Home > Bold Faith Type > Secretary Sebelius at Georgetown

Secretary Sebelius at Georgetown

May 16, 2012, 12:00 pm | Posted by John Gehring

Secretary Kathleen SebeliusA few weeks ago conservative wunderkind Rep. Paul Ryan faced scrutiny from nearly 90 Georgetown professors for distorting Catholic teaching to justify his draconian budget proposal. Now, Catholic conservatives are outraged that Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius will be speaking at the university on Friday as part of several weekend graduation ceremonies.

Sebelius is at the center of a controversy over an Obama administration policy that requires birth control to be covered at no cost under preventative care provisions of the health care reform law.

The Cardinal Newman Society, which acts as a self-appointed watchdog for Catholic orthodoxy on college campuses, CatholicVote.org and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty are all circulating petitions urging Georgetown President John DeGioia to withdraw the invitation to Secretary Sebelius.

Since these groups seem more intent on building walls around Catholic campuses and insulating students from the supposed dangers of diverse perspectives, it’s clearly too much to expect them to applaud a Catholic university for inviting two high-profile Catholics from different political parties and ideological perspectives within a few weeks.

Instead of a “scandal,” I think many Catholics who take their faith seriously and believe strongly in the importance of Catholic identity view it as a healthy sign that Georgetown recognizes the real world is about engaging with people who hold different perspectives – not creating a fortress where we hide from them.

A few important facts to help temper the Catholic right tempest. Sec. Sebelius is not the commencement speaker. She will not receive an honorary degree. As Georgetown President John J. DeGoia explained, she was chosen by students and will offer some reflections and encouraging remarks during an awards ceremony. She has not been invited to pontificate about Catholic teaching, abortion or contraception.

Unlike Rep. Paul Ryan, Sec. Sebelius has not been making the rounds defending her policy positions in specifically Catholic terms. Nor does she claim that her views on contraception and abortion are shared by Catholic bishops. In contrast, Ryan argues that cutting food stamps, health care for the poor and an array of safety net programs that Catholic bishops are warning him to protect are policy positions explicitly inspired by his Catholic faith.

Despite this, the Georgetown professors who chided Ryan over his Catholic defense of Darwinian economic policies did not call on the university president to pull the invitation. In fact, unlike the Newman Society and Catholic right activists they welcomed him to campus and used a civil tone that should be a model for how to disagree without descending to personal attacks.

Criticism of Sec. Sebelius’s pro-choice views is certainly legitimate from a Catholic perspective. I understand why some Catholics might disagree with Georgetown’s decision. But elevating the worst of McCarthy-era witch hunts and censorship into a virtue is a poor lesson for students about to enter a world where every bit of their faith and reason will be needed. Defending Catholic identity should not have to mean that intellectual engagement and civil discourse are viewed as signs of weakness that erode our faith.

Photo credit: Eric Bridiers, Fotopedia

4 Responses to “Secretary Sebelius at Georgetown”

  1. Tom Stang says:

    I suppose being a bullly will soon be good catholic behavior. I am encouraged to know the bishops stood up and proclaimed there was nothing catholic about Paul Ryan’s tax cuts and that Ryan was allowed to speak. So it should be with Secretary Sibelius. Being a woman in a man’s world is dangerous. Just ask my sister,
    Dorothy, who was killed for proclaiming ideas that would have lead to sharing our planets resources.

    • Elizabeth Sholes says:

      I, a Protestant, am deeply touched by your comments and by the memory of your amazing sister. She lives in ALL our hearts for her courage, faith, and vision.

      Thank you for your words and reminding us of her sacrifice.

  2. Chris Nunez says:

    Not all the Newman Centers share the same ‘political bent’. There may be a difference between the Newman Society, and the Newman Centers.

  3. David Philippart says:

    I agree with you, Tom Stang. In my parish in Evanston, Illinois, we hold dear the memory of your sister Dorothy, and give thanks to God for her courageous and holy life!