.- Georgetown University is facing strong criticism from Catholic leaders for defending a student group's invite of Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards to speak at the school.
“The Jesuit community on campus clearly has its work cut out for it and a long way to go as it tries to instill at Georgetown some of the values of Pope Francis,” the Archdiocese of Washington said in a statement Monday.
In its withering critique, the archdiocese lamented the “unawareness of those pushing the violence of abortion” and said that the invite “lends credence to the perception of the 'ivory tower'” at the university.
“This unfortunately does not speak well for the future,” the statement read. “One would hope to see this generation of Georgetown graduates have a far less self-absorbed attitude when facing neighbors and those in need, especially the most vulnerable among us.”
Georgetown University is the country's oldest Catholic university. The university’s Lecture Fund, the “non-partisan student-run” group sponsoring Richards, has confirmed that they will host her to speak in April though they did not announce the topic of the speech.
The group stated on its website that they “bring speakers to Georgetown's campus to enlighten, educate and, occasionally, entertain,” and that they “extend invitations to any and all speakers.” The speech will only be open to those with a university ID and will feature a 30-minute question and answer session with Richards, the Cardinal Newman Society reported.
In a March 3 statement, the university defended the group’s right to invite the abortion advocate, though it said the invitation does not represent an endorsement on behalf of Georgetown.
“We respect our students’ right to express their personal views and are committed to sustaining a forum for the free exchange of ideas, even when those ideas may be difficult, controversial or objectionable to some,” the statement said.
“Ms. Richards is not being paid to speak. Student groups may invite any outside speakers and guests to campus. An appearance of any speaker or guest on campus is not an endorsement by the university.”
Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest abortion provider, performing over 300,000 abortions annually. All affiliates across the country are required to offer abortions. The affiliates receive over $500 million in federal, state, and local taxpayer dollars yearly.
Calls to strip the organization of its taxpayer funding surged nationally after the release of undercover videos from the advocacy group Center for Medical Progress showed Planned Parenthood employees callously discussing reimbursement for fetal parts of aborted babies offered to tissue harvesters.
Subsequent public outcry prompted Congress to launch a special investigation of Planned Parenthood. Several states have since voted to strip the business of taxpayer funding, and Planned Parenthood has stopped accepting reimbursement for fetal parts used in medical research.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has denounced Planned Parenthood on numerous occasions, saying the organization performs almost 17 times as many abortions as birth services.
If there's a crisis in the Catholic Church today, it’s the disjuncture between the imperative to live and teach the Gospel and the obsession to be fair and broad minded on moral and critical life issues.
Richards has been the head of Planned Parenthood Federation of America since 2006, and said in 2009 that the U.S. Bishops’ efforts to remove abortion services from universal health care “would make American women second-class citizens and deny them access to benefits they currently have.”
The Archdiocese of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., and Cardinal Wilfred Napier of Durban, South Africa have all either explicitly or implicitly spoken against the invite of Richards as hosting a speaker who contradicts the teaching of the Church.
“If there's a crisis in the Catholic Church today, it’s the disjuncture between the imperative to live and teach the Gospel and the obsession to be fair and broad minded on moral and critical life issues. Georgetown’s hosting Cecile Richards is an obvious case!” Cardinal Napier tweeted in response to the invite.
Persecuted Christians in the Middle East are standing by their faith as part of their very identity, Cardinal Wuerl observed in a Mar. 8 blog post, and Catholic institutions must likewise “offer this testimony of their Catholic identity.”
“A Catholic university brings to the discussion a vision rooted in the Gospel that necessarily challenges other ways of life,” he wrote.
However, he added, quoting from his 2015 pastoral letter “Being Catholic Today,” that the world as a whole “benefits” when a Catholic university maintains its faithfulness to Church teaching “because the richness of Catholic teaching can engage the secular culture in a way that the light of the wisdom of God is brought to bear on the issues of the day.”
Abortion is contrary to an authentically human society, he wrote, and “thus, it is neither authentically Catholic nor within the Catholic tradition for a university to provide a special platform to those voices that promote or support such counter values.”
The Archdiocese of Washington suggested that the student group should have invited a speaker to focus instead on “the lives and ministry, focus and values of people like Blessed Óscar Romero, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Pope Francis in place of that group’s seemingly constant preoccupation with sexual activity, contraception and abortion.”
Georgetown University also came under fire in 2012 for inviting then-Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to speak at graduation. The HHS had months before required many Catholic institutions to provide birth control to employees, and Cardinal Wuerl pointed to “the selection of a featured speaker whose actions as a public official present the most direct challenge to religious liberty in recent history.”
In the fall of 2013, a Georgetown University law class required students to work with an abortion advocacy group.
In their “Regulatory Advocacy: Women and the Affordable Care Act” course, which debuted in the spring 2014 semester, students were required to work with the National Women's Law Center, a D.C.-based advocacy group whose healthcare platform pushes for abortion, sterilization and contraceptive provision as health care.
In their recent statement, Georgetown asserted that its Catholic values continue to “maintain a privileged place in our community while at the same time providing a forum that does not limit speech either in the content of the view being expressed or the speaker expressing the view.”
Mary Rezac contributed to this report.