Bush speaks at Catholic college’s commencement

Bush speaks at Catholic college’s commencement

The subject of politicians speaking at Catholic colleges is a contentious one, especially when the particular speaker is seen as standing for policies that are in opposition to Church teaching.

Yet, so often on many campuses the most ire is reserved for politicians and speakers who differ on prudential matters, while those who differ on doctrinal matters that admit little nuance are given a pass.

President George W. Bush gave the commencement address at a small Catholic college in Pennsylvania and many of the students and faculty protested his invitation because of the Iraq war and other conservative policies.

After weeks of debate over an invitation to President Bush to address Saint Vincent College’s commencement, graduates listened without a word of dissent Friday as the president urged them to “make service more than a line on your résumé.”

The announcement that Bush would speak at the small Roman Catholic school had prompted a spirited debate among students, faculty and alumni over whether his policies — on the war in Iraq but also on the environment and the economy— contradicted Catholic teaching.


Twenty-five faculty members, about a quarter of those in tenure-rank positions, signed an open letter to Bush, arguing that the “pre-emptive unprovoked war in Iraq” ran counter to the church’s “just war” teaching, which they said “insists that war may be undertaken only as a last resort.”

If some folks at St. Vincent want to assert that Bush’s policies are not compatible with just war teaching or principles of social justice, that’s fine. But I rarely hear as much when, say, Hillary Clinton or Rudy Guiliani are invited to a Catholic school.

A Catholic News Service story on the commencement includes more details:

Approximately 130 protesters lined the highway outside the campus entrance, which was closed that morning for security reasons. They held signs criticizing Bush and the Iraq War; however, the president never saw them as he was flown by helicopter directly from Pittsburgh International Airport to the campus.

About 40 members of a coalition group held a quiet, candlelight evening vigil along the main entrance road May 10, protesting the president and his appearance at St. Vincent, primarily because of the war in Iraq. The group began protesting on campus on a regular basis when the president’s visit was announced March 26.

Therese Stokan of McKeesport, a graduate of Seton Hill University in Greensburg who took classes at St. Vincent College, said she was appalled by the choice of Bush as speaker.

“Any school that wants to represent Catholic values should not choose someone (as commencement speaker) who’s started a pre-emptive war,” she said.

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