Under pressure from Bishop Robert J. McManus of Worcester, Massachusetts, late last month, Anna Maria College, a Catholic institution in Worcester of about 1,200 students, rescinded its offer to Victoria Reggie Kennedy, widow of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, to speak and receive an honorary degree in public administration, apparently because her views are out of line with Catholic teaching.
Kennedy is a private citizen, lifelong Catholic, lawyer and founder of Common Sense about Kids and Guns, a nonprofit public education organization dedicated to providing adults with information empowering them to protect their children. She is not an appointed public official, holds no public office and is not running for any public office.
The Boston Globe reported that, after the Worcester Telegram & Gazette announced Kennedy’s appearance at the school, the bishop approached Anna Maria College “arguing that on certain issues—particularly abortion and gay rights—Kennedy’s apparent beliefs made her an inappropriate choice.” The Boston Globe also quoted the diocese’s and Kennedy’s statements.
Diocesan spokesman Ray Delisle said the bishop acted consistently with the USCCB’s (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) 2004 statement “that Catholic institutions should not honor Catholics who take positions publicly which are contrary to the Catholic faith’s most fundamental principles, particularly on the dignity of life from conception and the sanctity of marriage.”
In her statement, Kennedy said, “He (Bishop McManus) has not consulted with my pastor to learn more about me or my faith. Yet by objecting to my appearance at Anna Maria College, he has made a judgment about my worthiness as a Catholic. This is a sad day for me and an even sadder day for the Church I love.”
The Catholic Free Press interviewed Bishop McManus, who said, “My concern basically was that to give this type of honor to Mrs. Kennedy would in fact undercut the Catholic identity and mission of the school and that, in so far as that happens, the ‘communio’ or unity that exists between the local church and the local Catholic college is strained and hurt. That’s my major concern, that in our ongoing attempt to implement Ex Corde Ecclesiae (apostolic constitution calling Catholic colleges to refocus on their Catholic identity and mission) that the Catholic colleges realize that this is a partnership between the local bishop and their leadership and administration.”
Voice of the Faithful has noted that U.S. bishops are acting increasingly more like enforcers, demanding that Catholics obey, rather than acting like teachers and shepherds, guiding the faithful to right conscience. Some might say the bishops are reflecting a flawed culture of clericalism, whereby the hierarchy feels itself above and set apart from a laity not competent in mind or influence of the Holy Spirit to make moral decisions. Others might say the bishop was within his rights to pressure the college to take back its invitation.
Read the following points of view and, considering them and the above, let us know what you think.
“This issue is also about the freedom of Catholic institutions of higher education to discuss and analyze in an open forum conflicting opinions and beliefs about social and economic policies affecting all Catholics.”
“It is the responsibility of the whole of the sensus fidelium to question the teaching (of the magisterium) if so moved by conscience in a respectful dialogue, just as it is the reciprocal duty of the magisterium to give thoughtful consideration.”
“The Catholic Church teaches that abortion is wrong. Vicki Kennedy supports abortion. This is not about clericalism, as some have proposed. This is about a direct assault on the teaching of the Catholic Church. If you do not agree with that teaching, that is your choice. But, if you are a public figure who is representing a model Catholic at a Catholic institution, the scrutiny is acute.”
“Does Vicki Kennedy support abortion in general or does she only oppose legislation criminalizing abortion? There is a big difference. The bishops have generally made no distinctions and simply labeled all who do not favor a constitutional amendment prohibiting abortion as ‘pro-abortion.’”
“I find this emblematic of clericalism and the close-mindedness and double-standards of church hierarchy. This type of prohibition attempts to control / silence people whose thinking does not perfectly match the teachings of the Magisterium. Adult Catholics should be “permitted” (i.e., have the right) to think and listen for the stirrings of the Holy Spirit in their conscience. Instead of allowing for the expansion of discussion guided by the Spirit, bishops’ proclamations of this type cut off discussion at the knees.”