Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Cardinal Newman Society: Religious Group or PAC?

On Aug. 25, [the Cardinal Newman Society published a letter denouncing Georgetown’s upcoming ceremony]( honoring AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, on the grounds that his organization’s endorsement of gay marriage violates Catholic teachings. Since 1993, the CNS has asserted itself as a watchdog group seeking to ensure that Catholic social teaching is systematically enforced at universities affiliated with the church. The CNS does not mess around, even demanding that “any professor who refuses to conform to Catholic teaching” be fired and that any disobedient university be stripped “of its Catholic identity.”

CNS has taken shots at Georgetown numerous times in the past – prompted by [last year’s opening of the LGBTQ Resource Center]( and [President Obama’s address in Gaston Hall]( – on the premise that Georgetown is a bastion of so-called “cafeteria Catholics” who pick and choose which aspects of Catholic doctrine to respect. Yet the society’s criticism is almost exclusively limited to Church teachings on abortion and gay marriage. This begs the following question: What right do they have to restore Catholic identity on college campuses when they are fundamentally an organization that picks and chooses what it supports?

“The Catholic bishops have made it abundantly clear that Catholic universities are not to publicly honor leading opponents of Catholic moral principles,” said Patrick Reilly, president of the CNS. “We strongly urge Georgetown to uphold its Catholic mission and rescind the honor to John Sweeney.” Really, have the bishops been “abundantly clear?”

First, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is an increasingly polarized body wherein the socially conservative bishops are pitted against more progressive ones – but reading Reilly’s letter leaves one with the impression that the entire population of Catholic bishops monolithically supports the CNS agenda.

Second, the document the CNS cites in its opposition to John Sweeney’s ceremony, “Catholics in Political Life,” is impossible to holistically adhere to in a university setting. The document states that Catholic institutions should not invite speakers who do not respect or obey the Church’s pro-life stance from conception to natural death. Simultaneously, the document states that Catholic institutions “need to do more to persuade all people that human life is precious and human dignity must be defended.”

In an academic setting, the free exchange of ideas is how thinkers are persuaded and how truth is achieved. If universities are prohibited from inviting guests to participate in this free exchange of ideas, then not only is it a disservice to the students, but there is little chance of persuading said public officials into reconsidering their stances on policy issues.

Third, this document is directed toward Catholic institutions’ interactions with elected officials, and so is not applicable to the upcoming event with John Sweeney.

Worse than their misrepresentation of Catholic doctrine is the political orientation of the CNS itself, hidden under the façade of religious objectivity. Rather than advocating for all aspects of Church teaching, the CNS is a group of social conservatives who do not, in large numbers, oppose capital punishment, war or immigration raids, for example. The CNS claims to be the authoritative source on Catholic higher education, when in reality it is an interest group dedicated to supporting the Republican Party. For instance, there is no record of any CNS board member ever having given campaign contributions to a non-Republican candidate.

The organization’s chairman, J. Laurence McCarty, was vice president of Prudential Insurance Company in the mid-1980s and publicly fought against increasing health care protections for workers dealing with toxic chemicals. Another board member, L. Brent Bozell III, runs the Media Research Center, a research firm that analyzes “liberal bias in the media,” as well as the Conservative Victory Fund, a political action committee that raises money for congressional candidates.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the society’s emphasis on specific political causes. Yet it is spearheading a larger movement within the church that cultivates disinformation about doctrine with hardly any transparency about the organization’s very real political agenda.

As a Georgetown student, I am proud that my institution believes in the principle of cura personalis – that is, care of the whole person. Assuming John Sweeney’s endorsement of gay marriage is a violation of Catholic doctrine, it would be laughable to ignore the grandeur of this man’s actions that have routinely followed biblical calls for economic justice.

John Sweeney played an integral role in reshaping the modern labor movement, transforming it into a more inclusive environment for all persons, and his accomplishments are incalculable. Do not let the Cardinal Newman Society use this man or this institution to increase its agenda or its donor base.

Robert Byrne is a junior in the College. The ceremony honoring John Sweeney will be held in Gaston Hall on Thursday, Sept. 3 at 5 p.m.

*To send a letter to the editor on a recent campus issue or Hoya story or a viewpoint on any topic, contact []( Letters should not exceed 300 words, and viewpoints should be between 600 to 800 words.*”

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