Harrison Butker supported by Kansas City bishop, prominent Catholics amid speech backlash

Harrison Butker Kansas City Chiefs’ placekicker Harrison Butker speaks to college graduates in his commencement address at Benedictine College on Saturday, May 11, 2024. | Credit: Benedictine College

Prominent Catholics are voicing their support for Kansas City Chiefs’ kicker Harrison Butker after he delivered a commencement address to graduating students at Benedictine College on May 11 that touched on hot-button issues, causing outrage among the left-leaning media and commentators.

Butker, 28, who has been outspoken about his Catholic faith during his career, received backlash for sharing his views on gender, abortion, euthanasia, and IVF.

He also took aim at several high-profile Catholics such as President Joe Biden and the former head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci. He chided certain unnamed bishops who were “motivated by fear” during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

In the speech at the Atchison, Kansas-based Catholic liberal arts college, he denounced “people pushing dangerous gender ideologies onto the youth of America” while calling on graduates to live out their vocation to “ensure that God’s Church continues and the world is enlightened by your example.”

“Our own nation is led by a man who publicly and proudly proclaims his Catholic faith, but at the same time is delusional enough to make the sign of the cross during a pro-abortion rally. He has been so vocal in his support for the murder of innocent babies that I’m sure to many people it appears that you can be both Catholic and pro-choice,” Butker said. 

Butker’s local ordinary, Bishop James Johnston of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, told CNA Thursday in a statement that “Harrison Butker’s passion for his Catholic faith and his family are beautiful and well known. And like most people, he also has strong opinions on where we are as a Church and as a nation.”

“The Catholic Church believes that God calls everyone to pursue holiness no matter what path they take. As St. Paul notes, that diversity of callings and vocations is essential to the life and mission of the Church. I support Mr. Butker’s right to share his faith and express his opinions — including those that are critical of bishops,” he said.

Johnston wasn’t the only one who spoke out in support of Butker. 

In a statement to CNA Thursday, another high-profile Catholic, Marian priest and author of “Consecration to St. Joseph” Father Donald Calloway, MIC, said: “I loved the speech!”

“His speech was inspiring and what the woke culture needs to hear. He exhibited real, authentic Catholic manhood. Good for him. I have no problem with anything he said. I wish more said it, especially clergy. God bless him. I look forward to meeting him. I loved it so much I went out and bought his jersey!"

Bishop Joseph Strickland thanked Butker for “speaking truth” in a post he shared Thursday on X. 

Strickland said that “it is no surprise that some are reacting with extreme negativity, too many today hate the truth and merely want ‘their’ truth, which is not truth at all. You are in my prayers.”

President of the Catholic League Bill Donohue wrote in a statement on Thursday that Butker “nailed it” during comments in his speech. 

“His courage and his commitment to Catholicism is laudatory,” Donohue wrote. “A heralded Catholic football player defends traditional moral values at a Catholic college — how novel — and within no time he’s being bashed all over the place. Had he endorsed transgenderism, or Hamas, he would now be praised to high heaven.”

Kristan Hawkins, a Catholic and president of the pro-life group Students for Life of America, wrote of the speech online: “If you watch one video today, this should be it.”

Hawkins shared a clip of Butker’s criticism of Biden, quoting Butker: “This is an important reminder that ‘being Catholic’ alone doesn’t cut it.”

CNA reached out to Benedictine College for comment but did not receive a response. 

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Former Notre Dame football coach and Hall of Famer Lou Holtz publicly thanked Butker on Twitter Thursday for his speech.

“Thank you @buttkicker7 for standing strong in your faith values. Your commencement speech at Benedictine College showed courage and conviction and I admire that. Don’t give in,” he wrote.

In Holtz’s post on X, he linked to a petition in support of Butker, calling him “a true man of God.”

A separate petition by critics of Butker’s speech has made waves in the media calling for his Super Bowl-winning team, the Kansas City Chiefs, to fire him. The petition has already amassed over 100,000 signatures.

Additionally, Butker has been targeted by the city of Kansas City, Missouri, which shared a now-deleted post on X announcing what city Butker lives in, a form of harassment known as “doxxing.”

Kansas City’s X account later said: “We apologies [sic] for our previous tweet. It was shared in error.”

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas shared a follow-up post that said: “A message appeared earlier this evening from a city public account. The message was clearly inappropriate for a public account. The city has correctly apologized for the error, will review account access, and ensure nothing like it is shared in the future from public channels.”

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Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey said on X Thursday that his office would be taking legal action to protect the free speech of Butker and Missourians.

“BREAKING: My office is demanding accountability after @KansasCity doxxed @buttkicker7 last night for daring to express his religious beliefs. I will enforce the Missouri Human Rights Act to ensure Missourians are not targeted for their free exercise of religion. Stay tuned,” he wrote.

Much of the criticism of Butker’s speech focused on Butker’s comments addressed to the women among the graduates. 

Butker congratulated the female graduates but added: “I think it is you, the women, who have had the most diabolical lies told to you.”

“How many of you are sitting here now about to cross this stage and are thinking about all the promotions and titles you are going to get in your career? Some of you may go on to lead successful careers in the world, but I would venture to guess that the majority of you are most excited about your marriage and the children you will bring into this world,” Butker said.

“I can tell you that my beautiful wife, Isabelle, would be the first to say that her life truly started when she began living her vocation as a wife and as a mother,” he said.

“I’m on the stage today and able to be the man I am because I have a wife who leans into her vocation. I’m beyond blessed with the many talents God has given me, but it cannot be overstated that all of my success is made possible because a girl I met in band class back in middle school would convert to the faith, become my wife, and embrace one of the most important titles of all: homemaker,” he said.

His comments were followed by an almost 20-second applause from the audience.

In a statement shared with the media, the NFL condemned Butker’s comments, saying that he “gave a speech in his personal capacity.”

“His views are not those of the NFL as an organization. The NFL is steadfast in our commitment to inclusion, which only makes our league stronger,” said Jonathan Beane, the NFL’s senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer.

The Catholic advocacy organization CatholicVote penned a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell criticizing Beane’s statement, saying that it “calls into question your commitment to genuine diversity and inclusion.”

“Indeed, the NFL proudly boasts that it ‘honors and celebrates the broad ranges of human difference among us, while also embracing the commonalities we share, and to provide each individual with the opportunity to achieve their full potential.’ Does this inclusion include Catholics, pro-life Americans, mothers, and those who hold to traditional moral beliefs?” the May 16 letter said.

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