The new President of the Catholic University of America was introduced to the university community at a well attended gathering on campus yesterday. Professor John Garvey, previously the Dean of the Law School at Boston College, will take up his duties at the 15th President of CUA later this summer.
It did not take the conservative blogosphere long to impugn this man’s fitness. Never mind that he is, as Archbishop Alan Vigneron, Chairman of the CUA Board, said, “an accomplished jurist, scholar and teacher.” Never mind that his appointment had just been approved not only by the bishop-heavy CUA Board but by the Holy See. Never mind that he has devoted his life as a scholar to studying the ways that faith informs the law, his area of expertise. Never mind that his five children have a total of 92 years of Catholic education.
Garvey’s crime? He donated, over the course of three years, $1,750 to the campaign of his home state Senator John Kerry. And, while Dean of the Law School, he oversaw the awarding of an honorary degree to home state Congressman Edward Markey. Both Kerry and Markey are pro-choice. Now, I can think of a bunch of reasons to vote for or against John Kerry but I do not see how that support, or lack thereof, would disqualify a person from the post of a university President at a Catholic college. And, more than a year ago I let my feelings be known about the awarding of honorary degrees at commencement time. I think both Kerry and Markey are wrong on abortion, but I cannot judge their entire careers based on that fact alone anymore than I can judge George W. Bush’s career simply because he sanctioned the use of torture against suspected terrorists. That, too, is an intrinsic evil.
The conservative Catholic blogosphere is not a place one goes for thoughtful judgment, however. In the comments section at the “American Papist” someone wrote in, “Stunning…Just stunning. A search committee lead [sic] by the nation’s top prelates, with direct Vatican approval over the appointment at a pontifical university, selected a radical pro-abort democratic lawyer. It is too much to ask that the person holding such a position not be a radical pro-abort? I mean, is this really such a high hurdle?” Another commenter wrote, “I’m just….confused. Do the American bishops oppose abortion or don’t they?” That last is an easy one. The American bishops oppose abortion. Next question. But, where does the adjective “radical” come from and on what basis does anyone describe this man as a “pro-abort”? Slander, too, is an intrinsic evil.
One news item noted that Garvey had been criticized by the Cardinal Newman Society because of the honorary degree to Cong. Markey. Being criticized by the Cardinal Newman Society is a badge of honor and makes me like Garvey all the more. Their namesake must be turning over in his grave at their foolish campaigns to turn Catholic college campuses into Bible colleges. They do not want a university to do what it must do, engage the world, including those in the world who do not share our suppositions or values. They do not object when a Jewish scholar is honored at a Catholic university, yet the denial of the divinity of Christ would seem to be at greater divergence from the values of the Christian faith than inviting an alumnus, member of Congress to receive an honor.
There are wiser counsels. My friend Rick Garnett, a conservative legal scholar at Notre Dame with whom I have not been afraid to disagree but whose opinions are always as informed as they are thoughtful, called Garvey “one of my heroes.” He said that Garvey is the reason he is a law professor and that the mission of Catholic University – bringing faith and reason to bear upon each other, for the service of the Church and the nation – is in very good and very Catholic hands. I suspect he is closer to the mark than the ranters and I hope the bishops notice that a situation like this shows what little regard for the bishops the ranters have. Unfortunately, too many in the hierarchy see a nasty blogpost and get scared, and some may actually share the ranters' desire for an "abortion only" approach to politics and a shrivelled idea of a Catholic university. It is good to know that the CUA Board does not suffer from these afflictions in making what most people have deemed an inspired choice.
N.B. My apologies for the lack of links above. We are having a computer nightmare here. A quick Google search will yield the articles and comments noted above.
Michael Sean Winters