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.”
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.