Catholic groups question law school over choice of politician as guest lecturer

.- Several Catholic groups have expressed their displeasure at the decision of The Catholic University of America to bring Bob Casey, Jr. to campus in the midst of an extremely close political race with fellow Catholic, Sen. Rick Santorum.  The University says the decision was not politically motivated, but critics are furious that Casey, who has publicly stated several views contrary to moral teachings of the Church, was invited at all.

Casey, who is attempting to defeat the unabashedly pro-life Santorum for his Pennsylvania Senate seat in this November’s election, will be honored by the university today, offering the 2006 Pope John XXIII Lecture on ethics at CUA’s Columbus School of Law.

Joseph Cella, president of Catholic advocacy group Fidelis, told the Washington Post that Santorum's views on issues are more in line with the church, and a debate between the two would be a better format.

"Having a speaker like Casey who has ambiguous stances on key social issues only confuses Catholics and does not advance the cause of truth," Cella said.

The Democratic senate hopeful has stated publicly that while he is opposed to abortion, he supports free access to the Plan B “morning after pill,” a powerful contraceptive pill which is know to cause early-stage abortions.  The Church strongly rejects the use of contraceptives and the destruction of unborn human life.  

Casey has also said that he does not support “homosexual marriage,” but that he will not support a ban on the issue.  He’s also clearly in favor of allowing adoption by same-sex couples, an issue which the Vatican has officially spoken out against as recently as March.

Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey Sr., is know as a “pro-life hero,” and was one of the last major pro-life voices in the Democratic party.  Bob Casey Jr., however, has stated that he is “pro-life,” though he does not address abortion as an issue on his campaign website.

Nonetheless, the law school’s dean, Veryl Miles, defends the invitation, saying that not only is Casey, “on the record as a strong supporter of pro-life positions,” but he is not even coming to campus to speak on those issues.  Instead, Dean Miles said, “he has been invited to share his thoughts on the lawyer's professional responsibility and obligation to do pro bono service and help the less fortunate.”

Miles said in a statement, released to the Catholic News Agency today, that Casey’s invitation to speak at the school, “should in no way be misconstrued as an endorsement of his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, nor an endorsement of all of his stated positions as a public figure.”

“The law school,” Miles continued, “does not endorse candidates and maintains neutrality about political elections.”

Miles was also quoted by the Washington Times as saying that decision to choose Casey was meant to have an effect on the university community and not the Pennsylvania race.

But, Bob Destro, a professor and former acting dean of the law school, told university president, Fr. David O’Connell, that he disagrees with Miles’s notion.

“The race is one of the most hotly contested and important in the country ... and the votes of the Catholic community are likely to provide the margin of victory,” Destro said in letter.  "The university is clearly taking sides and has no business doing this in one of the most important elections in the country."

And Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, a Catholic higher education watchdog group, says that regardless of the law school’s initial intent, the effect of the invitation does have broad political implications.  “Whether intentional or not, CUA is signaling that it endorses this political candidate and deems his public dissent from Catholic moral teaching unimportant,” said Reilly.

“Whoever selected Casey for this honor must have known the impact it could have on his political campaign, and that violates academic neutrality,” Reilly insisted. “They also must be aware that regardless of politics, inviting a public dissenter to speak on ‘America’s Moral Compass’ is a scandal to the faithful and undermines CUA’s Catholic identity.”

Still, Dean Miles says that inviting Casey to give the lecture, titled “Restoring America's Moral Compass: Leadership and the Common Good,” is in keeping with the tradition of the lecture series, which since its inception in 1965 has often, “explored the themes of the common social good, and what man owes to his fellow man.”

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