House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is one of the nation’s most powerful Catholics, but this year the only commencement address she gave was at one of the eight campuses of Miami Dade College.
Senator John F. Kerry is headlining three commencements this year – the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, UMass Lowell, and Wheelock College – but it’s been nine years since he’s done one at a Catholic institution, Boston College Law School.
As for the scion of the nation’s most famous Catholic family, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, his major commencement address this year is at Wesleyan University, founded by Methodists.
After repeatedly getting criticized by conservative Catholics, and after years of pressure from the Vatican and some American bishops, Catholic colleges and universities are now shying away from politicians – especially those who, like Kennedy, Kerry, and Pelosi, support abortion rights – as commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients.
Instead, the schools are scrutinizing the public records of potential honorees for evidence of open dissent from key church teachings, especially on abortion, and they are choosing noncontroversial church insiders or nonpolitical figures for their most prominent honors. “I think there’s a concerted effort to use the moment of naming people who reinforce the Catholic identity of our institutions, and I’m pleased by that,” Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston said in an interview.
Credit to my friends at the Cardinal Newman Society for the Preservation of Catholic Education for being a thorn in the side of misguided Catholic schools (who’d love to invite Nancy Pelosi) for years. Commencement is a big moment for a school and folks who disagree with the Church on abortion should not be given that prominent platform and honor. The list of speakers this year marks but one leadership step in many schools to embrace what makes a Catholic school different than a secular one.