The University and the Candidate

My alma mater, The Catholic University of America, owes Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., an apology.

Santorum’s opponent in his re-election fight, Democrat Bob Casey Jr., gave the annual Pope John XXIII lecture earlier this month at CUA’s Columbus School of Law. The Democrat’s remarks were billed as on “Restoring America’s Moral Compass: Leadership and the Common Good.” By giving him a forum at the bishop-chartered school, CUA showed poor leadership; its compass was pointed in the wrong direction.

You may argue though that CUA was technically within its rights having Casey on campus. Casey opposes abortion, though he supports public funding of contraception and the over-the-counter-sale of Plan B, which can act as an abortifacient. He refused to oppose the abortion-lobby-lead filibusters on Bush judges and has given no real indication that he seeks to be a pro-life leader on the level of the man he seeks to replace.

In other words, Bob Casey Jr. is no Rick Santorum.

Santorum, on the other hand, is the foremost leader in the U.S. Congress when it comes to protecting innocent human life. Santorum fathered the partial-birth-abortion ban. He has fought for a federal marriage amendment, an issue many shy away from. He has not only fought against attempts to legalize cloning, but has worked to find a constructive, non-destructive middle ground on stem-cell research. Others may share his passion and consistency, but he’s in the Senate leadership — the youngest member — with such high name recognition that TV mob boss Tony Soprano mentioned him last season on HBO. He gives those we can’t yet hear not only a voice but clout. He has earned respect for both his principled leadership and his prudential political skills.

That said, it’s not the job of The Catholic University of America to determine who should win the Pennsylvania Senate race. Which is also precisely why Casey shouldn’t have been on campus this fall. Although the dean of the law school defended the decision to invite him against complaints of political favoritism by arguing that the speech was not political in nature, there was no way a candidate in the most contested Senate race in the United States could appear on campus and it not be a political speech. And, as anyone could have predicted, the speech did, in fact, have an impact beyond Pennsylvania … with the speech itself, by the way, sounding a lot like a campaign stump speech covering everything from the environment to Iraq.

Within days, one Pennsylvania paper reported that “values voters” are “up for grabs.” Since both Casey and Santorum say they’re pro-life — and since CUA seems to have no beef with Casey — well, what’s the difference, anyway?

The black-and-white difference for Catholics to take a look at is the prospect of losing a leader for life.

Still, you may argue, Casey supports a ban on cloning, he’d likely be better news for the cause of defending human life than all too many other Democrats. True enough. But put that alongside his support for civil unions (and backing from the homosexual-rights group, the Human Rights Campaign), his enthusiasm for Plan B and his insistence while at CUA that faith can’t “dictate” a public official’s views on matters like marriage and religious liberty, and you don’t exactly have the ideal Catholic candidate. But, in the end, “that’s for voters to weigh in the imperfect world of politics,” as my friend Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society says.

When it comes to CUA, though, Reilly says, “Catholic colleges and universities have a higher burden to meet than other institutions (or at least they should have), when it comes to providing a forum for speakers, especially when the topic is ‘America’s Moral Compass.’”

The one bit of silver lining in the Casey lecture is: The public misstep provides an opportunity for CUA to teach — about Catholic teaching on contraception, on the moral obligations of Catholics in public life. So far, I haven’t heard that kind of teaching in the wake of the Casey speech, at least publicly. I’ll give the university the benefit of the doubt and hope they’re at least doing it in the classroom.

If they’re not, they don’t owe just Santorum an apology, they owe their students and every American Catholic who ever put a dollar in the collection basket for CUA an apology, too.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of

National Review Online (

and is a nationally syndicated columnist.