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Vicki Kennedy denied honorary degree from Catholic college.

Looks like it's RNS day at dotCommonweal.David Gibson reports: "A small Catholic college in Massachusetts has been pressured by the local bishop into cancelling an invitation to Sen. Ted Kennedy's widow to deliver the school's commencement address because of her support of abortion rights and gay marriage." Bishop Robert McManus also told officials at Anna Maria College not to give Vicki Kennedy an honorary degree.In a statement, Kennedy said that she was "disheartened" by the decision:

I am a lifelongCatholic and my faith is very important to me. I am not a public official. I hold no publicoffice nor am I a candidate for public office. I have not met Bishop McManus nor has hebeen willing to meet with me to discuss his objections. He has not consulted with mypastor to learn more about me or my faith. Yet by objecting to my appearance at AnnaMaria College he has made a judgment about my worthiness as a Catholic.

(You can read the full statement here [.pdf].)Perhaps the bishop believed this was a teaching moment. What do you suppose the lesson was?Update: Bishop McManus explains his decision:

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 that happens, the communio or the unity that exists between the local church and the local Catholic college is strained and hurt, he said.

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A note from staunchly Catholic Emmanuel College, Boston, which gave Vikki K. an honorary degree in 2010 in now-Cdl. O'Malley's domain -- "Honorary degrees were awarded to attorney and advocate for issues impacting women, children and families Victoria Reggie Kennedy,. "Kennedy wished the students luck, commended them on their achievements and told them about the Kennedys' long history with the college [Emmanuel]. Her late husband, former U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, received an honorary degree back in 1964, and his brothers, John and Robert Kennedy were both on the college's Board of Trustees. "'You have never stopped asking what you can do for your community and I know you never will, she said of the graduates."https://www.emmanuel.edu/About_Emmanuel/News_and_Events/News/News_Articl... May 11 2010

Mark P says"The Bishops do not run the colleges and do not control their governing boards, so their role can ultimately be no more than advisory.' Hey Mark the bishops claim a religious liberty crime if they can't controp BC at Catholic colleges. Which is it or are you on the wrong thread?

Bruce --That lesson applies as much to conservatives as liberals. You're just as capable of anyone of not seeing what's there.

Ms. Kennedy has been active in pushing for gun control, especially with children. And why haven't the bishops followed her lead?The assumption of the conservatives in all of this is that to award an honorary degree to someone that person needs to be perfect.

@Jim Pauwels (4/4, 10:40 am) Thanks for the response. From the several articles I've read about this story I got the impression that Ms. Kennedy was invited in large part because of her work on gun control and children's safety issues. If devout Catholics (and Ms. Kennedy appears to fall into that category) cannot be honored or publicly recognized by Catholic colleges (or other Catholic institutions) because they have publicly differed with the USCCB, or with the local bishop, over how best to apply the Church's teaching in the public arena, then so be it.But I don't think it's unreasonable for devout Catholics to object when that standard is (or seems to be) applied arbitrarily. And those objections need not arise primarily because one disagrees with a bishop's action in a given case. The objections might very well arise because of one's love for and devotion to the full range of the Church's social teachings---and the perceived damage done to the Church's teaching authority and public witness by bishops who seem to care more about one segment of the Church's teaching and witness rather than the fullness of that teaching and witness.

Hi, Jim,I've seen the term before, but never with an explanation. I didn't realize it simply meant subscribers to the magazine. I guess I thought it meant liberal, and that those who used it were emphasizing the difference between themselves and non-Republican Catholics. I haven't noticed "angry comments", just more sadness at what the Church has become.

Ann: I understand the school invited Vicki Kennedy precisely because of her work as a gun-control advocate. Apparently criminal justice is one of the most popular majors at the school. The notion that she was invited -- or that she achieved prominence -- only because she married Ted Kennedy is a sexist fiction.

David Nickol: You are annoyingly off-topic.Grant Gallicho,I can see how you would find my comments annoying, but I don't see how they are off topic.Perhaps the bishop believed this was a teaching moment. What do you suppose the lesson was?I suppose it had something to do with a USCCB document titled Catholics in Political Life that says in part:

The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.

It isn't sexist; I wouldn't give Paul Pelosi an honorary degree either, even though he is a leading businessman in the San Francisco area.

"If devout Catholics (and Ms. Kennedy appears to fall into that category) cannot be honored or publicly recognized by Catholic colleges (or other Catholic institutions) because they have publicly differed with the USCCB, or with the local bishop, over how best to apply the Churchs teaching in the public arena, then so be it."Is that an accurate description of what, in fact, she has done. Seems to me her statements amount to rejections of the Church's teachings rather than applications of said teaching to particular facts.

Paul Pelosi received a John Carroll award last year at Georgetown. http://jcw.georgetown.edu/2011/awardees.htmlThe John Carroll Award was established by the Georgetown University Alumni Association in 1951 to honor alumni whose achievements exemplify the ideals and traditions of Georgetown University and its founder, Archbishop John Carroll. The John Carroll Award is the highest honor bestowed by the alumni association. All recipients have distinguished themselves through lifetime achievement and outstanding service to their alma mater. Five John Carroll Awards are presented each year.(To anyone interested in the Carroll family: The Irish Americans, by Jay P. Dolan, a great book, imho, has lots of information. http://www.amazon.com/The-Irish-Americans-A-History/dp/1608190102/ref=sr... )

@Jeff Landry (4/4, 12:10 pm) Thanks for the response. I confess I haven't reviewed Kennedy's public statements closely on these, or on a number of issues. Speaking more generally, it seems to me entirely plausible for Catholics to accept the Church's teaching on contraception, but conclude that contraception should be legal. Likewise with same-sex marriage. (After all, the Church accepts the legality of non-sacramental opposite-sex marriages.)I'm unaware of any US bishop urging a Catholic college not to give honorary degrees to public figures who, for example, supported the Iraq War, or who oppose immigration reform, or oppose universal health care, etc.The resulting impression (for many) is that a good number of bishops are, de facto, placing sex-related issues in a different and privileged position as compared the rest of the larger universe of the Church's social teachings.

Oh oh, I have an idea. What about an entirely new web site titled "Vacation Suggestions for Stressed-Out Clerics". The premise being if reason and compassion do not work we give positive reinforcement a try. As a method of change it is significantly lacking in reason and compassion but it does have the word "postive" in it. And, others might provide a suggestion or two we can use ourselves!

David Nickol: No, you were changing the subject, and you know it. And when you say things like this: "Its one thing to hold a personal position. Its another thing to speak out as the wife or widow of Teddy Kennedy," you sound ignorant of her own accomplishments.Actually, you've misleadingly presented the conflict from the start. You wrote: "a bishop has a right to discourage a Catholic school from having you as a commencement speaker," as if anyone suggested bishops do not have that right. You wrote: "Vicki Kennedy may not be a public official, and she may not be running for office, but she is a public figure, and she has spoken publicly about her disagreements with the Church. Why should she expect a Catholic bishop to welcome her with open arms?" as if someone suggested that the bishop should have handed her the honorary degree himself.

Perhaps arrangements could be made for the imminent recipient of an honorary degree to go to Confession backstage immediately beforehand -- or center-stage to remove any doubts. Purification of corrupt ancestors of whom Jeff Landry seems to be thinking may be better left to Mormons, who are expert in that sort of thing. The stature of an honorary degree seems to be approaching that of an imprimatur or a gold star for excellence in a Catechism quiz. Such degrees commonly state the particular commendable reason for the honor, which might be taken at face value. Straw man "open arms" could well be replaced by a civil arms-length handshake, as noncommittal as necessary. Hyperfocus on one aspect, true or false, leads to absurdities like the Bishop of Worcester ignoring Avery Cardinal Dulles at a commencement because he felt obliged to ignore Chris Matthews. http://www.holycross.edu/departments/publicaffairs/hcm/summer03/news/con...

"It isnt sexist; I wouldnt give Paul Pelosi an honorary degree either, even though he is a leading businessman in the San Francisco area."Fer hevvin's sake! Don't let Paul know or he might find it necessary to take his own life.

Some words of Jesus for this Holy Week to think about: Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitened sepulchres, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. (Mt 23:27)

She is a board member of Catholic Democrats and authored the preface for their 2009 book, The Catholic Case for Obama. She was named a trustee of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on December 4, 2009. Since the Senator's death, Kennedy has spoken at graduation ceremonies and received honorary degrees from UMass Boston, Lesley University, and the University of Maryland in the Spring of 2010. She also surprised the 95 members of the graduating class of Harwich High School on Cape Cod by accepting their invitation to speak at their June 2010 graduation.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victoria_Reggie_Kennedy

"A note from staunchly Catholic Emmanuel College, Boston, which gave Vikki K. an honorary degree in 2010 in now-Cdl. OMalleys domain"This seems like a salient point. The same person, acceptable as an honoree for one prelate, is unacceptable as a commencement speaker for another prelate. It seems that two bishops, working from the same set of facts, reach different conclusions.

" The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. "Ah, yes: fundamental moral principles.Morality is doing what is right, no matter what you are told. Micromanaged "religion" is doing what you are told, no matter what is right. Power brings a man many luxuries, but a clean pair of hands is seldom among them.

No, you were changing the subject, and you know it. . . . Actually, youve misleadingly presented the conflict from the start. Grant,Call me stupid if you like, but don't call me disingenuous. If there's one bit of incivility that really makes my blood boil, it's an accusation followed by "and you know it." I was mystified by your accusation of being off topic. I now at least partially understand what you meant, but it would have been far preferable if you had made your points in the first place.

This is not a thread on gay rights, or how bishops view gay rights. You didn't know that?I do think it's disingenuous to suggest that anyone disagreeing with the way McManus handled this believes that bishops have no right to do what he did, or that he should have welcomed her with open arms.

As the link David Smith provided indicates, the bishop's view on gay rights was important.Revealingly, a source close to the dispute about rescinding the invitation of Kennedy said that Bishop McManus particularly objected to a 2010 YouTube video of a gala for the Point Foundation at which Kennedy gave a warm introduction to gay rights activist David Mixner.

Perhaps. But isn't it interesting that McManus doesn't say much about abortion or gay rights in his explanation?

"What do you suppose the lesson was?"That the bishops and the political pro-life movement have a wealth of shortcomings:- They lack the ability to persuade. Except for family members and loved ones, no woman is forced to have an abortion in the US. Every woman pondering the abortion option today could decide to keep her child and bring it to term, and no law would be broken. Unlike some nations.- They continue to swallow whole the rhetoric that the freedom to choose an abortion is a problem of the Left. The GOP has no motivation to end abortion--where might all the hoodwinked Catholics go then?- They continue to confuse notions of direct cooperation with evil, remote cooperation, moral absolutes, and prudential judgment. Bishop McManus looks like a fifth-grader, only one with his finger on the pulse, the carotid pulse, of a university.- Time and time again, they demonstrate a preferred method of bullying. They set up pro-life allies, such as an inviting committee from this college, to public embarrassment by repeatedly--repeatedly--inviting people, only to cancel these invitations. - They lack true courage. If pro-choice speakers are so bad, what if, instead of disinviting, a bishop actually did something more than sign a fiat? What if the man showed up and offered a minute or two of honest commentary on the problem he supposedly faces in having people outside the party line make a speech and get a colored hood?Someday, I would *love* to see something dished back to universities and the Church along these lines. I know Commonweal has speakers on the circuit. Might one of you take a minute or two or silence at your next public appearance to recognize the poor decisions repeatedly made to disinvite speakers? How likely is it you'll be wearing those well-trod moccasins any time in the future?Getting back to the question ... what was it again? "What do you suppose the lesson was?" That bishops and the political pro-life movement, on this issue, are pitifully poor teachers. Next question.

This is not a thread on gay rights, or how bishops view gay rights. You didnt know that?Grant,The first sentence of David Gibson's story that you link to and quote yourself reads: "A small Catholic college in Massachusetts has been pressured by the local bishop into cancelling an invitation to Sen. Ted Kennedy's widow to deliver the school's commencement address because of her support of abortion rights and gay marriage." I did not attempt to make the thread a discussion of gay rights. I simply stated the obvious: Even setting aside abortion, liberals ought to know that the Catholic Church is firmly opposed to anything that might reasonably be called gay rights. It's just a fact. If you think the link to First Things was unwarranted, I apologize, but I assumed the thread on Cardinal Schnborn was close to inactive, and I thought the people in this thread who participated in the last would be interested. I do think its disingenuous . . . . I am not going to respond in kind.

What is it, then, David, to pretend that someone here suggested first that bishops have no right to do what McManus did and second that he should have been just thrilled to have the college give Kennedy an honorary degree?

"It seems that two bishops, working from the same set of facts, reach different conclusions."Jim Pauwels at 2:54Is that a hopeful or an unhopeful sign?

John P - it's mostly just a picture of reality, that the bishops are not of a single mind on this, as they aren't on a number of other issues (e.g. denying communion to pro-abortion public figures). I suppose someone could find that either hopeful or unhopeful.

Perhaps. But isnt it interesting that McManus doesnt say much about abortion or gay rights in his explanation?---------I hadn't noticed the update -- McManus's explanation. I think he makes it quite clear when he says:She has publicly associated with political and social organizations that promote activities and points of view that are contrary to fundamental church teachings. We all know what the "fundamental church teachings" are these days.

Grant's ire at what he finds annoying about Nickol's response is curious in light of other comments, such as:"The lesson that the bishop is teaching is that his religious zealotry knows no bounds when it comes to enforcing the Roman Catholic Churchs misguided teachings regarding artificial contraception and legalized abortion in the first trimester.So the bishop is leading by example and setting an example for other conservative Catholic religious zealots to follow."or"Insulting Democratic candidates, politicians, widows of politicians, etc., burnishes the reputation with the Republican masters."or"The bishops zealotry has brought them greater and greater alienation from the average Catholics and soon perhaps from even the most faithful who ae not yet Republican shills. I am sure that one of them, somewhere is going to cross the line this election season (Dolan nearly did in his all but endorsement of devout Rick Santorum) and I hope that they will recognized for their myopia and astigmatism."or"Has the time arrived when Catholics should disinvite from public events and publicly shun any hierarchs who seek to impose their political ideology on the Catholic community and who seek to deny freedom of conscience to Catholic women and men exercising their constitutional rights to free speech?"And that's just within the first 8 posts or so. So in light of these comments, it seems fair to conclude that some here have, in fact, suggested just "that bishops have no right to do what McManus did."

She has publicly associated with political and social organizations that promote activities and points of view that are contrary to fundamental church teachings. ----------Her association with POLITICAL organizations (the Democratic Party) is what got her degree voided and her invitation shredded. No Democrats need apply.

Gerelyn--I think one of your comments may have been referring to me, so I should point out that I do think the Bishop's decision to advise against granting the invitation/honorary degree was wise counsel, and I do give him credit for it. I don't see what the mandatum for a theology professor has to do with an invited speaker.The quote of McManus that you cite is interesting. It appears that it's one not given directly to the reporter, but recounted by a third party, so I am surprised it is shown in quotes. Based on all my years in the business (relax, David, kidding, and I know it's from The Globe), I would not have thought that proper reportage.

"... it seems fair to conclude that some here have, in fact, suggested just 'that bishops have no right to do what McManus did.'If some have, I'm not sure I would agree with them. "Right" is not quite the right word. Bishops possess a *responsibility* to teach. Only fringe Catholics (of the Left or Right) would deny this. What most critics, including me, are getting at is that Bishop McManus has handled this responsibility poorly, and perhaps even dodged it.To be able to teach effectively, one has to have a message, a means of communication, and an audience. And those three elements must coincide in such a way to have a hope of being effective. Otherwise, a bishop's pronouncement is for himself. Speaking of the message, I'm not sure that bishops who disinvite are even clear themselves on why. It strikes me as a lazy copycat way that gains more headlines than converts. I'd rather Bishop McManus hold a picket sign in front of his local PP--at least he'd have a prayer.No, as a liberal pro-life Catholic, I criticize the man not because he's doing too much, but because he's done frightfully little.

Hi, Mark:I mentioned the "Man datum" (sic) that the little college requires its Professor of Theology to obtain as another example of the shepherd's absolute authority over his sheep. I disagree with those who have said some commenters are suggesting the bishop has no right to do what he did. That would be fatuous. (Not sure what you mean about the quotations from McManus in the article Grant linked.)

Ann,The quote is neither liberal or conservative. If the shoe fits...

Gerelyn ---i'd say your guess about "Commonweal Catholic" meaning a liberal Catholic who generally agrees with the positions of the magazine is the most common meaning. Maybe Grant has a more informed opinion.

"leads to absurdities like the Bishop of Worcester ignoring Avery Cardinal Dulles at a commencement because he felt obliged to ignore Chris Matthews".Jack --There's a perfect example of tribalism -- ostracising anyone who has even the slightest connection with a dissenter. In this case it didn't even need any words or actions. Casting out by silence. The opposite of dialogue.

"leads to absurdities like the Bishop of Worcester ignoring Avery Cardinal Dulles at a commencement because he felt obliged to ignore Chris Matthews".Todd --Excellent post. I particularly like your distinguishing between the bishop's right to act and his resposibility to teach. Surely the latter is more important, and he flunked the test when he refused to talk wity Ms. Kennedy at her request.

Oops --The bottom of my post to Jack was left out and my note to Todd was tacked on to it.My point to Jack was that the bishop's ignoring Cardinal Dulles at the Chris Matthews affair is a perfect example of tribalism -- ostracizing some one who has only the slightest connection with a dissenter. Casting out by silence in this case. The opposite of dialogue.It seems to me that bishops have a *duty* to dialogue with those whom they criticize publicly by name. Merely saying they're wrong is not a real defense of the Church's official position for it doesn't even begin to persuade. I guess I'm saying that, as teachers, bishops have an obligation to persuade, not just parrot principles. Anybody can do that.

So I guess the take away from this is call the bishops (and by extension those who agree with them) "zealots", call them "Republican shills", call them "myopic" or call them "ideologues", but, by all means, don't call them "right".

Ann - I don't have a problem with McManus referring Mrs. Kennedy to her local pastor if she wants to discuss her standing as a member of the church. That's the person with whom she should have the conversation. The alternative - bishops reaching across diocesan lines to counsel people for whom they have no directpastoral responsibility - is an invitation to confusion.

"It seems to me that bishops have a *duty* to dialogue with those whom they criticize publicly by name. Merely saying theyre wrong is not a real defense of the Churchs official position for it doesnt even begin to persuade. I guess Im saying that, as teachers, bishops have an obligation to persuade, not just parrot principles. Anybody can do that."How in the world is the granting or withholding of an honorary degree in any way, shape or form a "dialogue"? And how, in the history of such relative meaninglessness, has this form of "dialogue" led to a change in said public figure's position? It sure didn't seem to do Fr. Jenkins much good in stressing his view of the HHS mandate with the administration.

Jim P. ==Ms. Kennedy has already talked to her pastor. Apparently he knows her thinking well. She suggested to Bishop McManus that he talk to her pastor about her. Do read what she wrote back to Bishop McManus before you form an opinion of her.

Jeff ==The dialogue I was referring to was the one which Ms. Kennedy proposed to Bishop McManus. He refused to talk with her. Have you read her letter to him? It's right there in black and white.Your position is obviously that it is the lay person (or lowly priest) who stands to profit from merely listening to a bishop tell her/him that she/he is wrong. Since bishops sometimes are ignorant and even make mistakes there would also be the opportunity in such dialogues for the bishops to learn something from the faithful, e.g., just what the sensus communus is. Or maybe some ethics/whatever. Talk to some teachers --they'll tell you that they learn from students all the time, at least on a college level. Or do you think that the best teaching method is straight lecturing with no feedback?

Ann,Vicki Kennedy says in her statement:

I have not met Bishop McManus nor has he been willing to meet with me to discuss his objections. He 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 one for the Church I love. [emphasis added]

Isn't this rather grandiose of her? Because she feels she has been mistreated, it is a sad day for the Church? Who does she think she is? Is there any trace of humility in her at all? Why not gracefully accept the decision of the bishop, and if she wants to discuss the case, ask for a meeting afterward? If she is concerned about her standing as a Catholic, let her show a little deference rather than request a meeting the purpose of which seems clearly to try to talk him out of his decision so she can proceed with her speaking engagement.

^That's B.S. She's been remarkably gracious--she has pointed out that she does not resent the school's decision, and has made the needed observation that nobody would be well served by turning the actual commencement day into a circus. Why shouldn't she defend herself a bit when she has been publicly shamed? Calls for meekness always seem to come out when somebody else's cheek is the one being struck.

Agree, Abe. And I agree with her. Anyone who doesn't feel sad to see the Church reduced to a Republican PAC must be . . . a Republican.

"Your position is obviously that it is the lay person (or lowly priest) who stands to profit from merely listening to a bishop tell her/him that she/he is wrong. Since bishops sometimes are ignorant and even make mistakes there would also be the opportunity in such dialogues for the bishops to learn something from the faithful, e.g., just what the sensus communus is. Or maybe some ethics/whatever."Ann -I think it best to stay away from ascribing to people positions they themselves haven't articulated. My only point is that it seems whenever these battles (tiresome and worn as they are) pop up, we're always told we need "dialogue" with those with whom we disagree. Well dialogue requires openness on either side, and it doesn't seem to me that giving an award or not moves the "dialogue" one iota. See President Obama's Notre Dame commencement speech. We went though this big argument about the value of awarding the degree (and one where I tended to come down on the side of Notre Dame), and one such value we were told is that it engages someone we disagree with. Well, the result appears to be that after the President's mellifluous speech he engages in what Prof. Rick Garnett has described as an at best "insufficient sensitivity" and at worst outright hostility to religious liberty issues, as evidenced by such actions as attacks on the DC School Voucher program, the Hosanna-Tabor case and the HHS mandate. So, if these awards are justified on the basis of "engaging a dialogue", my response is "where's the beef?"

I think it best to stay away from ascribing to people positions they themselves havent articulated.Odd thing for you to say after posting a long list of quotations from comments by other posters (including me) which you summarized in this way: So in light of these comments, it seems fair to conclude that some here have, in fact, suggested just that bishops have no right to do what McManus did.I suggested nothing of the sort. Your conclusion was offensive and false and off-topic. The bishop has a right to do whatever he wants to do in his diocese. Having the right to do something and doing what is right are two different things.

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