Catholic Archdiocese of Washington rebukes Georgetown on Sebelius speech
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' invitation to speak at Georgetown has drawn the ire of a Catholic group.
May 15th, 2012
07:39 PM ET

Catholic Archdiocese of Washington rebukes Georgetown on Sebelius speech

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – The Archdiocese of Washington, the Catholic Church’s authority in the nation’s capital, is rebuking another Catholic icon, Georgetown University, the oldest Catholic college in the United States.

The conflict is over the university’s Public Policy Institute’s invitation to Kathleen Sebelius, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, to be its 2012 award ceremony speaker this weekend. The decision drew immediate ire from Catholic groups who see Sebelius, a Catholic, as someone who is using her office to violate religious liberty.

In a statement Tuesday, the Archdiocese of Washington called the decision unfortunate and even charged that the Public Policy Institute was supporting a “radical redefining of ministry.”

“Given the dramatic impact this mandate will have on Georgetown and all Catholic institutions, it is understandable that Catholics across the country would find shocking the choice of Secretary Sebelius, the architect of the mandate, to receive such special recognition at a Catholic university,” reads the statement. “It is also understandable that Catholics would view this as a challenge to the bishops.”

According to the archdiocese, the heart of the issue is that “the selection of a featured speaker whose actions as a public official present the most direct challenge to religious liberty in recent history.”

Catholics groups have taken particular issue with the HHS mandate that religious employers offer health insurance coverage that includes access to contraceptives and birth control services. The Catholic Church teaches that use of contraception and abortion are morally wrong.

Seven states, along with a handful of religious organizations, have filed a lawsuit against the federal government over the issue.

Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia had issued a statement attempting to create some distance between the university and the contraception issue.

“The invitation to Secretary Sebelius occurred prior to the January 20th announcement by the Obama Administration of the modified healthcare regulations,” reads the statement. “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.”

However, DeGioia did support her invitation to campus.

“We are a university, committed to the free exchange of ideas,” read that statement. “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.”

The archdiocese shot back. “Contrary to what is indicated in the Georgetown University President’s statement, the fundamental issue with the HHS mandate is not about contraception. As the United States Bishops have repeatedly pointed out, the issue is religious freedom,” its statement said.

“ Secretary Sebelius’ mandate defines religious ministry so narrowly that our Catholic schools and universities, hospitals and social service ministries do not qualify as “religious enough” to be exempt,” the statement continued. “This redefinition of religion penalizes Catholic organizations because they welcome and serve all people regardless of their faith. Ironically, because of Georgetown’s commitment to open its doors to Catholic and non-Catholic students alike, the university fails to qualify as a religious institution under the HHS mandate.”

After the uproar over the Sebelius selection first unfolded, HHS spokesman Keith Maley highlighted the former Kansas governor’s credentials as the reason she was selected.

"As a state legislator, insurance commissioner, governor and now cabinet secretary, Secretary Sebelius’ message will be about honoring the achievements of these students who are devoting their careers to public policy," said HHS spokesman Keith Maley.

Georgetown’s Washington, D.C. location has made it the location of a number of high-profile political speeches in the last year. Many of these have led to protests from both conservative and liberal wings of the politically diverse Catholic Church.

Just last month, a budget speech by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), a Catholic, led vocal criticism from 90 members of the Georgetown staff. The group sent a letter that questioned the budgets Catholic principles and its emphasis on cutting social safety net program.

“We would be remiss in our duty to you and our students if we did not challenge your continuing misuse of Catholic teaching to defend a budget plan that decimates food programs for struggling families, radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick, and gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest few,” read the letter.

This is not the first time that a Catholic university’s decision to invite an Obama White House representative to speak has elicited a negative reaction from Catholic groups. In 2009, after President Obama was selected to speak at the University of Notre Dame commencement, Catholic organizations protested the selection.

During the speech, Obama addressed the abortion issue.

"Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction," the president told the Fighting Irish graduates. "But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature."

- CNN’s Sally Holland contributed to this report.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Catholic Church • DC • Education • Health • Politics

soundoff (101 Responses)
  1. The TRUTH

    The mormon LDS church has been in league with the catholic corporate VATICAN in attempts to target gay celebrities to bring negative attention to them and have been giving them different diseases. It began with FREDDIE MERCURY and then they stayed a little quite and are responsible for what happened to KURT COBAIN. After that they made some quiet background noise and then feverishly attacked MICHAEL JACKSON by smuggling skin-bleaching agents into his food and his doctor was a mormon so figure it out people open your eyes! After this they went after RICKEY MARTIN but we not successful and now JOHN TRAVOLTA is being used as a scape goat they will probably harm him! JOHN TRAVOLTA is a gay man and the LDS MORMON CHURCH AND VATICAN ARE TARGETING HIM!!


    People need to spread the news and warn that the GAY community is NOT SAFE from the LDS and VATICAN and they need to be EXPOSDE TO THE PUBLIC!!!

    May 17, 2012 at 6:15 am |
  2. 0rangeW3dge

    Shoulda called Rick Santorum instead.

    All Hail The Pope, down with all government, up with The Vatican....."Take It Back, Take It Back, Back to 1492"

    May 17, 2012 at 4:21 am |
  3. Reality


    Condoms are available over the counter. Make the Pill available over the counter and there will be no more debate.

    Planned Parenthood can offer deep discounts for those who say they cannot afford said protection.

    Or better yet, put a pack of condoms and a box of Pills in cereal boxes. Unfortunately, that would not ensure the condoms and/or Pills would be used. Based on Guttmacher Insti-tute data, said condoms and/or Pills are currently not being used as they should. (one million abortions/yr and 19 million cases of S-TDs/yr because either the daily Pill was not taken or a condom stayed in the pocket.)

    Maybe selling Pill-enriched sodas??? Hmmm?

    Condom-fitted briefs for men?? Hmmm? 🙂 🙂 🙂

    The door is open for other ideas!!!

    May 16, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
  4. JDPalatine

    Nothing new here. This is what was expected when the new pope took office. The last 30 years of growth and openess set back to the 1400s.

    May 16, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
  5. grace

    Georgetown is messed up....

    May 16, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  6. AGuest9

    The church is a tax-exempt corporation. Don't let the cardinals sitting on bags of money with their conservative views fool you. Nor the monsignors driving Cadillacs. Most of them wouldn't know "poor" if it hit them in the face.

    May 16, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  7. fritz

    This isn't about freedom of religion, nor contraception. It's about money. The word 'exempt' was the word that blurted out, "Don't tax our religion".

    May 16, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • olddud

      univeritys are not a religious place of worship. they are schools for education and profit. Catholic Church has declared a holy war on the united states form of gov't because they can't control it.. declaired a war on woman rights. have we forgot they are still molesting kid....and expells anyone who speaks against the church. i am protestant so i don't give a d what their leaders say. they act like the same bunch that killed jesus

      May 16, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Reality

      The Apostles' Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

      Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
      and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
      human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

      I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
      preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
      named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
      girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

      Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
      the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

      He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
      a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
      Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
      many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
      and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
      Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
      grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
      and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
      called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

      (references used are available upon request)

      May 16, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
  8. larry5

    There's a more important message here. It's from Obama and Obamacare is just a part of it. You're going to have to get your mind straight and lean how to behave in a manner that is approved by your government. The heat has been turned on. It's only a small flame, right now. Get used to it. Re-elect Obama so he can finish his programs. Organizations like the Catholic Church are just going to have to get used to a new boss in town. Obama is being careful because it's campaign time but when he's re-elected the gloves can come off. All the smaller programs can be quickly expanded. The 1099K program with the expansion of the IRS will be needed to control people's spending. The Food Safety Act will finally have the teeth to wipe out the small food producers and protect the public from non government certified food. And Obamacare can finally absorb the cost over runs by going to a single payer system. And the government is proving its worth with the auto industry. It only took 42 billion dollars of taxpayer's money for GM to make a 2 billion dollar profit. In Obama's second term it will take less than 100 billion dollars invested into green energy to make 10 million dollars worth of energy but it will be green and clean. It will be programs like this that will finally prove Obama's worth as America's President. The Catholics will just have to learn their new place in America.

    May 16, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • John

      Have to admit. .that sounds like a pretty awesome scenario. I hope Obama is successful. Enough of these bigoted organizations trying to control a modern society!

      May 16, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • Reality

      Saving some real money plus balancing the budget:

      How much money would the following save the US taxpayers ?: And how many “souls” would be saved?

      Saving 1.5 billion lost Muslims:
      There never were and never will be any angels i.e. no Gabriel, no Islam and therefore no more koranic-driven acts of horror and terror LIKE 9/11.

      – One trillion dollars over the next several years as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will end.

      – Eighteen billion dollars/yr to Pakistan will stop.

      – Four billion dollars/yr to Egypt will end.

      Saving 2 billion lost Christians including the Mormons:
      There were never any bodily resurrections and there will never be any bodily resurrections i.e. No Easter, no Christianity!!!

      – The Mormon empire will now become taxable as will all Christian "religions" and evangelical non-profits since there is no longer any claim to being a tax-exempt religion.

      – Saving 15.5 million Orthodox followers of Judaism:
      Abraham and Moses never existed.

      – Four billion dollars/yr to Israel saved.

      – All Jewish sects and non-profits will no longer be tax exempt.

      Now all we need to do is convince these 3.5+ billion global and local citizens that they have been conned all these centuries Time for a YouTube,Twitter and FaceBook campaign!!!! 🙂

      May 16, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
    • Reality

      Some incentives to live a healthy life style and also ways to pay for universal health care.

      1. An added two dollar health insurance tax (or higher) on a pack of cigarettes. Ditto taxes on alcoholic beverages, the higher the alcohol content, the higher the tax. Ditto for any product shown to be unhealthy (e.g. guns, high caloric/fatty foods??)

      2. Physicals akin to those required for life insurance- the overly ob-ese will pay signficantly more Medicare and universal health insurance (unless the obe-sity is caused by a medical condition).

      3. No universal health care coverage for injured drivers driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or using cell phones while driving.

      4. No universal health coverage for drug addicts or for those having self-inflicted STDs.

      5. No universal health coverage for abortions unless the life of the mother is at significant risk and judged to be so by at least two doctors.

      6. No universal health coverage for euthanasia.

      7. No foreign aid given to countries who abort females simply because they are female.

      And then let us have a flat tax, no exceptions for individuals or corporations basically eliminating the need for most if not all of the IRS, corporation tax departments and corporation loop holes.

      And obviously the US government is now a charity case far worse than any group on the globe. The Buffets and Gates of the world should chip in via donating some of their 100's of billions to said charity.

      And if the RCC would shut its doors as it should considering its flawed history and theology, said contributions keeping this dinosaur afloat could be used to keep our government in good order. Ditto for all other churches and temples in the USA..

      May 16, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
  9. momoya

    Roman Catholic Church, shut the fvck up!! You have no right to talk down to people or universities.. You're a bunch of child-molesting cretins.. If you won't get the h.e.ll out then at least have the decency to be sniveling little cowards who can't prove a single thing about god or his existence or his will.

    May 16, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  10. spike

    To Georgetown U : Do not cast your pearls before swine

    May 16, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • John

      Say what???

      May 16, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Exactly, s.p.i.k.e! (Seriously, CNN?)

      May 16, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  11. Reality

    The real issue, the Brutal Effects of Stupidity!!!


    : The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill ( 8.7% failure rate) and male con-dom (17.4% failure rate) have led to the large rate of abortions and S-TDs in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or co-ndoms properly and/or use safer methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.- Failure rate statistics provided by the Gut-tmacher Inst-itute. Unfortunately they do not give the statistics for doubling up i.e. using a combination of the Pill and a condom.

    Added information before making your next move:

    from the CDC-2006

    "Se-xually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain S-TDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psy-ch-ological consequences of S-TDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs as-sociated with STDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars."

    And from:

    Consumer Reports, January, 2012

    "Yes, or-al se-x is se-x, and it can boost cancer risk-

    Here's a crucial message for teens (and all se-xually active "post-teeners": Or-al se-x carries many of the same risks as va-ginal se-x, including human papilloma virus, or HPV. And HPV may now be overtaking tobacco as the leading cause of or-al cancers in America in people under age 50.

    "Adolescents don’t think or-al se-x is something to worry about," said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. "They view it as a way to have intimacy without having 's-ex.'" (It should be called the Bill Clinton Syndrome !!)

    Obviously, political leaders in both parties, Planned Parenthood, parents, the "stupid part of the USA" and the educational system have failed miserably on many fronts.

    The most effective forms of contraception, ranked by "Perfect use":

    1a. (Abstinence, 0% failure rate)
    1b. (Masturbation, mono or mutual, 0% failure rate)

    Followed by:

    One-month injectable and Implant (both at 0.05 percent)
    Vasectomy and IUD (Mirena) (both at 0.1 percent)
    The Pill, Three-month injectable, and the Patch (all at 0.3 percent)
    Tubal sterilization (at 0.5 percent)
    IUD (Copper-T) (0.6 percent)
    Periodic abstinence (Post-ovulation) (1.0 percent)
    Periodic abstinence (Symptothermal) and Male condom (both at 2.0 percent)
    Periodic abstinence (Ovulation method) (3.0 percent)

    Every other method ranks below these, including Withdrawal (4.0), Female condom (5.0), Diaphragm (6.0), Periodic abstinence (calendar) (9.0), the Sponge (9.0-20.0, depending on whether the woman using it has had a child in the past), Cervical cap (9.0-26.0, with the same caveat as the Sponge), and Spermicides (18.0).

    May 16, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  12. Bootyfunk

    "Catholic schools and universities, hospitals and social service ministries do not qualify as “religious enough” to be exempt,"

    damn skippy! those aren't churches. you're already ripping off tax payers, especially atheists like me, by not making churches pay an equal share of taxes - they want their schools, hospitals, etc. not to pay taxes too? ridiculous.

    education + religion goes together like oil + water.

    May 16, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • Funkbooty

      On the contrary, these are already established laws that allow for religious freedom so that they cannot be taxed out of existence and thereby snuffed out. That is why they have been afforded tax-exemption. Now, if your atheist organization wishes to apply for tax-exemption for the same reason, then by all means go for it. Don't knock one group because they have something in place that ensures their freedom. And, since everyone continues to jump up and down about the separation of church and state, well, the church as a whole is exempt from taxation by definition.

      May 16, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      Religions are not the only tax exempt organizations nor are they the only organizations uneasy over mandates that require tax exempt groups to pay for things that go directly against their philosophy and mission. Last I checked, that cretin Romney is actually ahead in several polls and all the glib talk from the left that "we're showin' 'em who's boss" could yield the biggest, nastiest political backfire in US history. It would be a damn shame, but would not be a surprise.

      May 16, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
  13. susielou

    You're right, Justin, remove their tax free status. Why is it okay for them to preach politics from the pulpit, but not let a politician speak at commencement? Talk about two-faced.

    May 16, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • Thor

      Oh! I didn't know that Kathleen Sebelius, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, was elected. That is odd, I thought that was an appointed office. Forgive me!

      May 16, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • Joe

      Well because that perticular persons beliefs and actions contradict the beliefs of the church itself. Pretty simple if you used any of the brain God gave you. The church doesn't hurt you so stop attacking it.

      May 16, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      you can be appointed to political office - because you weren't voted in doesn't mean you're not a politician. he never said she was voted in.

      i agree. want to stick your head into the political arena over and over again? revoke their "i don't have to pay taxes cause i'm in a cult" privilege.

      May 16, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • Funkbooty

      They are only privileges because they became law. If you wish for the same privileges, get them voted in for your atheist cult. Easy peasy!

      May 16, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  14. Justin

    The Catholic church should lose its tax exempt status if it's going to be a political organization.

    May 16, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • Thor

      ....and so should Protestant churches! I have heard political speeches from the pulpit of both.

      May 16, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      all churches, temples, mosques, etc. should be taxed, like any other business.

      May 16, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • Funkbooty

      Why should they lose their privileges? Because they exercised their freedom of speech about politicians? Boo hoo

      May 16, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  15. Zedag

    There is no religious freedom if taxpayers are part of your financial support. If the catholic church wants to be completely free, they should NEVER accept tax dollars. You can't have it both ways. I get a say in your decisions if I am supporting you.

    May 16, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Thor

      I'm sorry, I didn't know that the Catholic Church accepts any taxpayer dollars that Protestant Churches don't already accept! Please forgive me.

      May 16, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • Bootyfunk


      zedag never said it did, did he?

      May 16, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • Zedag

      Catholic religious charities alone have received more than $650 million; this is from the US Department of Health and Human Services, subsidies to universities and hospitals, etc. That is tax payer dollars. Which means that gays, lesbians, jews, athesists, muslims, any non-catholic or non-christian taxpayer is paying support to the cathoilc church. If the public is supporting the organization, then the organization or its services becomes a public good, available to all. This should apply equally to any religious organization. But once it is being supported to the public you don't get to discriminate against members of the taxpaying public – its their money.

      May 16, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • Obvious

      Thor: All churches should pay taxes... but the heart of the article focuses on the Catholic Church thus why comments are targeting the Catholic Church. If the subject were about a protestant congregation.... they would be under fire and you would probably be agreeing, but not pointing out the flaws in your obviously Catholic devotion.

      May 16, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  16. Hypatia

    Are the boys is skirts scared she'll upstage them?

    May 16, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • Thor

      That would be boy "in" skirts right?

      May 16, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  17. DianaGail

    Christians want to run the country, but can't even get along amongst themselves.

    May 16, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • Satan

      Of course, religion, it is the best way to govern! It is on your money, in your pledge of allegience......

      May 16, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
  18. Rundvelt

    > “It is also understandable that Catholics would view this as a challenge to the bishops.”

    OH NO, we can't have the bishops challenged! I mean, they're so well informed about things.

    May 16, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • Satan

      It would seem that recent rising history shows that Bishops are very good at hiding what their subordinate priests do!

      May 16, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
  19. Kathleen Sebelius

    Citizens, please never mind all the coffins we've had made. They're just in case a pandemic would somehow break out here in our country.

    May 16, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Satan

      Wow! That is on topic. ..................... not.

      May 16, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Idiot. Besides, DHHS isn't part of FEMA.

      May 16, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  20. Tap-me-I-tap you.

    Oh snap catholic on catholic violence!!

    May 16, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Craig Doug

      As long as it's not Protestant on Catholic violence everything is ok...

      May 16, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • Satan

      Protestant violence on Catholics is wrong. Come on! You know that. It's only ok if a white robe and a pointed hood is worn at the lynch-a-Catholic ceremony.

      May 16, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.