Scandal and Lavender Gowns, 2011 Edition

Ever hear of a “lavender commencement”?

For some Catholic college students, gone are the days of traditional pomp and circumstance. On May 2, homosexual students at the nation’s oldest Catholic university cheered anti-homophobia remarks from the director of the campus LBGTQ (lesbian-bisexual-gay-transgender-queer) Resource Center and paraded around campus with a rainbow flag.

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

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The “commencement” speaker at Georgetown University’s third annual Lavender Graduation — attended by university president John DiGioia, his vice president for student affairs and four deans — was openly gay U.S. Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island. Cicilline’s campaign website assures voters, “I will support and work for passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, to guarantee the rights of all lawfully married couples, including same-sex couples….” It also declares his support for “full reproductive freedom,” including abortion rights.

On the left coast, the “intercultural centers” at both the Jesuit University of San Francisco and St. Mary’s College of California also hosted lavender graduations — a new trend at many colleges and universities around the country, but with a particular irony at Catholic institutions that admirably promote respect for every student but also claim fidelity to Catholic teaching. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches the homosexual inclination is “objectively disordered” and “that ‘homosexual’ acts are intrinsically disordered.”

Less shocking since the President Barack Obama debacle at the University of Notre Dame in 2009 — but equally scandalous — are the annual displays of Catholic educators fawning over pro-abortion and pro-gay “marriage” politicians and activists. In 2004, the U.S. bishops issued clear instructions in their document “Catholics in Political Life,” forbidding honors and platforms that might suggest support for opponents of Catholic teaching. Notre Dame took a public lashing — but what are a few bruises in pursuit of political correctness?

This year, Fordham University’s law school mustered up a pro-abortion Republican, former New York Governor George E. Pataki, to speak and receive an honorary degree on Sunday, May 22. Just after celebrating Mass, no doubt.

And Friday, May 20, St. Vincent’s College in Connecticut hosted U.S. Congressman Jim Himes as commencement speaker. They must not have discovered his campaign website (it took us a few clicks):

Jim Himes is a firm believer that women should hold the sole rights to their reproductive choices, without interference from politicians or government. The Congressman supports comprehensive family planning services and making methods of contraception more easily available. Jim Himes is working to pass the Freedom of Choice Act which will uphold the reproductive rights protections in Roe v. Wade and ensure the reproductive freedom of all future generations. Jim Himes is endorsed by Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut while his opponent voted against requiring hospitals to provide access to emergency contraception for rape victims.



Obama administration fans would have enjoyed the commencement speech by Jill Biden, wife of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, at Salve Regina University on May 15. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Jill Biden told ABC News about the importance of keeping abortion legal: “I think it’s very important personally…. But I am of that generation of women who fought for Roe v. Wade and I can’t imagine the Supreme Court overturning it. I think women have to remember that.” Will St. Peter remember the day Catholic educators rewarded her with an honorary degree?

Of course, what’s more exciting to a liberal college professor is a trip down memory lane to the Clinton years — even if the Class of 2011 was finger painting when Clinton took office. For instance, Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State and now a Georgetown University professor, spoke Friday at Georgetown University’s Master of Science in Foreign Service award ceremony. Albright publicly attacked President George W. Bush for refusing to use taxpayer dollars to fund pro-abortion counseling overseas during NARAL Pro-Choice America’s “Power of Choice” fundraising luncheon in 2001 and again in 2005. She was a featured speaker at the 2004 “March for Women’s Rights” in Washington, D.C., which rallied support for legalized abortion. And in her 2007 bookThe Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God and World Affairs — just in case we didn’t know it already — she confirms, “I am a supporter of Roe v. Wade because I think women should have the right to choose….”

The Whitehead School of Diplomacy at Seton Hall University — the diocesan university of Newark, New Jersey — invited Timothy Wirth, Clinton’s Under-Secretary of State and now president of the United Nations Foundation, to deliver its commencement address on May 13. In 2009, Wirth joined with Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, to chide the U.S. bishops for seeking universal health care without coverage for abortion and contraception, which Wirth and Richards said was intended “to diminish a woman’s right to make personal decisions that should be kept between her and her doctor.” Also in 2009, the United Nations Foundation joined Planned Parenthood in honoring Congresswoman Nita Lowry for leadership on “international family planning.”  The UNF states on its website: “We are committed to achieving the global goal of universal access to sexual and reproductive health care services by 2015.” UNF also runs the pro-abortion website

And political commentator, former Al Gore campaign manager, and Georgetown University professor Donna Brazile was the commencement speaker at Benedictine University in Illinois on May 15. In 2009, Brazile publicly supported President Obama’s reversal of the “Mexico City Policy,” which had barred taxpayer funding for organizations that provide or counsel for abortions. In a 2006 Ms. Magazine article, Brazile expressed support for across-the-board availability of contraceptive services including “emergency contraception,” criticized abstinence-only education, and chided opponents as “adamantly opposed to a woman’s right to choose, and… finding new ways to chip away at Roe v. Wade.” In a 2005 Ms. Magazine article, “Why Choice Matters,” Brazile rallied support for “reproductive rights,” including abortion, “to stop the religious right from moving into our pulpits” and to fight “anti-choice extremists.”

And here we find a bit of delight… at least in the memory of a bishop’s unequivocal stand against such compromises of a college’s Catholic identity. In April 2009, Archbishop Alfred Hughes of New Orleans boycotted the commencement ceremony of Xavier University of Louisiana to protest Brazile’s selection as speaker and honoree. It was a heartening moment for Catholics who are tired of the campus nonsense.


Back to the present: Saturday, May 21, the law school at the University of San Francisco honored and heard a commencement address from Hon. Ming W. Chin, an associate justice on the California Supreme Court. In 1996, shortly before his confirmation to the court and a year before striking down a law requiring minors to get parental consent for abortions, Chin publicly stated that abortion is “the woman’s right to choose” — which means that he is an appropriate addition to the rogue’s gallery of USF commencement speakers, including, in past years, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

A few Catholic colleges this year are pointedly celebrating Catholics who defied their bishops and supported President Obama’s health-care overhaul, even without sufficient provisions to protect conscience rights and preclude government-funded abortions. Yesterday, St. Catherine University honored its commencement speaker, Sr. Carol Keehan, DC, President of the Catholic Health Association (CHA) of the United States and the lobbyist who perhaps did the most to undermine the U.S. bishops and pro-life organizations on health-care reform.  But St. Kate’s students had to settle for “seconds,” since the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, secured Keehan to speak the prior day at its graduate student commencement ceremony.

Could it be pure coincidence? A year to the day before the St. Thomas graduation — on May 21, 2010 — leading representatives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement that blamed the CHA for causing “confusion and a wound to Catholic unity.” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Bishop William Murphy, and Bishop John Wester publicly disagreed with the notion put forward by Sister Keehan that “the divergence between the Catholic Conference and Catholic organizations, including the Catholic Health Association, represents merely a difference of analysis or strategy.”

And then Sister Keehan publicly defended a Phoenix hospital after Bishop Thomas Olmsted revoked the hospital’s Catholic standing. Without consulting the bishop, the hospital had decided it was ethical to perform a direct abortion in violation of the U.S. bishops’ ethical and religious directives for Catholic health-care services. Sister Keehan has said she respects Bishop Olmsted’s authority on matters of morality — but has publicly disagreed with him anyhow.

Now that’s a role model for America’s Catholic college graduates!

Others who undermined the bishops on health-care reform include U.S. Senators Robert P. Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana — members of the Catholics-who-don’t-like-abortion-BUT crowd — who addressed graduates at Villanova University on May 15 and Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute on May 20, respectively. Senator Landrieu is pro-choice on abortion and urged President Bush to expand federal support for embryonic stem cell research. Senator Casey has voted against the “Mexico City Policy,” thereby allowing the U.S. government to pay for abortions overseas, and against the defund Planned Parenthood amendment to the 2011 budget.


Now lest we imagine that commencement ceremonies are purely a political affair — they’re not, or so college leaders will swear with their fist on the table for emphasis — they are also opportunities for courting gifts from wealthy businessmen. And who better than Bob Wright, former chairman and CEO of NBC Universal? On May 14, St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia hosted Suzanne and Bob Wright to deliver the commencement address and receive honorary degrees for their admirable work with the charity Autism Speaks. We should be grateful that they were not hailed for their advocacy of same-sex “marriage.” Just this past March, both Bob and Suzanne joined with Hollywood actors and business leaders in an open letter sponsored by the advocacy group Freedom to Marry, which called on President Barack Obama to support homosexual “marriage.”

And there’s Chuck Geschke, cofounder of Adobe, who addressed Xavier University of Ohio’s graduates on May 14. Geschke and other Silicon Valley business leaders established the group “Silicon Valley Leaders Say No on Proposition 8” and purchased a full-page ad in the San Jose Mercury News opposing the 2008 California referendum to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Geschke donated $5,000 toward the ad and was described as honorary co-chair of the group.

Now here’s a dishonorable mention: If you’re a Catholic college leader seeking out the best role model for Catholic college students, would you choose former CNN anchor Larry King, who has been divorced seven times? King was the commencement speaker for the undergraduate arts and sciences ceremony at the University of San Diego yesterday. Aside from implicit biases and his marital problems, we could not find evidence of public opposition to Catholic moral teaching until King made a big splash just this month, releasing a video for the Human Rights Campaign’s “New Yorkers for Marriage Equality” campaign in which he advocates homosexual “marriage,” saying: “I know a thing or two about marriage — maybe three, maybe four. Some of us can get married again and again, and others can’t get married at all. Can’t figure that out. Let’s make marriage equality the law in New York, and let’s do it now.” Clearly USD officials didn’t know about this when they invited King — but were there no candidates for commencement speaker who hadn’t demeaned the institution of marriage so publicly (and repeatedly)?

Every year there are commencement scandals that just break your heart, because they involve speakers and honorees who are doing so much good for others — but also significant harm. Such is the case of the charity Partners in Health and Dr. Paul Farmer, its co-founder and executive vice president, who was the commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient at Georgetown University’s undergraduate ceremony on Saturday — and Loune Viaud, the Director of Strategic Planning and Operations for the Zanmi Lasante (Partners in Health) socio-medical complex in Cange, Haiti, where she founded the women’s center, who was honored on May 14 by Regis College in Massachusetts.

webpage for Partners in Health’s HIV Equality Initiative explains the emphasis on “family planning” and “contraceptive options,” developed in part by Viaud:

When women are counseled, educated, and provided with contraceptive options, they are more likely to delay childbearing, have fewer children, and reduce their risk for obstetrical complications. Nevertheless, 50 percent of all pregnancies worldwide are unplanned or unwanted…. Many barriers limit women’s access to family planning methods, including gender inequality, myths, and lack of knowledge about available services.

Family planning is an integral part of the model of comprehensive women’s health care that was developed at Zanmi Lasante (ZL) in Haiti and emphasized as one of the four pillars of PIH’s HIV Equity Initiative. Each of ZL’s clinical sites has a full-time nurse trained in sex education and reproductive health counseling. ZL has been offering free condoms and other contraceptive methods for over 15 years. In 2003, Zanmi Lasante began training and mobilizing community health workers who specifically promote family planning and women’s health. These ajans fanm (women’s health agents) travel throughout the countryside, teaching women and men about sexually transmitted infections (including HIV) and contraceptive methods, distributing condoms and oral contraceptives, and referring pregnant women and others to the clinics. This successful model is being replicated at PIH sites in Rwanda, Malawi and Lesotho.

Another webpage discussing Partners in Health’s efforts to support women’s health in temporary settlements indicates: “All mobile clinic staff will also be attending ‘refresher’ trainings in women’s health basics — particularly the use of emergency contraception and management of victims of rape.”

No doubt the intentions for recognizing Farmer and Viaud — and, for that matter, all of the above-cited commencement speakers and honorees — are easily justified by the good that these people do. If a Catholic college chooses to honor someone for their good works, the argument goes, why should we be concerned about other activities that oppose clear moral teachings of the Church?

The answer: Because Catholic colleges have a choice of speakers and honorees. And when they make a choice — especially when selecting someone to serve as a role model for graduation — the choice should be for speakers and honorees who best exemplify the standards of a Catholic college education.

Good people who compromise morality to do bad things — harmful things — deserve our compassion and counsel, but not our honor. We certainly do not want Catholic college graduates following the same path, expecting the future admiration of their mentors.

A Catholic education should mean more than that — if, at these institutions, it still means anything at all.


  • Patrick J. Reilly

    Patrick J. Reilly is president of The Cardinal Newman Society, which promotes and defends faithful Catholic education.

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