Controversial Speakers at Catholic Colleges Declines in 2010

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

Since the months-long scandal that surrounded the commencement address by President Barack Obama at the University of Notre Dame last spring, the number of controversial speakers at U.S. Catholic colleges and universities declined this year.

According to the Cardinal Newman Society (CNS), an organization dedicated to encouraging a renewal of Catholic identity in the nation’s Catholic colleges, there is a marked decline this year in the number of Catholic schools that invited commencement speakers whose views contradict Church teaching.

“It remains a dark stain on those Catholic colleges and universities that would persist in undermining the Catholic faith at their commencement ceremonies for the sake of publicity and prestige, whether by handing out degrees or honoring individuals with commencement platforms,” said Patrick J. Reilly, President of The Cardinal Newman Society Reilly said.  “On the other hand, it appears that more than 95 percent of our Catholic college leaders this year have taken the high road, and Catholics should applaud that.”

Recent years have seen a decline in these scandals, from 24 in 2006 to just nine in 2010, Reilly said.

In 2009, there were at least 11 commencement scandals in spite of the unprecedented public opposition of 83 U.S. bishops to the University of Notre Dame’s honor for President Obama.

This year’s most scandalous invites include Boston College which invited Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric (GE) as its commencement speaker and honorary Doctor of Business Administration degree recipient. GE has an official company policy permitting experimenting on embryonic stem cells and last year launched a partnership with Geron Corp. to sell products derived from embryonic stem cells.

The College of the Holy Cross, also in Massachusetts, invited pro-abortion Mark Shriver, VP and managing director of Save the Children. In 2002, he told the Washington Post: “Women’s issues are critically important and I will continue to fight for a women’s right to choose; family planning funds; maternal and child health funding and education for girls both here and abroad.”

Georgetown University in Washington, DC invited Baroness Brenda Hale, the equivalent of a Supreme Court Justice in the UK, who has been an outspoken supporter of same-sex civil partnerships and no-fault divorce. In 2003, Hale told The Independent: “My present view is that there is a strong case for introducing a legal commitment between people who are unable to marry, principally gay and lesbian partners.”

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