A Globe front page story today headlined “The politics of commencement” notes that Catholic universities in the US are awarding far fewer honorary degrees to politicians. In classic Globe fashion, the story far underplays the important role of the US Catholic bishops, who have urged this change. Excerpts from the Globe story (emphasis mine):
The 4th paragraph:
After repeatedly getting criticized by conservative Catholics, and after years of pressure from the Vatican and some American bishops, Catholic colleges and universities are now shying away from politicians - especially those who, like Kennedy, Kerry, and Pelosi, support abortion rights - as commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients.
…and some American bishops? But reading much further down, the 14th paragraph reports:
In 2004, the presidential candidacy of Kerry, a Catholic Democrat who supports abortion rights, led to the creation of a task force of bishops examining how the church should relate to such politicians. That task force failed to settle the prickly question of who should decide whether such politicians should receive Communion, but it was clearer about commencement, declaring, "The Catholic community and the institutions which are a part of our family of faith should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles."
What are the facts? In fact the above statement (which is online in its entirety here) was ratified by a vote of the entire congregation of US Catholic bishops, not by some American bishops. Furthermore, this same statement should be known in the Globe newsroom. It was the reason that many Catholics (including Boston Cardinal O’Malley) chose not to attend a 2005 dinner ceremony where the Mayor of Boston was presented with an award by Catholic Charities, a story which the Globe put on its front page.
With superb irony, today’s Globe also carries a story about an attempt to rescind an honorary degree that UMass awarded in 1986 to a most unsavory politician, Robert Mugabe. At the time, according to the Globe story, UMass referred to Mugabe as a “champion of human rights”. Why?
The underlying reason Mugabe received honors from UMass and other schools was so that these institutions could publicly thumb their noses at the white minority South African regime, which supported the policy of Apartheid. In time, the much despised white South Africans enfranchised native Africans and thus relinquished their power democratically, showing themselves to be far more attuned with liberal democratic values than honorees such as Mugabe.
That universities would stain their record by honoring Mugabe is a better example of the “politics of commencement”, where moral posturing and political correctness can far outweigh common sense.