Sebelius at Georgetown — A shot across the bow of the bishops?

For the U.S. bishops, the battle to overturn the Department of Health and Human Services contraception mandate is a religious-freedom fight — though partisan groups have sought to characterize it as a “war against women.”

Now, Georgetown University’s decision to invite HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to a prestigious graduation awards event suggests that the controversy has moved into a new phase, with an open attempt by the mandate’s supporters within a Catholic university to endorse the new federal rule over the objections of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Further, the ensuing controversy has revived all the issues that were hotly debated in the wake of the University of Notre Dame’s decision to honor President Barack Obama, a consistent supporter of abortion rights, as the speaker for its 2009 commencement exercise.

This week, protests immediately erupted following a May 4 announcement that Sebelius, who spearheaded the effort to secure the contraception mandate, would speak at an awards ceremony at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute.

Critics also expressed shock that Sebelius, a fervent abortion-rights supporter who headlined a 2011 NARAL Pro-Choice America fundraiser, would be given a forum at the oldest Catholic university in the United States. Some who protested the invitation have suggested that the action sought to directly challenge the U.S. bishops’ campaign to defend the free exercise of Catholic institutions by overturning the mandate through legal or legislative remedies.

Patrick Deneen, a Georgetown political science professor, has initiated a letter campaign that asks the university’s president, John DeGioia, to rescind the invitation to Sebelius.

The letter noted Sebelius’ role in securing the mandate and described the honor conferred on her by Georgetown as “a grave and serious mistake — indeed, a scandalous one.” It cited a 2004 document issued by the U.S. bishops that called on Catholic institutions to avoid providing any forums or honors for public figures who defy Catholic moral teaching.

The letter suggested that the decision to invite Sebelius could be viewed as an endorsement of her controversial policy: “In truth, it is difficult to believe that the according of this honor to Secretary Sebelius was motivated by anything other than a desire to send a message of endorsement.” [More]


National Catholic Register