Archdiocese of Washington rebukes Georgetown on Sebelius speech

The Archdiocese of Washington, the Catholic Church’s authority in the nation’s capital, is rebuking another Catholic icon, Georgetown University, the oldest Catholic college in the United States.

The conflict is over the university’s Public Policy Institute’s invitation to Kathleen Sebelius, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, to be its 2012 award ceremony speaker this weekend. The decision drew immediate ire from Catholic groups who see Sebelius, a Catholic, as someone who is using her office to violate religious liberty.

In a statement Tuesday, the Archdiocese of Washington called the decision unfortunate and even charged that the Public Policy Institute was supporting a “radical redefining of ministry.”

“Given the dramatic impact this mandate will have on Georgetown and all Catholic institutions, it is understandable that Catholics across the country would find shocking the choice of Secretary Sebelius, the architect of the mandate, to receive such special recognition at a Catholic university,” reads the statement. “It is also understandable that Catholics would view this as a challenge to the bishops.”

According to the archdiocese, the heart of the issue is that “the selection of a featured speaker whose actions as a public official present the most direct challenge to religious liberty in recent history.”

Catholics groups have taken particular issue with the HHS mandate that religious employers offer health insurance coverage that includes access to contraceptives and birth control services. The Catholic Church teaches that use of contraception and abortion are morally wrong.

Seven states, along with a handful of religious organizations, have filed a lawsuit against the federal government over the issue.

Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia had issued a statement attempting to create some distance between the university and the contraception issue.

“The invitation to Secretary Sebelius occurred prior to the January 20th announcement by the Obama Administration of the modified healthcare regulations,” reads the statement. “The Secretary’s presence on our campus should not be viewed as an endorsement of her views. As a Catholic and Jesuit University, Georgetown disassociates itself from any positions that are in conflict with traditional church teachings.”

However, DeGioia did support her invitation to campus.

“We are a university, committed to the free exchange of ideas,” read that statement. “We are a community that draws inspiration from a religious tradition that provides us with an intellectual, moral, and spiritual foundation. By engaging these values we become the University we are meant to be.” [More]