowling, Bishop of Rustenburg, South Africa, was an honorary degree recipient and undergraduate commencement speaker at the University of San Francisco on May 22. Bishop Dowling has publicly criticized abstinence-only programs and supports condom use by those infected with or at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. After he expressed his view regarding condoms in a 2001 interview, the South African bishops’ conference condemned his statements and has reaffirmed that condoms are “immoral” and a “misguided weapon in the fight against HIV.” The papal nuncio of South Africa has also rebuked Bishop Dowling at least twice. Kamala D. Harris was the graduate school commencement speaker at the University of San Francisco on May 23. She is the San Francisco District Attorney. According to the Bay Area Reporter, Harris has spoken at rallies against California Proposition 8. The proposition, which passed, defined marriage as between one man and one woman. Harris said that was an expression of “prejudice” and “hate.”


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