Fundamentally, it’s not a question of politics, but of truth in advertising. Bob Casey has no business delivering a lecture on public morality at the Catholic bishops’ national university of the United States.
The Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, D.C., was founded in 1887 with the certainty expressed by the great John Henry Newman just 30 years earlier in his classic Idea of a University: that Catholic theology is true and ought to inform all academic study.
While many Catholic colleges and universities are struggling to live up to their identity as Catholic institutions, CUA has recently done a much better job of providing genuine Catholic education, even prohibiting The Vagina Monologues and discouraging lectures that could be a scandal to faithful Catholics.
That is why it is disappointing that the CUA’s law school has honored Pennsylvania Senate candidate Bob Casey with an invitation to deliver the annual Pope John XXIII lecture on “Restoring America’s Moral Compass: Leadership and the Common Good.”
Bob Casey, a Catholic and graduate of the law school, is a poor choice for two main reasons. First, he is an active candidate for office and is in a very tight race at the moment. Second, although purportedly pro-life, his public positions on a number of issues should disqualify him from giving a talk on morality and leadership at a Catholic school.
The Cardinal Newman Society, an organization I founded in 1993 to strengthen Catholic identity at America’s 224 Catholic colleges and universalities, has long held the position that it is a violation of academic neutrality for a school — even a secular university — to feature active candidates for office at lectures or other events .
Such activities inevitably lead to questions about a Catholic institution’s political neutrality, and their academic mission is subjected to a candidate’s political motivations for earning the respect and votes of students, faculty and the Catholic community.
This is true even in this case with CUA being located in Washington and Casey running for office in Pennsylvania, because of the important role that Catholic University plays as one of the flagship Catholic institutions in the country.
And, practically speaking, is there any doubt that Casey views the event as politically helpful? Why else would he pause from campaigning in Pennsylvania only weeks before a competitive election?
As I wrote in a letter to Catholic University President Fr. David O’Connell yesterday, “The law school’s poor choice is compounded by the fact that Casey is a prominent Catholic who supports public funding for contraceptives, laws mandating contraceptive coverage in health plans, and civil unions for homosexuals, and who has stated that he opposes legislation banning adoptions by gay partners.”
Critics will say, yes, but those issues do not rise to level of abortion, the most important issue, and, besides, Casey is pro-life. But what of Casey’s pro-life credentials?
Last week on Meet the Press, Casey said that he supports over-the-counter sales of the “Plan B” pill, because “It is contraception, and I support it.”
Host Tim Russert followed up by asking Casey if he believed that life begins at conception, and Casey answered that he does.
Russert then asked him the next logical question: if an egg is fertilized would Casey call its destruction contraception or abortion? Backed into a corner, Casey called it contraception.
Leaving aside Casey’s enthusiastic support for contraception for a moment — in itself a matter of dissent from Catholic teaching — even the “Plan B” manufacturer freely acknowledges that in addition to being a contraceptive, the pill also prevents fertilized eggs from implanting in the womb. Such a situation would, as Russert’s question implied, be an abortion.
So, in other words, Bob Casey believes life begins at conception, but supports the sale, without a prescription, of a pill that could end a young life. This is in addition to his support for public funding for contraceptives, including presumably abortifacients.
Is Bob Casey’s record on life issues better than many Democrats and Republicans already in office? Yes, it is. To be fair, Casey supports a human-cloning ban and opposes public funding of abortions and attempts to weaken Pennsylvania’s abortion laws.
But that’s for voters to weigh in the imperfect world of politics. A university — and a Catholic university, no less — should be above political gamesmanship on moral concerns, especially matters of life and death.
That’s the point. Catholic colleges and universities have a higher burden to meet than other institutions (or at least they should have) when it comes to providing a forum for speakers, especially when the topic is “America’s Moral Compass.”
In this case, the evidence is overwhelming that Bob Casey, as a public Catholic who openly dissents from fundamental Church teachings, does not meet the test.
— Patrick Reilly is the founder and president of the Cardinal Newman Society.