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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.


Commenting Guidelines

Grant: The lesson that the bishop is teaching is that his religious zealotry knows no bounds when it comes to enforcing the Roman Catholic Church's 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.

Based on the closing of Mr. Gibson's article, it seems likely/possible that factors other than Bishop McManus' view that this was a "teaching moment" played a role in his decision. It also seems "Patrick Whelan, a pediatric specialist at Harvard Medical School who is president of Catholic Democrats, said he had spoken with McManus, and described the bishop as combative about denying the invitation to Kennedy.I am not happy about this; it has put me in a very difficult position, McManus told Whelan, who recounted the conversation to the Globe. This is my decision and mine alone, and nobodys pressuring me to do this, McManus told Whelan. "Earlier in the article Gibson points out that diocesan spokesman Raymond Delisle "said unnamed critics of Kennedy supplied McManus with more local, Massachusetts-scene things where her position has certainly been public. He did not elaborate on the items or the critics. "

The students' reaction: Alicia Savo, Anna Marias student government president, said she that while she had been excited to hear Kennedy speak, she trusts the bishops judgement in the matter. I feel bad that they had to disinvite her, and she took it very decently, Savo said. But I dont think the bishop would have said he didnt think it was a good idea unless it wasnt a good idea. I understand where hes coming from.That bears repeating: "I dont think the bishop would have said he didnt think it was a good idea unless it wasnt a good idea."

Insulting Democratic candidates, politicians, widows of politicians, etc., burnishes the reputation with the Republican masters.E.g., there were many who wanted Notre Dame to insult the President of the United States.Another example? Naumann, now of Kansas City, Kansas, then auxiliary in St. Louis, didn't allow 8th graders and high school kids to attend a speech by President Clinton. Naumann is also the one who told then Gov. Sebelius not to receive Communion.)

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. As one looks at figures of attrition -- even with the anticiated joy of Easter and new congregants -- it is hard to feel anything but sadness. It will be curious to see any criticism of the Ryan budget which flies in the faace of Catholic social teaching and even B16. Great Spring days, but it's yet a long winter for the church-- as Rahner foretold...

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?

One lesson might be that there are times to keep your mouth shut. With no reaction from the bishop, the many dozens who knew and cared about Anna Maria might have noticed and remembered the speaker after graduation was done. The educated students should be smart enough to handle whatever Kennedy might say.Today, the news is in WashPost, HuffPo, etc., etc., including the fact that Vicki Kennedy was honored by Emmanuel, another esteemed Catholic college 40 miles down the road, just two years ago and the Emmanuel president speaks well of her still. The net gain to Bp. McManus is not clear.

When I first heard about this dis-invitation, I thought the temple police and the communion cops were at it again, protecting all of us "little ones" from "confusion." An alternative suspicion: The name Kennedy was heard in the land and the bishop or his staff googled her to find a gotcha. This edict by the bishop is sickening. I do wonder about the lives of some of our fellow Catholics - the meaness and the pettiness that it takes to carve the time out of one's life to nail a committed Catholic to an orthodoxy cross. Too many of our bishops are scared, mediocre bureaucrats. They misconstrue leadership to be about taking orders from the curia (and rich, right wing donors), issuing orders, and acting sad and surprised when the flock doesn't jump when they say jump.

I don't agree with many Catholic teachings, but it seems to me that if you take public positions in favor of abortion rights and same-sex marriage, a bishop has a right to discourage a Catholic school from having you as a commencement speaker. 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? Actually, if she were a public official, that might argue in her favor. It makes more sense to invite a public official to make a commencement speech, in the knowledge that you might not agree with everything he or she says, than it does to invite the widow of a famous politician.

David N. ==I agree that the bishop has a right to be concerned. But according to Ms. Kennedy she asked to talk with the bishop about her beliefs, and she asked him to talk with her pastor about her, but he refused to meet. Bad. Really, really bad.

Jack, I am not sure that the students could handle whatever Kennedy might say. Consider their reaction: I dont think the bishop would have said he didnt think it was a good idea unless it wasnt a good idea.Doesn't it suggest that they will listen to the voice of authority (for example a commencement speaker) with uncritical trust? Anna Maria College provides them with a safe, sheltered environment, where they can trust that what their teachers tell them is what is true, almost by definition. It would be very troubling for them if there was not a perfect unity of views between the various figures of authority that they interact with. Holloway, you may make fun of the desire to protect the "little ones" from "confusion", but here I wonder if the students do not share that desire to be protected from possible confusion. Such a carefully sheltered education could lead to adults who fully trust authority, and doesn't that make for wonderful citizens in a future society with no crime, no dissent, and no unsightly Occupy movements? What's not to like?I read that Anna Maria College was founded as, originally, a place to provide higher education to women from poor families. Perhaps political dissent and questionings of assertions from church authorities are luxuries to be reserved to the idle rich. The students who need jobs and survival skills do not have time for such luxuries: they mostly need to learn skills for future jobs, and good sound principles of relying on authority, so that they can be counted on by their employers and will be reliable, productive, committed members of society and of parishes, unencumbered by futile doubts about the wisdom of the directions given by their pastor, president, or boss at work.

The conservative, republican, catholic bishops strike again! Mrs. Kennedy had two strikes against her.She was a Catholic woman and also the widow of a Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy. We in the laity must remember that Bishop McManus can see the state of her soul. He must be aware if she have attended Mass regularly, gone to confession, received communion in a state of sin. He is like many of the conservative, republican, catholic laity who want to deny anyone who does not agree with them from receiving the sacraments. even at a funeral. Most of our current Cardinals and Bishops had sworn to follow the orders of our current Pope and his predecessor John Paul II instead of Jesus Christ. While Jesus was on earth 2000 years ago, he ate with sinners, he shared their company, he loved them and showed compassion. He did not approve of their sins, but told them to sin no more. How can you save souls when you condemn them without giving them a chance to change their ways. Jesus Christ told us to love our neighbors and he showed us that compassion is better than hate. God Bless Mrs. Kennedy and her family and all of us who are sinners including the Bishop.

@David Nickol (4/3, 6:15 pm) Yeah, I agree a bishop has a right to discourage a Catholic school in his diocese from having a commencement speaker, or giving an honorary degree to someone who's seen to have taken public positions at odds with the Church's teaching.Of course, that's not what seems to be happening around the country. What seems to be happening is that Catholics who are seen to have taken public positions at odds with the bishops on issues like abortion rights, contraception, and same-sex marriage are the ones being singled out by some bishops.Unless it's escaped me (and it's entirely possible it has), I can't recall a similar instance of a bishop discouraging a Catholic school from honoring a non-Catholic who's at odds with Church teaching. And I can't recall a similar instance of a bishop discouraging a Catholic school from honoring a Catholic who disagrees with Church teaching on any of a range of justice and peace issues.Again, I'd be happy to be proven wrong about this. Otherwise it seems like another instance of a bishop with with a particular political agenda. (Again, he's the bishop. He has the right to do pretty much whatever he wants.)

Ann,Granted the bishop was ham-handed, but I find myself annoyed with the "liberals" on this one. Catholics believe bishops are successors to the apostles. Why should the bishop defer to Vicki Kennedy? Why can't she defer to him? If her faith is all that important to her, why did she speak out in favor of abortion rights and same-sex marriage? (I am assuming the news accounts are correct about this, although I would prefer to read what she said for myself.) Has she officially recanted? It's one thing to hold a personal position. It's another thing to speak out as the wife or widow of Teddy Kennedy. Even setting aside abortion, 'liberals" ought to know that the Catholic Church is firmly opposed to anything that might reasonably be called "gay rights." Speaking of which, though, Elizabeth Scalia (The Anchoress) has stirred up a hornet's nest over on First Things by backing up Cardinal Schnborn. Her piece and the comments that follow are well worth reading.

"Bishop Robert McManus also told officials at Anna Maria College not to give Vicki Kennedy an honorary degree."This seems rather clumsily worded. Going back to the source document, we have:"Anna Maria College has withdrawn its invitation to Victoria Reggie Kennedy to speak at its commencement this spring after Bishop Robert J. McManus raised concerns with the school about the positions taken by the widow of former U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., on abortion, gay marriage, contraception, and other social issues of interest to the Roman Catholic Church."

Claire (4/03 743pm) " I am not sure that the students could handle "You are right. At least that one needs a bit more education. There's another good Catholic school a few miles away that might strengthen her mind. (Holy Cross did without the bishop and dared to listen to Chris Matthews when faced with a similar situation in 2003.)

I think the message is what it always has been. Catholic Democrats should move their party in a pro-life direction.

Has anybody figured out how the action of a bishop violates the Land of Lakes Agreement whereby Catholic Universities are declared free of interference by the hierarchy? Those who disagree with this historic agreement assert that this takes away from the quality of the Catholic universities as Catholic. On the contrary, Catholic universities, it can well be argued bring greater witness to the church than the bishops. In fact the bishops received a serious blow when their moral vacuity prevented them from exercising the domination they intended with that specious document "Ex Corde Ecclesia." The truth is that the Catholic universities, as imperfect as they may be, represent the Catholic faith so much better than the bishops.

David N. --Apparently Vikki Kennedy is for abortion rights. That is not the same thing as being pro-abortion. Bishops in Europe tolerate those rights. In every case those are prudential decisions. If Kennedy's bishop thought she was more than just tolerating the rights, then he should have spoken with her as SHE requested, but HE refused. Or maybe they could even have had a dialogue at that graduation, giving the bishop opportunity to make his no doubt persuasive case. (Yes, I 'm being sarcastic.)As for gay rights, if Bishop McManus were true to form he would probably refuse Cardinal Schoenbrun the permission to talk in his diocese.

Good article at Jack's link. First two comments beneath it are good, too.I think all the talk about how many people have left the Church is backwards. It's the Church that has left. For some/many Catholics, it has become unrecognizable.

David Nickol: You are annoyingly off-topic.

The Republicans despise President Kennedy. The example he set by explaining his position on the separation of Church and State galls them still. (See, e.g., Santorum, who said JFK's speech at Houston made him want to throw up.) They hate Kennedy almost as much as they hate Obama. They hate Ted Kennedy, too. Many in the RCC (Republican Catholic Church) wanted to deny Ted Kennedy a Catholic funeral. As Richard McBrien explained it in NCR:According to The Boston Globe, the archdiocese received "hundreds of phone calls and e-mails," in addition to negative comments by bloggers and some anti-abortion organizations which took the Cardinal to task for participating in the Kennedy funeral. Archbishop Raymond Burke, formerly of St. Louis and now the prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, or Vatican Supreme Court, told a Washington gathering last week that "Neither Holy Communion nor funeral rites should be administered to such politicians." One of Cardinal O'Malley's sharpest critics was Raymond Arroyo, anchor and news director on Mother Angelica's Eternal Word Television Network. opportunity to slap Vicki down was irresistible.

Mark Proska, what was the clumsy wording?

"David Nickol: You are annoyingly off-topic."How so, exactly? He seems to raise some cogent points. It seems we've reached the point where for some there is no viable ground to criticize the awarding of honorary degrees.

Claire --Was your last post serious? You can protect a kid through a so-called "college" by never letting the kid hear an upsetting word, but once graduated and in the real world there are no such "protections". Which brings us to the meaning of "college education". . .

David G--The opening quote in my previous comment was clumsily worded. It was not supported by the ending quote. Bishops don't "tell" colleges not to give out honorary degrees to anyone. They explain the concerns they have if it should be given (scandal, etc). The decision is up to the college.

According to David Gibson's article, linked in the opening post, it was the bishop who made it clear to the administration of the little college that Vicki Kennedy was unacceptable. ---Among faculty openings is one for a professor of theology."Qualifications include a Ph.D., in Theology, must apply for and retain the Man datum (sic) in good standing, . . ." web site of the nuns (from Quebec) who run Anna Maria College is . . . under construction.

Seems clear cut. The bishop's taken the position that others took concerning Obama's Notre Dame appearance, speech, and honorary degree. In Ms. Kennedy's case, there's apparently even more reason for not honoring her at a Catholic college than there was for not honoring Obama. A bit of the backstory:

Ann, no I am not serious. But I may be slightly off topic, because it is not clear exactly why Vicki Kennedy is being uninvited. What is objectionable about her going there? Is it the honor given her, or is it merely the fact of her speaking there? Would she be allowed to go and give a presentation?

'Wonder if the same bishop would have problems with President George W. Bush, who on false pretenses took this country into a war that cost--and continues to cost--thousands of lives and untold billions of dollars. Cafeteria Catholicism, indeed.

Claire --Well, you almost fooled me :-) Unfortunately, that sort of "education" does work for a while, and in particularly stubborn or loyal people it sometimes works a lifetime. Sadly, in many cases the kids rebel, often bitterly. I don't doubt that their parents meant well. I suppose that's why I get so impatient with so many bishops -- they don't give parents much help in answering their kids' theological and philosophical/moral questions. And kids do have questions - loads of them. They think ignoring/covering up problems solves them. But that didn't work with the sex scandal problems and it won't work with theological and philosophical inadequacies either.

Following up on Mark Proska (4/3, 10:33 pm): Here's how the local newspaper reported the bishop's role in the college's decision. "College officials, in a statement released this morning, said, that, as a small Catholic college, Anna Maria 'relies heavily on the good will of its relationship with the bishop and the larger Catholic community.'", apparently the final decision rested with the college, but the bishop's role was more than advisory (unless I'm misreading the article).

Has a US Catholic Bishop in recent years asked that someone be excluded from an award, honor etc, on an issue that is NOT abortion, contraceptives, or related to sexuality?

The Bishops do not run the colleges and do not control their governing boards, so their role can ultimately be no more than advisory. On the other hand, the Bishops do have the final say on whether a college is or continues to be Catholic, though that's an authority they've been very reluctant to exercise.

Odd to insist/imagine that that "the final decision rested with the college". Why are some posters attempting to deny the bishop the credit that is his alone?(The college mentions in its job listing for a theology professor that the theologian must have a "Man datum" (sic). If a Catholic college refuses to obey its bishop, where would a "Man datum" come from?)David Gibson in USA Today:Patrick Whelan, a pediatric specialist at Harvard Medical School who is president of Catholic Democrats, said he had spoken with McManus, and described the bishop as "combative" about denying the invitation to Kennedy."I am not happy about this; it has put me in a very difficult position," McManus told Whelan, who recounted the conversation to the Globe. "This is my decision and mine alone, and nobody's pressuring me to do this," McManus told Whelan.

Why is this a problem?

Had the bishop said nothing, would the board of trustees made the decision to dis-invite Vicki Kennedy? I doubt it.

I noticed how Mrs. Kennedy pointed out 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.Very I and me and "my" centered; glaringly so in fact. Why would a bishop need to learn about her faith? Never mind her faith. She needs to learn about the Catholic faith.

"Unless its escaped me (and its entirely possible it has), I cant recall a similar instance of a bishop discouraging a Catholic school from honoring a non-Catholic whos at odds with Church teaching"Barack Obama at Notre Dame?"'I am not happy about this; it has put me in a very difficult position,' McManus told Whelan."This is the key line for me; Anna Maria had to know that its action would be construed as a provocative act and would put the bishop in a tough spot. And why is Vicki Kennedy a good candidate for an honorary degree anyway? Her main claim to fame is as the second wife of Ted Kennedy. She was (according to Wikipedia) a well-regarded lawyer at one time, and I am sure she has done charitable work and such, but those facts describe lots of other people who will never get honorary degrees from anywhere.

James Kabala: See Jack Barry@04/03/2012 - 5:43 pm.Vicki Kennedy received an honorary degree from another Catholic college in Massachusetts not too long ago. This surely mitigates against your statement that Anna Marie College would have known that the invitation to Vicki Kennedy would have been perceived as a provocation by the local bishop.

Perhaps this is the lesson:What follows when a belief in objectivity and truth dies away in higher education? In time an educated person comes to doubt that purpose and meaning are discoverable...he doubts, finally, that they even exist.

Ann Olivier:"Bishops in Europe tolerate those rights. "What?! They "tolerate" them just as much US bishops do, meaning they arenot calling for an armed insurrection...

Another example of leadership that is still living and thinking in "the first half of life".

Holy Cross, not far from Anna Maria, faced and resolved differently a similar situation in 2003. The controversy, conflicting views and values, and grounds for decisions are well described in the HC Magazine. An interesting note is that Avery Cardinal Dulles, receiving an honorary degree along with Chris Matthews, didn't mind sharing the same stage. Bishop Reilly of Worcester declined. His statement about the fidelity and dedication of the college to the mission of the Church is worth noting.

And why is Vicki Kennedy a good candidate for an honorary degree anyway?------------Southampton College gave Kermit the Frog an honorary degree.

@Jim Pauwels (4/4, 8:40 am) I don't know that it's a problem. I think pretty much every commenter in this thread would acknowledge that the bishop has the power to make that kind of request and, in the case of a college that depends heavily on its relationship with the bishop, to win submission to that request.It does place parents of young (teens to 20s) Catholics in the position of having to explain why these things happen, and why they only seem to happen when the Church's teaching on sexuality and sex-related issues is at stake. There are lots worse problems for parents to have.

Hi, Luke - and yet, the expressions of outrage in the comments seem to suggest that a lot of Commonweal Catholics think it *is* a problem that Mrs. Kennedy would be disinvited. I understand the intuition - I have mixed feelings about it myself - but I'd like an account of *why* it's an outrage.

What are "Commonweal Catholics", Jim? Are you one of them? Who has said "it's an outrage"? Are Commonweal Catholics holier/less holy than thou?

Mrs. Kennedy may or may not be the best choice for a graduation speaker. From what I have read, she is intelligent, faithful,and worthy -- and obviously a "draw" as the widow of Ted Kennedy -- and she deserves priase for her care during his illness.I haven't read Mrs. Kennedy's exact words or the context for them. This gets at what some have commneted on on the role and status conferred on a graduation speaker. If one's public statments ae to be thoroughly examined and expressed opinion not exactly in accord with the Church's regarding abortion or birth control is the absolute litmus test-- as it seems to be -- we are going to have a moe restricted poll than necessary.Thedre are criteria to be observed and surely some whom I would veto as a commencement speaker for different criteria, but I would not make this this allegiance the sine qua non.

Hi, Gerelyn, I'm surprised you haven't run across the term "Commonweal Catholics" before. I didn't coin the term. Do you note the word "SUBSCRIBER" after my name in the comments? I suppose that is the most straightforward meaning of the term, although the editors may be generous enough to allow it to encompass even those who don't subscribe. And yes, I'm sure there are many Commonweal Catholics who are holier than I am.And yes, I interpret the angry comments attached to this post to be expressions of outrage.