Archdiocese: No More Honors for Abortion Champs
NEWARK, N.J. — A recent event at Seton Hall University law school honoring a pro-abortion judge reminded Richard Maggi, a 1976 graduate of the school, why he has never contributed any money to his alma mater.
“I have never thought highly of the school from the perspective of it being a Catholic law school,” he said. “They seem to be more concerned with trying to bring in people who are of note rather than worrying about what it is they're promoting.”
Maggi was referring to the April 16 ceremony on campus that honored U.S. Circuit Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, who wrote the opinion in a 2000 case that rejected a New Jersey law banning partial-birth abortion. Barry received the Sandra Day O'Connor Medal of Honor, an event that triggered protests and has led archdiocesan and university officials to review the school's policies to prevent it from happening again.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, well known for her pro-abortion opinions, was on hand to award the medal, which honors women who have distinguished themselves in public service and as lawyers. The event was sponsored by three groups of law students.
“It's yet another example of Catholic colleges giving aid and comfort to abortion advocates in the name of academic freedom,” said Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, a national organization dedicated to the renewal of Catholic identity in Catholic higher education. “Catholic colleges are not supposed to be neutral on the atrocity of abortion.”
A recent study by the society found even more examples. The study documents almost 200 occasions since 1999 where speakers or honorees who support abortion have been invited to Catholic universities, Reilly said.
In a statement, Natalie Thigpen, a Seton Hall University spokes-woman, said the school's commitment to the gospel of life is “absolute” and noted that honoring people who support views contrary to the university's “fundamental Catholic identity is a serious lapse.” She added that the policies involved — which are supposed to keep such an invitation from occurring — will be reviewed.
Located 14 miles from New York City, Seton Hall bills itself as the “oldest diocesan university” in the country. Its law school, however, is a familiar place of protest for pro-life advocates who, in the past, have decried Medal of Honor recipients who support abortion rights. These have included Hillary Rodham Clinton and former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman. In 1998, a wave of protests forced the law school to move the award ceremony for Whitman off campus.
Richard Collier Jr., a New Jersey attorney and president of a pro-life legal center, thought the selection of Barry was “outrageous.” He sent an e-mail April 10 to the Archdiocese of Newark asking that the event be cancelled.
On April 14, he said he received an e-mail response from archdiocesan spokesman James Goodness, who said the archdiocese was neither involved in the selection of the honoree nor notified of the law school's intent to present it.
“Catholic teaching recognizes that every life is sacred and deserving of protection under the law,” Goodness wrote in a statement. “Catholic institutions of higher learning have a choice in whom they honor. It would be inappropriate and inconsistent for the archdiocese to endorse the selection for special recognition of anyone who undermines the assurance of legal protections for the unborn.”
Collier said about 30 brave people showed up to protest the ceremony. He also said he thought the response from the archdiocese was “tragic.”
“They had four days to cancel it or to move it off campus,” Collier added. “They did nothing.”
Pope John Paul II has written about the importance of Catholic universities sticking to their Christian mission. In his 1990 apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church), he said “Catholic ideals, attitudes and principles [must] penetrate and inform university activities.”
Several years later, the Holy Father mentioned what should happen if these principles aren't upheld. In his 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth), he wrote that bishops must be judicious in granting the title of “Catholic” to institutions such as colleges and health-care facilities — and, “in cases of a serious failure to live up to that title, to take it away.”
Archbishop John Myers of Newark has promised to make changes. In a statement that ran in the April 21 edition of the arch-diocesan newspaper, he said he was informed about the award ceremony during the middle of Easter week. He described it as “profoundly offensive and contrary to the Catholic mission and identity” of the university, the law school and the archdiocese.
“I am proceeding in a way both to clarify the situation and to see that it does not occur again,” Archbishop Myers wrote in the statement. “I am in the process of reviewing all aspects of the matter and determining the appropriate action to be taken.”
The archdiocese doesn't have direct control of the institution, which operates as a private entity within the archdiocese, like Catholic hospitals, Goodness said. But Archbishop Myers is president of the school's board of regents.
Goodness said he didn't know when the review would be completed, but he made it clear that a pro-abortion advocate won't be honored at the university again.
“There's a lot of examination going on to make sure the processes and procedures are in place so this doesn't happen again,” he said, adding that the law school didn't inform the university about who was going to be honored at the ceremony. “We're going do it, do it once and do it right.”
The dean of the law school, Patrick Hobbs, did not return calls for comment. The secretary for the university's president, Msgr. Robert Sheeran, referred a call to the school's spokesperson.
Collier said clerical bureaucracies usually indicate that a review is under way, but he views this as “a bureaucratic ploy” to delay action until the incident is forgotten.
“No one needs to review what needs to be done here,” Collier said, adding that the award has always gone to those who support abortion. “The solution is simple, self-evident and inescapable: Just say No.“
However, another protester was hopeful about the archbishop's statement.
“I'm encouraged that the archbishop has promised to take action,” said Joseph Starrs, the director of the American Life League Crusade for the Defense of our Catholic Church, who attended the protest. “I hope that it's a strong action, and it's a diocesan-wide policy that would bar all pro-abortion speakers from all Church-based institutions and property.”
Carlos Briceño writes from Seminole, Florida.
- May 2-8, 2004