Archdiocese of Washington slams Georgetown's Sebelius invite

Dr John J DeGioia president of Georgetown University CNA US Catholic News 5 16 12 Dr. John J. DeGioia, president of Georgetown University.

The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. has condemned Georgetown University's invitation to U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to speak during commencement weekend.

In light of Sebelius' attempts to drastically redefine religious ministry in a way that threatens Catholic institutions, Georgetown should do more to “speak up for freedom of religion,” the archdiocese said.

In a May 15 statement, it explained that Catholics are understandably shocked by Georgetown’s decision to honor Sebelius, the architect of a contraception mandate that poses a serious threat to religious freedom in America.

It added that it is “also understandable that Catholics would view this as a challenge to the bishops.”

The Archdiocese of Washington said that it had previously “reserved public comment” in order to allow Georgetown University and the Jesuits to have “the opportunity to address the controversy.”

Georgetown announced on May 4 that Sebelius had been invited as a featured speaker at the university's Public Policy Institute awards ceremony during commencement weekend on May 18.

The move has been heavily criticized, largely due to the fact that Sebelius recently issued a federal mandate that will require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their religious beliefs.

Catholic bishops from every diocese in the U.S. have spoken out against the mandate, warning that it poses a grave threat to religious freedom and could force Catholic hospitals, schools and charitable agencies across the nation to shut down.

More than 35,000 people have signed a petition objecting to Georgetown’s invitation to Sebelius.

A May 10 editorial in The Catholic Standard, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Washington, called the invitation “disappointing, but not surprising.”

The editorial said that Georgetown has become secularized, largely because “the vision guiding university choices does not clearly reflect the light of the Gospel and authentic Catholic teaching.”

On May 14, Georgetown president John J. DeGioia responded to the controversy in a public statement. He defended the university’s decision, arguing that the invite is not an endorsement of Sebelius’ views or a challenge to the U.S. bishops.

“As a Catholic and Jesuit University, Georgetown disassociates itself from any positions that are in conflict with traditional church teachings,” he stated.

DeGioia said that Sebelius had been suggested by students last fall as “a leading policy maker” in America, due to her role in forming the Affordable Care Act. He also praised her “long and distinguished record of public service,” including two terms as governor of Kansas before working for the Obama administration.

During her time as governor of Kansas, Sebelius' staunch and long-standing support for abortion led Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City to ask her to refrain from receiving Communion until she had made a worthy confession and publicly changed her stance.

DeGioia said that Sebelius had been invited in early January, before the final rule on contraception coverage was issued.

While he acknowledged the bishops’ opposition to the mandate, he also said that Georgetown is “committed to the free exchange of ideas.”

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The university community “draws inspiration from a religious tradition” that offers a moral, intellectual and spiritual foundation, he said, adding that “engaging these values” is necessary to becoming “the University we are meant to be.”

In its response, the archdiocese said that DeGioia’s statement “does not address the real issue for concern.”

It explained that the real problem in choosing Sebelius as a featured speaker is that her “actions as a public official present the most direct challenge to religious liberty in recent history.”

In allowing the invitation to stand, it said, the university has displayed an “apparent lack of unity with and disregard for the bishops” and all those who are fighting to defend religious liberty.

The fundamental issue underlying the mandate is not contraception but religious freedom, the archdiocese said, explaining that the mandate’s narrow definition of religious ministry excludes Catholic schools, hospitals and social service agencies.

It noted that even Georgetown would fail to qualify as a religious institution under the mandate because of its willingness to welcome both Catholic and non-Catholic students.

The archdiocese also pointed out that although it was only finalized in January, the mandate was first published in a problematic form last August, well before Georgetown extended the invitation to Sebelius.

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It called on the university to “do more to challenge the mandate” and speak up in defense of religious liberty.

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