College cancels Kennedy speech after bishop voices concern

By Kevin J. Jones

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Bishop Robert McManus and Victoria Reggie Kennedy.

Bishop Robert J. McManus’ request that Anna Maria College disinvite Victoria Kennedy as a commencement speaker was not a personal slight or a political decision, but an attempt to encourage Catholic colleges to be consistent with their mission, a Diocese of Worcester spokesman said.

“Bishop McManus feels that, consistent with what the U.S. bishops have been saying since 2004 as a group, Catholic institutions should be honoring Catholics who are taking at least public positions that are consistent with the teachings of the Church,” diocesan spokesman Ray Delisle told EWTN News April 2.

He mentioned the right to life and the sanctity of marriage as specific positions relevant to the decision.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2004 statement “Catholics in Political Life” said that Catholic institutions “should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles” and should not be given honors or platforms which would “suggest support for their actions.”

Anna Maria College, in the Worcester County town of Paxton, Mass., had invited Victoria Kennedy, the widow of Democratic U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, to be its May 19 commencement speaker and to receive an honorary degree.

Bishop McManus voiced his concerns to the college in February after it announced its decision.

While not as prominent as her late husband, Kennedy has a public record of statements that run counter to Catholic teaching.

In a May 2004 Washington Post editorial, Kennedy defended “the pro-choice position” for recognizing the United States as a “diverse, pluralistic society where a woman has the constitutional right to make a decision based upon her own conscience, religious beliefs and medical needs.”

In an April 2010 dinner honoring homosexual rights activist David Mixner, she praised his work for “not second-class equality, but the right to live free, and to marry, and to raise a family,” according to the Associated Press.

Anna Maria College said March 30 that it withdrew the invitation to Kennedy with “deep regret.” It told Kennedy that it is appropriate to recognize her many contributions to shared social issues, such as her work on gun control and child safety.

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

“As a small, Catholic college that relies heavily on the good will of its relationship with the
Bishop and the larger Catholic community, its options are limited,” the college said.

The school also worried that a public debate about the bishop’s concerns could distract from the “primary importance of commencement” for its students.

“While the (Board of Trustees) believes that this is the necessary decision, it will continue to advocate for increased opportunities to practice its Catholic values of hospitality, compassion, reconciliation, respect for all people and understanding,” the college said.

Kennedy criticized Bishop McManus’ objection, saying that “he has made a judgment about my worthiness as a Catholic,” according to the AP.

She also objected that the bishop had not contacted her or spoken with her pastor about his concerns.

Delisle told EWTN News that Bishop McManus’ concerns where directed at the college, and not to Kennedy per se.

“He has not spoken directly about Mrs. Kennedy in all this, other than (saying) Mrs. Kennedy certainly has had some positions that have clearly not been consistent with the Church in these areas,” the spokesman said.

The bishop has asked the college to choose honorees “so that it is consistent with its mission and identity.”

The bishop’s action was not targeting Kennedy, but was an effort to show consistency, Delisle explained.

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.

“They declined to disinvite Chris Matthews, and so Bishop Reilly did not attend the commencement,” said the spokesman.

Delisle said he thinks Bishop McManus is “pleased” that Anna Maria College has “taken his request seriously.”

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