The Catholic community is abuzz with the news that Georgetown University has invited none other than the pro-abortion "Catholic" secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Kathleen Sebelius, to be the commencement speaker at one of the university’s graduation ceremonies. The announcement prompted National Review blogger Shannen W. Coffin to write, “Reports are that Kathleen Sebelius, author of the HHS contraception mandate, will be a commencement speaker at Georgetown University. I’m certain that the 90 or so professors who took time to sign a letter lecturing Paul Ryan on Catholic teaching during his recent lecture at the university will similarly address Sebelius’ failure to protect the sanctity of human life.”
Is it really surprising that Georgetown, a “Catholic” university that boasts the likes of law student Sandra Fluke, is now hosting pro-abortion Sebelius? The Sebelius invitation is a slap in the face of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which is currently working to topple the Obama mandate through education programs, pressure on Congress, and other measures. This is a grave matter, to say the least. As many of us know, the fundamental question to be asked about the Obama diktat is a simple one: Does a Catholic institution in America have the right to maintain its commitment to Catholic doctrine in its policies and employment practices—or must it succumb to the state, divorce itself from Christ, and become secular in order to exist?
Knowing that Sebelius is the driving force behind the mandate, one wonders what is going on. But wait!
The historical fact that is being ignored when challenging the Sebelius invitation is that there exists an underlying crisis that exposes the problematic nature of the current situation. I ask you: How difficult would it be for the bishops to pressure Georgetown to cancel the invitation when the USSCB is on record as doing nothing at all about Sebelius and her anti-life record? She’s been in the public eye for years and her pro-abortion position is very well known.
In fact, the headlines a few years ago claimed that Sebelius was told not to take Holy Communion. But when her bishop, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, was asked specifically whether or not he would instruct the priests in his diocese to withhold the body of Christ from Sebelius, he said he was “not ready” to take that step. That was in May 2008. When exactly will he be ready? And what else must Sebelius do to prove her disdain for the teachings of the Catholic Church?
So, today, the status quo remains. Kathleen Sebelius is free to receive the body of Christ if she so chooses, and nobody is reprimanding her or denying her the body of Christ despite the endless pro-death statements and actions she takes. Thus the dilemma: How can the bishops decry the Georgetown invitation and be consistent in their approach to Sebelius?
It is true that Archbishop Naumann has been more than pastoral in his expressions of concern about Sebelius, as evidenced in his public commentaries, but the fact remains that neither he nor any other bishop has made it clear that, if she approaches to receive the Body of Christ, she will be denied.
I applaud the Cardinal Newman Society for pressing for signatures on a petition asking the university to cancel Sebelius, but we won’t be holding our breath. The key to success in situations like this is to be able to rely on the consistency and courage of the bishops, in addition to their unswerving defense of Christ in the Eucharist.
This brings up a very interesting question: What electoral outcome would have been realized at the November 2008 presidential election had the U.S. bishops united to enforce canon law, specifically Canon 915, within in every U.S. diocese? It was during the providential moment of the USCCB’s June 2004 plenary conference in Denver that then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) gave them, in his profoundly inspiring “memo,” the proper direction to follow to end the scandal. Cardinal Ratzinger explained precisely how to enforce Canon 915; however, his memo was ignored.
Would the U.S. Church today be suffering, as it clearly is, from the current administration’s string of immoral attacks concerning the most important moral issues of our time if the bishops had enforced Canon 915 as directed in the Ratzinger memo?
Woe to the hierarchy in the U.S. for the loss of so many scandalized and confused souls among their flocks, who have left their parishes in shame and are staying home.
Editor’s note: This commentary has been updated since it was posted earlier today.