Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Some Catholic conservatives are accusing the Catholic University of America of publicly favoring Democrat Bob Casey Jr. over Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania two months before an election that could decide who controls the Senate next year.

With the explicit permission of Catholic University’s president, the Rev. David M. O’Connell, Mr. Casey will give the prestigious 38th annual Pope John XXIII Lecture tomorrow at the university’s law school, Veryl Miles, the law school’s dean, confirmed. Mr. Casey is an alumnus of Catholic.

Mrs. Miles acknowledged that Mr. Casey “has positions that differ from the church’s teachings, but he is not being invited to speak on that.”

“The university is clearly taking sides and has no business doing this in one of the most important elections in the country,” said Bob Destro, a professor and former acting dean at the law school.

“The race is one of the most hotly contested and important in the country … and the votes of the Catholic community are likely to provide the margin of victory,” Mr. Destro said yesterday in a letter to Father O’Connell.

Other prominent people have been barred from formal addresses on the campus because their views differed from Catholic teaching, Mr. Destro and others noted.

“Casey should not be given a free pass to speak at a Catholic institution, given his public opposition to the church’s teachings on some critical life issues and on ‘homosexual marriage,’” said Joseph Cella, president of Fidelis, a Catholic activist group.

The Cardinal Newman Society issued its own protest, saying that by “choosing a Catholic dissenter and active U.S. candidate for a prestigious lecture on public morality, the Catholic University of America law school is compromising its academic purpose, Catholic mission and political neutrality.”

Mr. Santorum, a Republican, is a pro-life Catholic who opposes same-sex “marriage.” He has steadily narrowed the gap with his challenger and now trails Mr. Casey by 4 percentage points in the latest John Zogby poll.

Through an aide, Father O’Connell declined to say whether he thought the invitation to Mr. Casey would be read by many Catholic voters in Pennsylvania as a signal that the hierarchy of one of the nation’s top-rated Catholic universities was embracing Mr. Casey’s candidacy.

“Whoever selected Casey for this honor must have known the impact it could have on his political campaign, and that violates academic neutrality,” said Cardinal Newman Society President Patrick J. Reilly in an e-mailed statement. “They also must be aware that, regardless of politics, inviting a public dissenter to speak on ‘America’s Moral Compass’ is a scandal to the faithful and undermines [the university’s] Catholic identity.”

Father O’Connell could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Mrs. Miles said that in June, when she decided to invite Mr. Casey to lecture on the importance of pro bono work for Catholic lawyers, she didn’t think a speech to be given in an academic setting in the nation’s capital would have much to do with a Pennsylvania election.

“I did know he was running for the Senate, but we are not in Pennsylvania, and this is not an election that would impact this community in Washington,” she said.

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