Georgetown Defends Sebelius Pick with Misleading Statement
Georgetown University has finally issued an official response to the controversy surrounding the Jesuit institution’s invitation to “pro-choice” HHS Sec. Kathleen Sebelius, architect of the HHS mandate the U.S. bishops oppose as a threat to religious liberty, to speak on commencement day this Friday.
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But in making this case, Georgetown seems to have forgotten the timing of the HHS mandate, which was announced in August 2011. The response also seems to forget Georgetown’s own weak response to the mandate, and that of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU).
Here is the statement posted on the Georgetown website:
In recent days on the Georgetown University campus and in the larger American Catholic community, concerns have been expressed by some who object to an invitation to Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to participate in a Public Policy Institute awards ceremony during the University’s commencement weekend.
Last fall, public policy students expressed preferences for potential speakers who could participate in the program. Given her role in crafting the landmark legislation that will make health care more accessible to 34 million Americans who are currently uninsured, Secretary Sebelius was identified by students as a leading policy maker in our country who could contribute to this event. Secretary Sebelius has a long and distinguished record of public service, including two terms as governor of Kansas before beginning her service in April, 2009, as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. She is also the spouse and the mother of Georgetown graduates.
In early January, an invitation was extended to Secretary Sebelius and she accepted. In the weeks that followed, elements of the legislation, specifically terms covering contraception, dominated our public discourse and impacted our Georgetown community very directly.
In different contexts over the past three months, including a March 14 “Statement on Religious Freedom and HHS Mandate,” the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed strong opposition to the position put forward by the Obama Administration. Some have interpreted the invitation of Secretary Sebelius as a challenge to the USCCB. It was not. The invitation to Secretary Sebelius occurred prior to the January 20th announcement by the Obama Administration of the modified healthcare regulations.
The Secretary’s presence on our campus should not be viewed as an endorsement of her views. As a Catholic and Jesuit University, Georgetown disassociates itself from any positions that are in conflict with traditional church teachings.
We are a university, committed to the free exchange of ideas. We are a community that draws inspiration from a religious tradition that provides us with an intellectual, moral, and spiritual foundation. By engaging these values we become the University we are meant to be.
There are clear factual problems with the statement. It says that the invitation was extended to Sebelius in early January and that “in the weeks that followed” the issue of contraceptive coverage became a public issue. However, the HHS mandate that faith-based institutions must pay for health insurance policies that cover contraception and abortion-inducing drugs was issued in August 2011, followed by public opposition from the bishops and faithful Catholics — albeit not much from Georgetown.
In a September 29, 2011 letter to the White House, The Cardinal Newman Society and 18 Catholic institutions of higher learning officially informed the administration of their concern about the mandate and requesting that they be granted an exemption from having to comply with a mandate that would require them to violate their consciences.
Although Georgetown was not one of these universities, The Hoya, one of Georgetown’s student newspapers, quoted a university health services official in October 2011 saying that the university “supports” Church teaching.
A university spokesman was quoted in The Hoya story expressing Georgetown’s support of an initiative by the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities to prevent Catholic institutions from being forced to pay for morally coverage of objectionable procedures:
According to university spokeswoman Stacy Kerr, the university has opposed this type of legislation as a member of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities:
AJCU has been engaged in initiatives to revise the implementation of the regulations as they pertain to religious institutions, and Georgetown is supportive of those efforts,” Kerr wrote in an email.
That AJCU letter, which reportedly was joined by Georgetown President John DiGioia, is described in the Boston College student newspaper:
On behalf of the 28 presidents of the Jesuit schools, the letter called for a “revisit (of) the rules of the Affordable Care Act that pertain to religious exemptions” and stated that “compliance with these new rules would force us to deny our religious heritage and identity by helping our students to act contrary to Catholic teaching and belief.”