NEW ORLEANS (RNS) New Orleans Catholic Archbishop Alfred Hughes has told Xavier University of Louisiana he will not attend its upcoming graduation ceremonies because he objects to the university’s decision to award an honorary degree to Donna Brazile, a veteran Democratic political strategist who supports abortion rights.
Hughes told Xavier President Norman Francis of his decision about the May 9 commencement by letter, expressing his disappointment with the university, even as he acknowledged its legacy of education among African-Americans.
In response, a statement from the Catholic university said, “From the founding of Xavier 84 years ago, our institution has promoted respect for the dignity, well-being and the protection of life for all persons.”
The controversy arises a month after Bishop John D’Arcy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend (Ind.) announced he will boycott President Obama’s scheduled commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame because some of the president’s policies contradict church teaching.
Brazile, a Catholic and a native of Kenner, is a familiar advocate on behalf of Democratic issues, working at the national level in support of Democratic values that include defense of abortion rights and pursuit of embryonic stem-cell research.
The Catholic church opposes those policies, believing both take human lives.
“As a lifelong devoted Catholic, I am sorry the archbishop will boycott this celebration of the class of 2009,” Brazile said by e-mail.
“I will remain faithful to the Catholic Church and my Christian faith which keeps me grounded.”
Brazile will give the commencement address in addition to receiving an honorary degree.
Xavier’s decision to honor her breaks with Catholic bishops’ determination to present a consistent front of opposition to abortion rights.
Three years ago, Xavier awarded an honorary degree to President Obama, then an Illinois senator and rising Democratic star with a record for supporting abortion rights, without objection from Hughes.
But archdiocesan spokeswoman Sarah Comiskey said Hughes had not been aware of the honor to Obama, which came while the bishops’ common pledge was in force.
By Bruce Nolan and John Pope
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