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Michael Paulson had an in-depth article in yesterday’s Globe about the apparent victory of Catholic bishops and alums and advocacy groups who have been pushing Catholic universities to bar Catholic commencement speakers with questionable public views, usually on the flashpoint issues of abortion or stem cell research or gay marriage. This cause is the raison d’etre of the pugnacious Cardinal Newman Society and its president, Patrick Reilly, and Paulson cites Reilly’s figures. But he also cites a number of bishops and university officials who hail the trend:
“I think that Catholic administrators at Catholic colleges are much more attentive to the selection process than they may have been in the past, and there is a growing awareness that these types of invitations are related to Catholic identity and mission,” said Bishop Robert J. McManus of Worcester, who is chairman of the education committee for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. “I call it truth in advertising,” McManus said. “Why would you honor a person, whether Catholic or non-Catholic, that has publicly contradicted the positions of the church?”
The tension still seems there, as the presidents of Notre Dame and CUA acknowledge. But one effect seems to be that more bishops are getting invited to speak. On Sunday, the Aberdeen News of South Dakota reported that a state senator, Nancy Turbak Berry, was disinvited from giving the commencement address last Friday, a day before the event. This was due to her views on abortion rights, she said. She was replaced by the bishop, Paul Swain, and no mention was made of the switch.
So what will be the effect on politics and the church? Will grads get to hear better speakers? Will dissed Catholic pols wear the martyr’s mantle? And was there any real benefit to having Catholic pols give commencement addresses anyway?