In a just-published essay at National Catholic Reporter, Father Thomas Reese calls on Catholic colleges and universities to bury the ban on inviting graduation speakers who espouse positions contrary to Catholic teaching (read: the ban on inviting Democratic speakers). As he notes, this ban emanated from the U.S. bishops, and has resulted in a significant diminution of the academic credibility of Catholic institutions of higher learning. It has signaled that "our" moral positions on issues like abortion, women's rights, and same-sex marriage are weak, since we expect to enforce those teachings by coercion and do not expect to persuade the larger culture of their truth by means of respectful conversation or rational argument. We do not, in fact, respect academic freedom when we choose the route of coercion rather than the route of persuasion.*
Father Reese concludes his statement,
It is time to admit that the ban on giving platforms and honors to people who hold views contrary to church teaching is dead.
Requiescat in pace.
And I agree. But honesty surely compels us to admit that Catholic universities have not banned many high-profile graduation speakers or donors who blatantly disregard and challenge Catholic teaching about many important issues from militarism to economic and social justice. The witch hunt the bishops set in motion with this ban targeted only Democrats who are pro-choice, pro-women's rights, and pro-gay-marriage.
Speakers — including very devout Catholic ones — who are pro-war, who attack the poor and healthcare coverage for indigent citizens, who defend draconian operations of a capitalist economic system that grinds the poor up and spits them out as so much detritus, who attack racial and sexual minorities, who advocate against the rights of workers to be paid a decent wage and to unionize: these folks have been welcomed with open arms in Catholic universities and colleges in the period of the ban that Father Reese now wants us to bury.
As has their money: witness Catholic University's glib elation at pocketing billions given to the school by the Koch brothers — and not on just one occasion, but again.
This ban was never about using Catholic teaching as a sword against Republican political operatives and Republican political leaders.
*Father Reese states that a number of theologians who are clerics or members of religious communities were silenced and removed from their jobs in the period of post-Vatican II Catholic history in which church leaders were determined to silence dissidents. His statement about this matter entirely overlooks the equally large number of lay theologians who were hounded out of jobs, fired, denied tenure in Catholic institutions in the same period — usually, on specious, insincere grounds, and quite frequently, because they were LGBTQ. Catholic centrists, who dominate in the Catholic academic and journalist sector and have more power than other Catholics to challenge these injustices, continue to refuse to discuss this problem, though the direct targeting of LGBTQ employees of Catholic institutions continues apace, right up to the present.