It's been a tough year for relations between the Catholic Church and the Obama administration. The two parties have had less-than-favorable interactions, as the former has accused the latter of restricting religious freedom and impeding churches' ability to follow conscience. The debate has been so intense that it has exploded and slithered into media and entertainment discussion, among other sectors.
At the end of February, the focus seemed to move away from the church-state battle and toward Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke and the firestorm surrounding her spat with radio host Rush Limbaugh. At the center of all of this angst is a controversial mandate that is slated to force (although it has been slightly amended) many religious institutions to provide contraception free-of-charge to all employees.
And, alas, there's a new associated controversy blooming -- and just in time for spring. In an interesting twist of events, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius -- one of the key individuals at the center of the mandate's advancement -- has been invited to speak at one of Georgetown University's commencement events this year.
This move has angered conservative Catholics who hold her responsible for some of the drama surrounding the contraceptive mandate, which will force religious institutions (or their insurance companies) to provide contraception free-of-charge to all employees.
The selection of Sebelius is curious for a variety of reasons. To begin, Fluke's overwhelming support for the mandate is noteworthy -- and Fluke, as noted, is a student at Georgetown Law. While it could certainly be by chance that the Jesuit university has selected one of the key individuals overseeing the contraceptive mandate, the choice, considering the situation, is somewhat curious.
The HHS secretary, who, despite her more liberal views on the issues pertaining to the debate, is Catholic, is slated to address the policy institute's graduating class on May 18. It is important to note that this ceremony is not for the general graduating class and that Sebelius will not be receiving an honorary degree -- two points of contention that led to so much controversy when President Obama was invited to speak at Notre Dame back in 2009.
As Religious News Service notes, conservative Catholics are less than please with the decision to include Sebelius:
"The left-liberals who run the show at Georgetown have found a way to signal to the world that the nation's oldest Catholic, and most famous Jesuit, university stands with the Obama administration in its war ... against the Catholic bishops and others who oppose the HHS mandate as a violation of religious freedom and the rights of conscience," fumed Robert P. George, a legal scholar at Princeton University and a conservative Catholic with close ties to Republican causes.
The conservative Cardinal Newman Society, which monitors Catholic schools for any actions it deems a danger to the faith, called the Sebelius invitation "scandalous and outrageous." It set up a website and petition to push Georgetown President John DeGioia to rescind the invitation.
"Georgetown insults all Americans by this honor," wrote the society's president, Patrick J. Reilly. "The selection is especially insulting to faithful Catholics and their bishops, who are engaged in the fight for religious liberty and against abortion." Other conservative Catholics have echoed Reilly and George on online outrage.
But it doesn't appear that the university will be backing down. In a press release announcing the invitation, Georgetown praised the Obama administration member's work in the health care sphere. And nowhere is her controversial work to instill the mandate mentioned in the brief biography that the university published:
Sebelius was sworn in as the 21st secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in 2009. Since taking office, she has led efforts to improve America’s health and enhance the delivery of human services to some of the nation’s most vulnerable populations, including young children, those with disabilities and the elderly. As part of the historic Affordable Care Act, she is implementing reforms she says have ended many of the insurance industry’s most discriminatory practices and will help 34 million uninsured Americans get health coverage...
While it's possible that the university is taking a stand against the church in the battle over the contraceptive mandate, it may also simply be the case that Sebelius, a former governor (Kansas) and an accomplished federal official, is a viable choice for commencement speaker. Either way, the selection is certainly controversial -- specifically among conservative Catholics who are already on edge regarding doctrinal issues and alleged unprecedented government intervention.
(H/T: RNS via Huffington Post)