Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wis., sharply criticized Georgetown University’s decision to invite Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to speak at a ceremony during commencement weekend.
The bishop said those involved in Catholic education should be “witnesses and not just teachers,” and he warned that Georgetown's actions are “teaching the people by what we do the opposite of what we say.”
He told Raymond Arroyo on EWTN's The World Over in a May 10 broadcast that if he were president of the school, he “would never have moved in a direction like that.”
Georgetown University, the nation’s first Catholic and Jesuit college, ignited controversy on May 4, when it announced that Sebelius had been chosen to address Georgetown’s Public Policy Institute at an award ceremony on May 18.
Sebelius, who is Catholic, has drawn criticism for issuing a federal mandate that will require employers to offer health-insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates religious beliefs.
Catholic bishops from every diocese in the U.S. have condemned the mandate, warning that it threatens religious freedom and could force Catholic hospitals, schools and charitable agencies to shut down.
Sebelius has also long supported abortion, both in her current role and as governor of Kansas, where she vetoed pro-life legislation and opposed abortion restrictions.
A Georgetown spokeswoman responded to the criticism by saying that while Sebelius is speaking at an awards ceremony during commencement weekend, she is not a commencement speaker.
The university does not have “one main commencement speaker,” the spokeswoman said, because each of its undergraduate and professional schools holds a separate graduation ceremony.
Critics argue, however, that the university is still honoring Sebelius with the invitation and granting her an inappropriate platform to voice views that are hostile to the Catholic Church.
In a 2004 document entitled “Catholics in Political Life,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops stated that “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”
A petition protesting the university’s decision to invite Sebelius has gained more than 24,000 signatures in one week.
Bishop Morlino said that Catholic educators “have to get involved and act in accord with what we teach.”
“I’m afraid too many of them have strayed from that direction,” he cautioned.
He pointed to Pope Benedict’s recent address to a group of U.S. bishops gathered at the Vatican, explaining that the education of young Catholics in the faith is “the most urgent internal challenge” facing the Catholic Church in America.
Bishop Morlino said, “I embrace that wholeheartedly.”