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Is it a Scandal?

Mirror of Justice posts an op-ed piece on commencement speakers for Catholic schools. The author, Karen Stohr, disagrees with her alma mater’s decision to rescind an invitation to U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill to deliver the commencement address. Sen. McCaskill is an ardent abortion and embryonic stem cell research supporter. I have excerpted a portion of Professor Stohr's comments below. You can read her entire essay at the link above.

No, the real moral concern must be that having McCaskill as a commencement speaker somehow would constitute an endorsement of her views by a Catholic
institution. But is that the case?

By their nature, educational institutions are places where controversial ideas find a platform. I am a faculty member in the philosophy department at a Catholic university. Every semester, I assign my students readings that conflict with Church teaching, alongside traditional Catholic sources; indeed,
I cannot teach philosophy any other way.

At its core, education consists of the common pursuit of truth. Catholic educational institutions, like their secular counterparts, have faith in the power of human reason to discern what is true and what is not. The job of an educator is to help students expand and develop their intellectual capacities, and that requires confronting new ideas and grappling with opposing points of view.

The path to knowledge is a difficult and murky one, and making our way forward is a joint effort. Commencement exercises are a celebration of education as a communal project. In asking someone to speak, an institution honors that person's ability to contribute to that project, but the invitation cannot possibly imply endorsement of each and every idea she contributes. If that were the standard, commencement speakers quickly would become extinct.

Rescinding McCaskill's invitation to participate in this celebration does more than demonstrate disagreement with her views on abortion and stem cell research; it also expresses the attitude that she is not worth listening to on any subject at all and denies her any rightful role in this communal pursuit of

That is hard to reconcile with Christian love and respect for human dignity.

As Professor Stohr herself points out, when she as a Catholic educator presents reading assignments of material in conflict with Catholic teaching, she does so with a side-by-side presentation of faithfully Catholic material. A commencement address offers no such opportunity for explanation or clarification. The address is meant to offer graduating students ideas and thoughts to buoy them in their future endeavors. A speaker who is so diametrically opposed to Catholic teaching on such a fundamental issue as the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death cannot be trusted to provide the guiding words to send our graduates forward in a manner faithful to Catholic teaching. Consider a person whom you know persistently lies about his social activities. Would you then believe everything he tells you about his professional activities? But he insists he only lies about social activities and he is always unfailingly truthful about his professional activities. Does that alter your trust in his professional veracity? I don’t think so.

A commencement speaker should be someone who has integrated Catholic teachings into his or her life in an exemplary fashion. It is an honor to be so chosen. With very public and enthusiastic support of abortion and embryonic stem cell research, Sen. McCaskill has demonstrated a significant flaw in her moral formation. Such a defect makes her an unsuitable choice as mentor for Catholic graduates. To honor her with such a role is most definitely a cause of scandal.


Anonymous said…
Two thoughts. First, if a person at commencement spoke on the controversial topic, this might be true. However, I have never seen a person integrate issues concerning abortion into a commencement address. In other words, while that person would present an unopposed perspective on abortion, that is only true if the person actually talks about abortion.

Second, Catholics should not use a single factor to eliminate a potentially good speaker. I agree abortion is wrong, and I very much believe in the Catholic teaching on the issue. However, I think a lot of pro-choice people still have valuable pro-Catholic commencement messages.
Catholic Mom said…
My point is that Senator McCaskill claims to be a Catholic but very publicly repudiates established Church teaching on the sanctity of human life. If she ignores the Magisterium in this matter, why should we expect her to be faithful to the Magisterium in other matters? Her entire values system is suspect since she has rejected the teaching authority of the Church and become her own moral authority. While she may not be in error in all of her judgments, she does not represent a Catholic viewpoint, but rather her own personal viewpoint, independent of the Church. A Catholic school should seek a truly faithful Catholic commencement speaker.
Seamus said…
Didn't The Holy Father just this week reiterate that Catholic politicians who vote to support abortion have excommunicated themselves?

Pope: Excommunicate Mexico pols

I am certainly no academic, but I can't see why a Catholic University would invite an excommunicated Catholic to be its commencement speaker.

Incidentally, a priest that I respect a great deal spoke to this topic just the other day on his blog site. If you are interested, please see the following link:

Father Garrett's Blog Site

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