As America’s premier Catholic university and football franchise, Notre Dame University had grabbed headlines over the last few weeks with its controversial choice to have President Barack Obama deliver the 2009 commencement address and and receive an honorary law degree. However, other less high profile Catholic colleges are not without controversy in their commencement choices this year. Some critics accuse these traditionally less recognized colleges with simply following after Notre Dame in an attempt to get attention, but college officials insist they are merely fulfilling their mission of maintaining a vibrantly Catholic and intellectual environment. A sampling:
Perhaps no announcement could have caused greater feelings of betrayal within orthodox Catholic circles that Franciscan University of Steubenville’s announcement that law professor, former Reagan administration official, and prominent Obama supporter Douglas Kmiec will be delivering their commencement address and receiving an honorary PhD in theology this year. Kmiec will speak on the Catholic intellectual life and its intersection with public life.
Catholic League president Bill Donohue said, “I am shocked and deeply saddened that a mindless shill for the most pro-abortion president in history has been invited to speak at what had generally been recognized as one of the most orthodox and pro-life universities in the nation.” Catholic journalist Ross Douthat, often recognized for his moderation on political issues, was asked for a balancing comment, but simply responded, “I think mindless shill is probably a pretty good description of what we have with Doug.”
FUS president Fr. Terence Henry, TOR dismissed outrage saying that the invite was in keeping with the Franciscan tradition,
“Dialogue is an essential part of the Christian mission,” he said in official statement. “St. Francis preached to wolves and gallows birds, not church ladies and rotary clubs.” Asked for comment on the objections to his invitation, Prof. Kmiec said, “You know, this reminds me of how I was once denied communion because of my advocacy for Obama, and while I instantly forgave that sorry excuse for a priest and do not carry ill will against THAT WRETCH AND THE IDIOTS LIKE HIM, I’d just like you to think about how in many ways my suffering for Obama is like Christ’s suffering for all humanity — because Obama is all humanity, you know.”
Other commencement choices are equally controversial. Ave Maria Law School has announced that President Hugo Chavez will address their graduates this year and receive an honorary doctorate in constitutional law. His stated topic is, “God and the Law, Illusions of the Bourgeois.” When asked if he thought this was an affront to Catholic teaching, Ave Maria Law School president Bernard Dobranski replied, “An affront? Certainly not. We’re expecting some bracing dialogue on the proper relation of religion and law. As Catholic universities, we must pursue the rigors of the intellectual life and not be satisfied with complacency.”
Not to be outdone, Christendom College’s graduates will be addressed by Prof. Richard Dawkins, to whom they will be awarding an honorary degree in Humanities and Catholic Culture. A college spokesman said they expected Prof. Dawkins address — reportedly titled “What’s Wrong With All You Religious ‘Tards Anyway?” — to be “a lively and freewheeling discussion of humanity’s search for God and it’s place in the academy”.
Thomas Aquinas College, in keeping with its great books program, has invited the corpse of Peter Abelard to make a brief appearance, though no address is currently planned.
Asked to comment on the growing trend, Cardinal George, the current USCCB president, signed and said, “This is the kind of thing which makes my job so difficult. Dealing with academia has always been hard, but in recent years…” He shook his head. “This is just un-freaking-believable. That’s my considered pastoral opinion.”