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Catholic identity of schools is put in focus

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May 16, 2008

MICHAEL PAULSON'S "The politics of commencement" (Page A1, May 12), about controversial commencement speakers at Catholic colleges, leaves the impression that abortion is the only source of controversy. He overlooked one of the most high-profile recent controversies - the furor over Boston College's invitation to Condoleezza Rice in 2006. About a third of the BC faculty signed a letter authored by two senior theology faculty members that argued that BC should not offer Rice an honorary degree. While they did not object to her appearance on campus, they felt that as a major architect of the Iraq war, Rice did not merit that honor because her "approach to international affairs is in fundamental conflict to the values of Catholic and Jesuit traditions and is inconsistent with the humanistic values that inspire the university's work."

Given the Catholic Church's traditional espousal of just war principles and the consistent opposition to the Iraq war from the Vatican and the US bishops, the BC administration was hard-pressed to defend its choice of a commencement speaker. The school didn't back down, but it was certainly reminded that "Catholic identity" isn't just about abortion.

LAURIE JOHNSTON
Arlington
The writer, assistant professor of religious studies at Emmanuel College, is a doctoral candidate in theology at Boston College.

MICHAEL PAULSON considers Regis College the "exception" in a trend toward scrutiny of commencement speakers on Catholic campuses on the single issue of abortion.

The article creates ambiguity about the school's selection of Lida E. Harkins, state House majority whip, as speaker this year.

Regis College conducts a campus-wide selection process examining the quality and actions of a whole life before honoring anyone.

None of this year's recipients of honorary degrees, who are all close to Regis and whose lives speak strongly to achievements in social justice, was asked specifically about his or her stand on abortion rights. Brother Daniel Walters is a monk who has spent decades caring for the homeless on Boston streets. Clementina Chéry was prompted by her son's murder to work for nonviolence in Boston neighborhoods. Harkins, a Regis alumna, is a former teacher who seeks justice through the political process in the Legislature.

When presenting honorary degree candidates, Catholic academic institutions must identify fundamental values and help society discern them in a range of social situations.

Regis promotes a consistent ethics of human life, and does not advocate abortion rights. By weighing whole lives given toward the common good, it advocates myriad intellectual and social achievements recognized in Catholic teaching and practice.

M. J. DOHERTY
Special assistant to the president
Regis College
Weston

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