A Controversy at Post-Catholic Georgetown

kathleen_sebelius.jpgKathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, is scheduled to speak Friday at a Georgetown University commencement event, setting off protests among Catholics and others who believe the Obamacare mandate violates religious liberty. So far, some 25,000 people have signed petitions asking for the invitation to be withdrawn. On campus, the reaction seems more tepid: only 9 of the 1500-plus faculty members and just 3 of the 55 resident Jesuits are known to have joined the protest.

For President Obama, the speech sets up a likely win-win outcome:
dispatching a nominal Catholic to a nominally Catholic university that
yearns to be secular (the question, “Is Georgetown still a Catholic
university?” has been asked since the mid-60s) either provokes an angry
response that would fit the “war against women” scenario, or a trifling
one demonstrating that the Catholic bishops have bluster, but few troops
behind them, even on a Jesuit campus.

Georgetown reacted to the protests by walking the announcement back a bit. Though Sebelius is listed as one of the commencement speakers at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, a university email later said she was to speak at an annual “student and faculty awards event.”

The Archdiocese of Washington released a statement today (May 15) saying “it is understandable that Catholics across the country would find shocking the choice of Secretary Sebelius, the architect of the mandate, to receive such special recognition at a Catholic university.”

Sebelius is an unusually provocative choice by Georgetown. Catholic politicians understand that they cannot rise in the Democratic Party without defying their church on some basic issues, abortion most obviously. (Senator Robert Casey, Jr. is an exception so far, but he arrived on the national scene running against Rick Santorum.) Of the roster of Catholic pols who have seen the light and converted to the Democratic Party’s position on abortion–Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, Joe Biden, et al.–Sebelius has probably been the defector inflicting the most damage since Teddy Kennedy.

Friend and Protector of George Tiller

As governor of Kansas she vetoed four anti-abortion bills and was unusually close to the late partial-birth-abortion specialist George Tiller, assassinated by an anti-abortion zealot in 2009. She protected Tiller from litigation and criminal prosecution and he became one of her major political donors. The Sebelius administration destroyed subpoenaed documents sought for years in criminal proceedings against Planned Parenthood for failure to report large numbers of child rapes. The originals somehow disappeared in 2005 and the copies were “routinely” discarded or destroyed by a Sebelius appointee in 2009. Planned Parenthood is also a large and regular donor to Sebelius.

Georgetown_campus_picture.jpgThe bishops (and the Vatican) have grown weary of big-name Catholics who abandon the fundamentals of their faith whenever politics requires it. The Bishops are also wary of Catholic colleges celebrating non-Catholics who oppose the church’s basic principles. Their 2004 statement said Catholic colleges should make their values clear: “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.”

President Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame was enormously controversial because of his stance on abortion, but even some opponents were willing to let that one go, rather than reject a sitting president. One who didn’t let it pass was Mary Ann Glendon, Harvard Law professor and U.S. ambassador to the Vatican under George W. Bush. She was scheduled to receive a high Catholic honor, the Laetare Medal, on Obama-day at Notre Dame, and quietly declined to appear.

Some Catholic colleges, for their part, are nervous about having the hierarchy telling them what to do. For Georgetown, the most post-Catholic of the nation’s prominent Catholic colleges (it pointedly covered up religiously imagery when Obama spoke there), this isn’t much of a dilemma.

After the 15 minutes of fame of Sandra Fluke, the single woman who said she needed a $3000 contraception subsidy to get through three years at Georgetown Law school, Georgetown President John DeGioia praised Fluke (her “expression of conscience was in the tradition of the deepest values we share as a people”), while waving off the strong anti-Obamacare statement of the bishops as merely one of many opinions on the issue. (“Many, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, have offered important perspectives on this issue.”)

But Georgetown can still dust off its fading Catholic values when it has to. Recently 94 faculty members cited Catholic social thought on the duty to the poor. But that was to denounce a visitor to the campus as insufficiently Catholic–not Sebelius of course, but budget-cutting Republican Congressman Paul Ryan.


  • John Leo

    John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

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15 thoughts on “A Controversy at Post-Catholic Georgetown

  1. I don’t know of Georgetown U. is Post Catholic or not but clearly the United States has joined the rest of Western Civilization in being Post Christian.
    The majority of Americans rarely or never attend any religious services. Half of those who call themselves Christian cannot name four of Jesus’s disciples or say who delivered the Sermon on the Mount. Mainline Churches have been hemorrhaging members,attenders and financial support for years. Congregations are being merged, church buildings closed or turned into health clubs and over 1500 clergy leave the ministry every month. Religion, including Catholicism, no longer holds the moral authority it once had.

    1. It is truer to say that morality doesn’t hold the moral authority is used to, and this is the direct result of anti-Christian warfare, cultural warfare and in the end a kind of covert religious warfare carried out by ostensibly secular Freemasons and Jews, now for generations. Sad to say this includes a bunch of effete, gutless, dirty old white pederasts who strategically infiltrated the seminaries a hundred years ago.

  2. I was once on retreat, where one of the speakers stated: “My first year in college, I attended a Jesuit institution. My sophmore year I decided to go to a Catholic school.”
    I think that about says it all.

  3. Clement is confused as to Catholic doctrine. The butchering of the innocent in the womb is and has been throughly and unequivocably condemned throuout the history of the church. People can argue about wars and who is responsible for them but the killing of the helpless and preborn is horrific and scandalous. Georgetown and Notre Dame both need to be chastized by the Vatican.

  4. Sen. Robert Casey, Jr. received a 100% score from NARAL Pro-Choice America for his 2011 voting record, meaning he voted pro-abortion every time. Granted, this rating only represents three votes, but his voting record can hardly be considered pro-life. National Right to Life gave him a score of 50%, and Planned Parenthood gave him a score of 66% one year. To say Sen. Casey breaks the mold for Dems on abortion is to broaden the definition of pro-life to the point where it means nothing.

  5. I am jesuit educated and it is overrated. All my best teachers were orthodox and the worst were the iberal jesuits. They are not that smart, contrary to popular opinion. Georgetown is an embarrassment. A non-violent ‘war’ should be declared on them. I would love nothing more than to see the enemies of the church defeated and that includes Georgetown University, Fordam, SF and ND. No more talk it’s time for action. Speak out, stop donating, tell the truth about their intentions.
    Oh and for the silly relativism talk, collateral damage or even intentional damaged to save lives in war isn’t equivalent to the intentional kiling of 1M children in the womb in the past year.

  6. The blatant irony here, visible to all but liberals and the mainstream media, is how liberal Catholics’ exquisitely refined sense of moral certitude is selectively invoked.
    To wit, from the article:
    “Georgetown President John DeGioia praised Fluke (her “expression of conscience was in the tradition of the deepest values we share as a people”)…”.
    Why is it that the left is never compelled use the “expression of conscience” mantra when a conservative Catholic defends the rights of the unborn?
    That the left’s moral sensibilities are only awakened when they align with the arch-liberal agenda is transparently apparent when they use “academic freedom” as a proxy defense of policies hostile to the traditional values.
    As Pope Benedict XVI said, the only absolute today is relativism. Welcome to the culture of death.

  7. faha;
    What does the Iraq war have to do with Catholic teaching on the campus of a nominally Catholic university campus? Elliptical logic at its finest.
    There was a time when the Jesuits were the shield of the Church. That time is long passed. Today, there is a moral and intellectual corruption in academia that has delegitimized any authority it may have once had.
    Academic and ethical standards should be inviolable and yet the selection of Ms. Sebelius is simply a stick in the eye of Church teaching more appropriate to 8th grade.
    Across the nation, the issue is being defined as one of the First Amendment. For if government can dictate that a religious organization can be forced to act in a manner antithetical to its teachings, then the Constitution itself is in jeopardy.
    Of course, the Left believes the Constitution means what the Left says it means, which is at the heart of the issue after all.

  8. Bigotry against gays and medieval views of human sexuality are incompatible with academics and many Catholics, but they seem to be the cornerstone of some people’s “faith”. The church is the people- not a cabal of old men in Rome. The Bishops supported Obamacare and deserve exactly what they got.

  9. When I went to Georgetown, it presumptuously thought of itself as “the Catholic Princeton.” Today, as then, it is not Princeton. Alas, neither is it Catholic.

  10. Are you serious when you state “The bishops (and the Vatican) have grown weary of big-name Catholics who abandon the fundamentals of their faith whenever politics requires it. The Bishops are also wary of Catholic colleges celebrating non-Catholics who oppose the church’s basic principles. ” ? Our country just ended a 8 year invasion and war in Iraq. Over 100,000 Iraqis were killed and there are still 2 million Iraqi refugees ( including 500,000 Christians, HALF the Christian poopulation of Iraq ). I do not recall any opposition from the bishops to this war and certainly the Catholic and non Catholic politicians who initiated and supported that war were not criticized or sanctioned by the hierarchy. I do not recall any Catholic politicians who were excommunicated or even denied Communion. It did not happen during the Vietnam War either. And where do you find a history of the Vatican sanctioning Catholic political and military leaders ? Last week was the anniversary of the end of World War 2. Mussolini was an atheist and anti Catholic and Hitler’s Nazi regime was also anti Catholic. Yet Catholics were never excommunicated or even denied Communion for joining the militaries of those countries, which killed 30 million people ( including many Catholics ) and destroyed most of Europe. Does the commandement ” Thou shall not kill ” not apply to people after they are born ?

  11. One thing for sure: This controversy has definitely got a conversation started as to where the Catholics are today. A ‘Catholic ‘TEA Party’ has been born and with a little seed, the size of mustard seed, planted in our consciousness, a modern day renaissance is beginning. It has certainly helped me think about the totality of my Catholic faith. If it has managed to do this for me, why not others who are like me?

  12. There are three issues being confused here — first the right of a student to essentially be a hermetic, the right of a student to say something totally stupid and the duty of the university to both permit her to say it and to then show her — via logic and not force — why she is wrong.
    The second being the almost fascist approach to political correctness which has invaded higher education, where all forms of expression advancing officially-approved causes is protected and supported while heaven and earth is used to suppress any expressions to the contrary.
    And third, the co-mingling of medicine and free speech – particularly the co-mingling of mental health and free expression, otherwise known as anyone who deviates from the approved orthodoxy is by definition hopelessly insane. (The Soviets were kicked out of the World Psychiatric Association in the 1970s for this, and what is happening today in higher education is actually far worse than anything the Soviets dreamed of doing…)
    Let me propose a hypothetical that explains all of this: presume that a male divinity student were to publicly petition the Vatican for the Excommunication of Sandra Fluke. What would happen next?
    While I can’t speak to Georgetown, I can to UMass Amherst and what would happen is that the student would be required — essentially at gunpoint as he would be “escorted” by armed police officers authorized to use deadly force — to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine if there was any basis of locking him up in the psych ward, and if he survived that, then it would either be a case of kicking him out on some trumped-up harassment charge and/or telling him that everyone who disagrees with him is licensed to perpetrate whatever physical violence against him they desire with impunity, and the university police will only intervene if he tries to defend himself, at which point he and he alone will be arrested/prosecuted for assault.
    This is the reality of the modern academy. Free speech is only the right to speak in favor of the approved agenda — textbook fascism.
    And the real question is how much longer will the parents of America continue to subsidize this with their taxpayer and tuition dollars? There is a very real bubble in the higher education market — cost having vastly outpaced value — and at what point does the whole thing collapse?
    Free inquiry into truth — not in the academy…

  13. Georgetown never got the memo:
    “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world, for if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world is passing away, but also its lust, but the one who does the will of God lasts forever.”
    1 John 2:15

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