Catholic College Leaders Who Are Part of the Problem

Instead of helping faithful Catholics put things into perspective on the predatory priest crisis, several Catholic college leaders have made things worse. Buffalo’s Canisius College president, John Hurley, issued a letter to the campus community decrying the male leadership of the Church. Claiming that “for centuries, the institutional Church has marginalized women in so many ways,” Hurley asked: “Could anyone imagine women being in charge of matters like this and not doing everything possible to protect the children?”

This is not the first time President Hurley has questioned magisterial teachings on Catholic faith and morals. In May 2018, President Hurley awarded an honorary degree to Dr. Norma Nowak, a member of the Empire State Stem Cell Board, a funding source for embryonic stem cell research. Inviting Dr. Nowak to provide the undergraduate commencement address, President Hurley showed his indifference to the millions of dollars in contracts for embryonic stem cell research Nowak has distributed throughout the State’s Stem Cell Science Program.

Canisius may also be causing some confusion regarding Catholic teachings on same-sex behavior. According to the Canisius gay straight alliance Facebook page, “Unity exists to provide an environment in which students feel safe and comfortable discussing issues concerning sexual orientation and gender identity.” Sounds like a noble goal—but in 2016, Unity at Canisius held a “Gender Bender” Dance in which Canisius students were invited to “Come Dressed in a Different Gender.” In October 2016, Canisius hosted transgender comedian Jeffrey Jay, and on January 26, 2018, Unity hosted transgender woman of color, actress, and model, Isis King. King, who has been seen on America’s Next Top Model, encouraged those in attendance to “celebrate” their diversity in gender identity. A few years ago, Unity distributed tee shirts on campus with the slogan: “Gay? Fine by Me.”

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Canisius is not alone in sowing confusion about Catholic teachings on same-sex behavior. With the exception of a few Catholic colleges and universities (like my own academic home, Franciscan University of Steubenville), most of the 230 Catholic colleges and universities have strayed far from their Catholic roots. This all began in 1967 when Catholic college leaders—including the now-disgraced former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick—gathered in Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin, to create a manifesto that declared their “true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical.” Since that time, most Catholic college presidents—like the one at Canisius—have ignored any attempts by their presiding bishops to bring their schools into communion with the Church.

Of course, many of the presiding bishops—including, most notably Cardinal Donald Wuerl—have refused to implement the mandates of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the document by St. John Paul II which required the bishop to ensure that what is taught on Catholic campuses was in line with Catholic teachings. Indeed, there have been few bishops more reluctant to respond to the heretical teachings on Catholic campuses in their dioceses than Cardinal Donald Wuerl. Faculty members at Georgetown and Trinity Washington University promote ideas that conflict with Church teaching. In recent years, for example, they have promoted legislation to provide access to same-sex “marriage” and to expand reproductive rights. Ignoring Catholic doctrine on human sexuality, Georgetown recently advocated for legislative pathways to secure rights for trans and gender-nonconforming people. Offering workshops like “Trans-Health in the Military” and “Queer in the Capital,” Georgetown—with tacit permission from Cardinal Wuerl—has long been a leader in lobbying for “LGBTQ” rights.

An important part of OUTober is Georgetown’s “I Am” campaign that encourages students, faculty and staff to discuss what being gay or transgender means to them. Posting videos online, Georgetown community members proudly describe their appreciation for Georgetown University’s acceptance of their same-sex “marriages” and relationships. In one of the online videos, Samuel Aronson, Assistant Dean of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, said that, for him, the “I Am” campaign means that at Georgetown he is not just tolerated as a gay man who is “happily married.” Rather, Dean Aronson says that at Georgetown “we love you not despite who you love, or your gender expression, but because of who you love.”

Distancing Herself from Cardinal Wuerl
For decades, Trinity’s president, Patricia McGuire, has reaped financial rewards for her university from politicians by awarding accolades—and Catholic cover—to Washington’s most liberal “Catholic” politicians. Located directly across the street from the offices of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Trinity Washington University has benefitted greatly from Cardinal Wuerl’s negligence. Honoring those who have publicly defied Catholic teachings on abortion, marriage, and contraception—including abortifacients—President McGuire has given honorary degrees to Trinity Washington graduates Nancy Pelosi and Kathleen Sebelius. Appearing to ignore Pelosi’s 100 percent pro-abortion voting record throughout her long Congressional career, McGuire not only awarded her an honorary degree, she also hosted a highly publicized inaugural Mass on the Trinity University campus to celebrate Pelosi becoming Speaker of the House. Likewise, Kathleen Sebelius was given an honorary degree by McGuire—and was lauded for her role in helping to create and pass the Affordable Care Act—replete with taxpaying funding for abortion and mandates that required Catholic institutions like Trinity and Georgetown to provide free insurance coverage for contraception, including abortifacients.

In 2007, McGuire invited Rev. Robert Drinan, S.J., to celebrate the 2007 inaugural Mass for Pelosi. Drinan, who died later that year, provided a much imitated model for Catholic politicians who wished to support the fledgling pro-choice movement in the mid-1960s while claiming to be faithful to Catholic moral teaching. In fact, in a well-documented meeting at the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport, Mass., in July 1964, Fr. Drinan, joined by other leading theologians and progressive prelates, coached the Catholic Kennedy family and its advisors and allies on how Catholic politicians could accept and promote abortion with a “clear conscience.” One of the attendees, the former Jesuit priest, Albert Jonsen, Emeritus Professor of Ethics at the University of Washington, published an account of the meeting in his book, The Birth of Bioethics (Oxford, 2003).

Cardinal Wuerl was complicit in the scandal surrounding Fr. Drinan in 2007 by giving permission for him to celebrate the Mass on the Trinity campus—despite the fact that the late priest could be counted on to provide some of the most extreme pro-choice votes during his time in Congress. Here, too, President McGuire benefitted greatly from the cardinal’s neglect.

Now that it is no longer politically expedient to remain “close” to the cardinal, President McGuire is calling on him to resign. Indeed, Patricia McGuire is the first Catholic college president to publicly call for Wuerl’s resignation. She told reporters at CNN that “I think Cardinal Wuerl is a good man, and I have enjoyed knowing him… But at some point the leader in a crisis has to know when to stay and try to fix the situation, and when deciding to step aside is an act of accountability and atonement. I don’t think Cardinal Wuerl is as culpable as some of his critics say, but at some point a leader has to step aside to let the healing process begin.”

While the responses from Hurley and McGuire were expected, faithful Catholics were astounded by the uncharitable response to the clergy abuse scandal by James Towey, president of the orthodox Catholic Ave Maria University. Towey, who has worked on Capital Hill for both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, wrote a letter which not only praised Pope Francis, but also denigrated Raymond Cardinal Burke, a beloved cardinal for many of us. In his statement, Towey suggested that Cardinal Burke has “consistently opposed the direction Pope Francis has led the Church,” and suggested the cardinal was doing so as a form of revenge for the pope’s removing him from his prominent position as head of the Holy See’s highest ecclesiastical court.”

None of this is helpful. It is clear to many of us that the advocacy of same-sex behavior on Catholic campuses has contributed to this scandal of same-sex predation in the priesthood. Perhaps now that we have yet additional confirmation that this is indeed a scandal of same-sex predation (80 percent of all victims of priests and bishops are male), we can begin to work together on Catholic campuses to stop celebrating “diversity” in sexual orientation and gender identity—and begin reminding people that deviant behavior is not something to celebrate.


  • Anne Hendershott

    Anne Hendershott is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. She is the author of The Politics of Envy (Crisis Publications, 2020).

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