The signs of spring abound. The robins are singing, the mourning doves cooing, the tulips and azaleas are abloom, Little Leaguers are wandering aimlessly in right field.
And a Catholic college is sparking controversy by inviting an abortion-rights advocate to be the school’s commencement speaker.
It just wouldn’t be spring without it. This year, the venerable institution is my alma mater, the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, which has invited Hardball host and HC alumnus Chris Matthews — a Catholic Democrat who has compensated for his public wanderings off the party reservation (on Clinton, on Gore) by issuing numerous heartfelt “I am pro-choice” pronunciamentos — to do the commencement duties. Which comes, of course, with an honorary degree as a bonus.
What makes this particular foray into Catholic-graduation scandalizing a bit different is that the effort to keep Matthews from speaking is being led by one of the college’s most-respected alumni.
If there was a Babe Ruth of Holy Cross alumni, Charles Millard would be the Bambino: chairman of the school’s board of trustees from 1977-1982, head of its last two major capital campaigns, father of eight alumni, and a major benefactor, Millard is a serious and respected man — not given to public outbursts — who bleeds Holy Cross purple. He is the ultimate “Crusader” — a loyal Catholic who has spent the last 40 years building up the institution. The last thing he seeks is to bring public attention to his beloved alma mater going wobbly on abortion.
But Charles Millard has passed the point of the “last thing,” because Holy Cross has failed to adhere to first things.
Earlier this year, when the college’s board of trustees and its president, Rev. Michael C. McFarland (more on him below), decided on Matthews — the college’s “hottest” alumnus thanks to his show, his book, Now Let Me Tell You What I Think, and his uber-bashing of President Bush over U.S. military action against Iraq — Millard privately complained to McFarland and the trustees. He reminded them of the school’s obligation to stand by its own Statement of Position on Abortion (among its holdings: abortion “cannot be condoned” and that school community has “a right and responsibility to profess that, in the light of revelation, abortion is morally wrong”), and warned about Matthews’s selection:
We are presented with a Rubik’s Cube: one of our highest profile alumni is publicly espousing a belief which directly contradicts the College and its Catholic doctrine. It falls to you to set it straight. … I make no pretense that this will be easy, but if not you, who? If not now, when?
The answers: “not us” and “never.” Not that anyone ever said that to Millard. In fact, not one of the school’s trustees or officials gave any response to Millard’s entreaties.
Stunned by the “100% silence from friends and colleagues” (“My letter and my history with the college deserve better” — damn right) Millard still refused to “go public,” and made a last-ditch effort to save the school’s face, suggesting that, should the board not replace Matthews, that his honorary-degree citation include language which disassociated Holy Cross from Matthews’s abortion stand.
Again, silence. Left with no options, Millard has gone public.
Will he succeed in ousting Matthews as commencement speaker, or getting his beloved alma mater to do something — anything! — to put some official distance between the Church’s teaching on abortion and Matthews’s devotion to “choice”? That’s very unlikely. The odds, in fact, are against Matthews being replaced. And the main reason for that is the aforementioned Fr. McFarland.
Fresh from his latest public-relations nightmare — in February McFarland eagerly defended a campus production of the Vagina Monologues (made all the worse by its premier on Ash Wednesday) — the president of Holy Cross has stumbled in to the Matthews affairs with two left feet.
His bitchy April 21st response to complaints from the Holy Cross Cardinal Newman Society about the Matthews affair brazenly proclaimed that the pundit “has embodied in many ways the values Holy Cross promotes as a Jesuit college. He has been especially courageous in attempting to bring moral principles to bear on issues in public life and to promote dialogue about some of the most controversial subjects dividing our country. For that we will honor him at commencement.”
The translation: We love Chris Matthews because of his prolonged and vocal attacks on President Bush on Iraq.
That epitome of Jesuitical thought followed an April 15 interview with the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, in which McFarland seems to be emulating the New England province of the Society of Jesus’s most notorious pro-abortion congressman/priest, Father Robert Drinan.
Despite Matthews’s copious comments in defense of abortion (he has uttered flat-out on several occasions “I am pro-choice”), McFarland told the paper Matthews “said he feels abortion is immoral. Where he would differ from some Catholics is on the role of government and how intrusive government should be in controlling this. It’s a matter of practical judgment. That’s allowable in Catholic thought.”
If it weren’t a sin, I’d despair for my alma mater.
— Jack Fowler, the associate publisher of National Review, is a 1982 graduate of the College of the Holy Cross.