Saturday, May 19, 2012

Catholic Standard Editorial on Georgetown and Sebelius: "Academic Freedom and Ecclesial Communion"

In response to requests for clarification on The Washington Post editorial (May 16, 2012) and continuing coverage of the presence of the Secretary of Health and Human Services at Georgetown University’s commencement events, we recognize the need to highlight that The Washington Post missed the point.

What this discussion is all about is not academic freedom, university autonomy or disinviting speakers. While The Washington Post assumes all of this, none of the above is the issue.

When it was announced that Secretary Sebelius was invited to speak at Georgetown University, a Catholic university sponsored by the Society of Jesus, the university stated that Sebelius was among those “who will provide inspiration for our students as they envision more clearly the impact they can make in the world.” There was considerable negative reaction to this decision.

When the controversy surfaced, the archdiocese chose to refrain from any comment until Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, personally could meet with the Provincial Superior of the Society of Jesus and separately with the president of the university. It is the responsibility of the archbishop to relate to both the provincial superior and the president of the
university in matters that affect the life of the Church in this archdiocese. While the archbishop does not engage in the internal affairs of governance of the Society of Jesus or Georgetown University, in Church teaching and law he is obliged to relate to both communities as they exercise public ministry as a part of the life of the Catholic Church.

After hearing both parties, the archdiocese requested only one thing. It asked that since the university presents itself as both Jesuit and Catholic that the leadership of the Society of Jesus and the president of the university simply state publicly that Secretary Sebelius’ positions do not represent the views and values of Georgetown University.

With this suggestion, academic freedom, the free exchange of ideas including those that reflect Catholic teaching would be present, and the perceived challenge to the Conference of Bishops would have been clarified.

The archdiocese never asked Georgetown to rescind its invitation. All that the archdiocese proposed – and did not require – was a statement, by those who represent to the public and to the Church both the Jesuit and Catholic character of the university, that the
commencement event speaker does not speak for or represent the values of Georgetown University.

Georgetown University as a Catholic university does have a relationship and a responsibility to the archbishop. This is true because it exercises its activities in the context of the overall mission of the Catholic Church.

Admittedly, ecclesial relationships that respect and deal with various levels of responsibility and autonomy in the Church are not always readily understood by secular media. However, if the press chooses to weigh in on such matters, they should be much better informed. Unfortunately, The Washington Post editorial and continuing coverage of this issue clearly miss the point.


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