Catholic Schools Not Keeping Faith in Selecting Speakers

Article excerpt

It's that time of year again, where politics and education meet behind the lectern at the nation's colleges.

Judging by a sampling of several dozen universities and colleges, popular commencement speakers are usually from the worlds of politics and the media, along with various Clinton administration officials.

Most of the politicians are from the political left, with some exceptions, such as former Labor and Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole, who spoke May 14 at Duke University in Durham, N.C.

A few institutions chose light-hearted presentations, such as San Jose State's selection of Tom and Dick Smothers, the famous 1960s comedy duo, to speak May 27 at its California campus.

A local Catholic group has identified more than a dozen "inappropriate" speakers at some of the nation's 235 U.S. Catholic colleges.

"This is not a new issue," said Patrick J. Reilly, executive director of the Falls Church-based Cardinal Newman Society. "We wished to say this is not a problem at just one school, but this is a larger problem in Catholic higher education the bishops need to address."

The "offending" speakers violate "Ex Corde Ecclesia," a 1990 Vatican document stipulating tighter restrictions on church-connected colleges, he said.

"These colleges have stabbed the backs of the Catholic bishops, perhaps unwittingly in some cases," he said. "Last November, the bishops issued very reasonable guidelines for Catholic higher education after working closely with college leaders who assured the bishops of their fidelity. But now a few colleges go and invite commencement speakers who undermine our Catholic beliefs. It's tragic."

One college, St. Mary College in Leavenworth, Kansas, withdrew its invitation to Kansas City Star columnist Bill Tammeus, who was to have spoken May 13 at the college's commencement ceremonies. According to an April 30 column by Mr. Tammeus, his invitation was withdrawn because of the Star's recent series of reports on Catholic priests and AIDS. Mr. Tammeus had also written critically of Catholic practices and doctrines.

"We'd like to see some efforts by these schools to invite speakers in the future that clearly reflect the Catholic identity of their school," Mr. Reilly said. "Most of the speakers we found are not Catholic. You don't need to be a Catholic to be a good example to students, and there are a lot of Catholics who are not a good example to students."

But the speaker, he continued, should at least "reflect Christian values."

Invitations given to the likes of Sen. Bob Kerrey, Nebraska Democrat, by Marist College of New York and to the Rev. Jesse Jackson from Mount Saint Clare College in Iowa got a disapproval rating from the Newman Society because of their pro-choice stances on abortion. Other speakers given the thumbs down by the society included:

* United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, speaking May 20 at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., because of his backing of population-control efforts, including abortion, in the Third World.

* Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera, who spoke May 13 at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, Texas, for his support of abortion and homosexual rights legislation.

* Ida Castro, chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the women's bureau of the Department of Labor, speaking May 21 at St. Joseph College in West Hartford, Conn. As a labor lawyer prior to her appointment to the Clinton administration, Miss Castro had lobbied Congress for abortion rights.

* Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), who spoke May 6 at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Mrs. Edelman's organization has promoted contraceptives in public school health clinics.

* Thomas M. Foglietta, U.S. ambassador to Italy, speaking May 21 at Cabrini College in Radnor, Pa. …