have been congratulating themselves for their restraint in not calling on Catholic University to disinvite Speaker John Boehner as a commencement speaker at Catholic University. They contrast their broad-mindedness with their conservative co-religionists’ protests against Notre Dame’s decision to have President Obama as the commencement speaker in 2009.
Now of course the parallel is bogus, since Obama’s rejection of the idea that unborn human beings have a right not to be killed is not equivalent to Boehner’s view that our duties to the poor are compatible with the reform and downsizing of federal spending programs. But if it were true that Boehner’s public advocacy “departs from the church’s teaching on social justice,” as E. J. Dionne Jr. writes, then this restraint is not praiseworthy.
He writes, “Confidence in the truth of the church’s teachings should make its institutions more, not less, open to reasoned dialogue and conversation.” Well, sure. And that’s an argument for inviting open supporters of legal abortion–and, if any can be found, open opponents of social justice–to speak on Catholic campuses. They can participate in debates, or in ongoing series of speeches. Being tapped as commencement speaker is different. There is no debate, no opportunity for meaningful dialogue, in these cases. And the university is granting an honor, not just hosting a forum. If Boehner ever said in public that nobody has any obligation to help the poor, and persisted in saying so after pastoral attention, then it would be wrong for Catholic universities to have him give commencement speeches.
I suspect that liberal Catholics would call for disinvitations in such a circumstance. Maybe the reason they didn’t this time is that at some level they realize that what Boehner has done isn’t at all equivalent to a violation of Church teaching.