At Catholic Colleges' Commencements: Tutu, Yes; Kennedy, No

Commencement speaker controversies at two Catholic campuses on opposite sides of the country have sparked petition drives that have resulted in opposite results.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

On the West Coast, in Spokane, Washington, Jesuit-run Gonzaga University has held firm in hosting South Africa’s Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, as commencement speaker this year.   A petition drive to rescind the invitation, motivated in part because of Tutu’s support for the ordination of gay clergy, collected 700 signatures.  However, another petition drive in support of Tutu collected 11,000 signatures in 48 hours, according to an article in The National Catholic Reporter (NCR).

NCR quotes Gonzaga University President Thayne McCulloh’s statement of support for Tutu:

“We are very much looking forward to having him.I really believe that this is very consistent with what both the church and Jesuits want for its institutions; and of course in any community people will have different points of view around that.”

In an earlier NCR article, McCulloh offered his reasoning for inviting Tutu:

“While we have received messages both positive and negative about our decision to invite Archbishop Tutu, the vast majority of responses indicate that there is great support. People see our invitation as honoring Tutu and the social justice activism of our institution.”

The same article cites a Religion News Service story which notes Spokane Bishop Blaise Cupich’s support of Gonzaga’s decision:

“When Bishop Cupich was asked in person about Gonzaga honoring this commencement speaker who publicly espouses views in fundamental opposition to the teachings of the Catholic Church and most other Christian denominations, he indicated support for Gonzaga’s decision stating Archbishop Tutu is being honored for the work he did to end apartheid in South Africa.”

Victoria Reggie Kennedy

On the East Coast, a 20,000-signature petition failed to convince Worcester, Massachusetts, Bishop Robert McManus to ask Anna Maria College to reconsider its decision to cancel Victoria Reggie Kennedy as commencement speaker.   (You can read an earlier Bondings 2.0 posting about this decision here.)  According to an article in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette,

“The liberal arts school in Paxton [Massachusetts] disinvited Mrs. Kennedy, the widow of the late U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, after the bishop told Anna Maria College President Jack Calareso that he had concerns about her positions on abortion, gay marriage and other social issues.”

Bishop McManus released a statement on the diocese’s website in support of Calareso’s decision:

“While I recognize that there are those who do not agree with Anna Maria’s decision to disinvite Mrs. Kennedy as its commencement speaker, I continue to stand behind the concerns which I shared with Dr. Jack Calareso, the college’s president, last March. As such, I support the public statement of the College’s Board of Trustees that ‘the invitation be withdrawn in the best interest of all parties and most importantly the students which will be graduating.’ ”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



0 replies
  1. Claire Walker
    Claire Walker says:

    Another example of the Bishops being out of touch. The Kennedy family has always been committed to the following of Christ with their support of programs for the poor and the middle class. This is just ridiculous to keep Vicky Kennedy from speaking.

  2. John Smithey
    John Smithey says:

    I feel that both of these situations could have been avoided if enough research was done by both institutions.

    Even though the Kennedy family has been synonymous with the Catholic church, their family if full of controversy that may not line up with University policies.

    Does anyone think it was a smart move to even consider these people due to there stances on different social issues?

  3. Rev Monsignor J. Scott West
    Rev Monsignor J. Scott West says:

    Mr Smithy;
    We live in a fallen world and none of us can cast the first stone. That said, each one of these people have a journey that was marked by both success and failure. The Lord isn’t available to speak right now, so no matter what, you will have to settle for a sinful human being. I support these choices, both The Right Reverend Bishop Tutu, and Mrs Kennedy

  4. Friends
    Friends says:

    It’s two years later now, but let me point out, for the record, that Bishop McManus, a hard-core culture wars right-winger, was ultimately arrested for DUI and leaving the scene of an accident which he had caused. He was found guilty, given a fine and suspension of his license, but was spared jail time. We haven’t heard much from him since then. Perhaps a touch of “instant karma gonna getcha”. Oh yes…he’s also the same bishop who infamously forbade auctioned surplus church property from being sold to a same-sex couple, explicitly because of their “immoral lifestyle”. The couple had intended to develop the property into a bed-and-breakfast resort, which would certainly have been a benefit to the local economy. “Bishops” like this, the Roman Catholic Church DOES NOT NEED. God Bless Pope Francis for setting new standards of moderation, tolerance and openness to the Holy Spirit, in his early displays of executive authority.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] and censored speakers at Catholic colleges, Cupich supported Gonzaga University’s decision to honor Archbishop Desmond Tutu for his anti-apartheid work, even while he endorses marriage equality. When Washington State was […]

  2. […] leave clear indications that the diocese is not a welcoming agent. Last year, Bishop Robert McManus rejected a commencement speaker because of her support for marriage equality and refused to sell property to a gay couple over […]

  3. […] Back in April, we posted about Anna Maria College, a Catholic campus in Worcester, Massachusetts, disinvited Victoria Reggie […]

  4. […] April 30, 2012: At Catholic Colleges’ Commencements: Tutu, Yes; Kennedy, No […]

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