Mass. bishop stands by college in Victoria Kennedy controversy

Bishop Robert J. McManus.
Bishop Robert J. McManus.


In response to a petition from supporters of Victoria Kennedy, Bishop Robert J. McManus of Worcester, Mass. reaffirmed his support for Anna Maria College’s withdrawal of its invitation for her to be commencement speaker.

“While I recognize that there are those who do not agree with Anna Maria’s decision to disinvite Mrs. Kennedy as its commencement speaker, I continue to stand behind the concerns which I shared with Dr. Jack Calareso, the college’s president, last March,” Bishop McManus said April 26.

He said he supports the public statement of the college’s board of trustees, which said the invitation withdrawal is “in the best interest of all parties.”

The board withdrew the invitation last month after Bishop McManus asked the Paxton, Mass. college to withdraw the invitation in February.

He said he would not attend if Kennedy were commencement speaker, following the U.S. bishops’ stance against colleges honoring Catholics who publicly oppose Church teaching.

Kennedy, the widow of U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, has a public record of such statements. She has defended a “pro-choice” position on abortion in The Washington Post and has praised a homosexual rights advocate for his support for “gay marriage.”

An online petition asking for Kennedy’s reinstatement as commencement speaker reportedly gathered about 20,000 signatures. The national group Catholic Democrats, which Kennedy serves as a board member, delivered the petition to the Diocese of Worcester chancery.

The petition drive was organized by Faithful America, an online interfaith activist initiative co-founded by former Virginia Democratic Congressman Tom Perriello. The initiative’s present partners include the National Council of Churches, which is a longstanding institution of mainline Protestantism, and Sojourners magazine.

Its petition to Bishop McManus described Kennedy as “a faithful Catholic and an important public voice.” It said Catholic universities “shouldn’t be a battleground for partisan witch-hunts and censorship.”

Catholic Democrats national director Steven D. Krueger told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette that Bishop McManus’ action and the recent Vatican action against the Leadership Council of Women Religious “reflects a pattern of pastoral partisanship.”

Krueger said that Bishop McManus’ approach differs from Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, who has not intervened in Boston College Law School’s invitation to Kennedy to be commencement speaker.

Krueger told the Worcester diocese’s newspaper The Catholic Free Press he did not know Kennedy’s position on abortion or “gay marriage.”

On April 6 Bishop McManus told The Catholic Free Press that his concern was that giving the commencement speaker honors to Kennedy would “undercut the Catholic identity and mission of the school.”

He said Kennedy is “a very public person” who has “publicly associated with political and social organizations that promote activities and points of view that are contrary to fundamental church teaching.”

The bishop did not want the bestowal of the honorary degree on Kennedy to give the impression that someone can hold a position contrary to Catholic teaching and still be honored.

Diocese of Worcester spokesman Frank Delisle told CNA April 2 that the bishop’s action was not intended to target Kennedy but was intended to show consistency.

Bishop McManus’ predecessor, Bishop Daniel P. Reilly, had objected to Holy Cross College’s invitation to television host Chris Matthews to be the 2003 commencement speaker and to receive an honorary degree.

The college declined to disinvite Matthews, and Bishop Reilly did not attend commencement.

On March 30 the college said that it withdrew the invitation with “deep regret,” citing Kennedy’s accomplishments in her work on child safety and gun control.

However, the college voiced concerns about “being in conflict with the bishop” and said the event could “create negative publicity and a difficult situation” for both Kennedy and the college.

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