Father Tom Reese, SJ, a well-known commentator and savvy political scientist of the church, makes the pointed point that objecting to the Obama invite on the grounds that it violates the bishops’ document “Catholics in Political Life” is “absurd. He continues:
“If Cardinal Edward Egan of New York can invite Obama to speak at the Al Smith dinner in October of 2008 when he was only a presidential candidate, then there is certainly nothing wrong with Notre Dame having the President speak at a commencement. Other pro-choice speakers at Al Smith dinners included Al Gore and Tony Blair (a Catholic). What is OK for a cardinal archbishop is certainly OK for a university. Or are bishops exempt from ‘Catholics in Political Life’? People need to recognize that Catholic universities have to be places where freedom of speech and discussion is recognized and valued. Not to allow a diversity of speakers on campus is to put Catholic universities into a ghetto.”
Punchy, and on point. Sharper still is the commentary by NCR’s new publisher, Joe Feuerherd, who likens Patrick Reilly, president of the Virginia-based Cardinal Newman Society, to an “academic ayatollah.” More convincingly, Feuerhard points up the many inconsistencies in Reilly’s rages:
Reilly and the Society, however, were strangely silent when then-Vice President Cheney spoke at the Catholic University of America in January 2005. Cheney (like Obama) opposes a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and has some questionable views on the “intrinsic evil” of state-sponsored torture, but that was apparently of no concern to Reilly. The Society did not protest the vice president’s appearance.
Here’s what is really going on. Ayatollah Reilly searches for hot button issues on Catholic campuses — anything that has to do with gays gets them excited, as do performances of “The Vagina Monologues” and, of course, pro-choice speakers (few of whom actually even discuss abortion in their presentations) – that will energize their base of donors and activists. Then they highlight these offenses on the Web and through direct mail to generate revenue.
Reilly also didn’t protest when Bush was invited to give the commencement address at St. Vincent College in Pennsylvania, despite Reilly’s admission to Feuerhard that Bush was at odds with the church on some life issues–and, I would add, just about precept of Catholic social teaching.
So what to do? Bar all commencement speakers? Allow all? Who would you nominate?