May 9, 2012 — Georgetown University this week announced that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will give a commencement address to graduates of the school's Public Policy Institute, a selection that has prompted backlash from conservative Catholic organizations, Religion News Service/USA Today reports (Gibson, USA Today, 5/7).
The groups oppose the contraception coverage rules that HHS is implementing as part of the health reform law (PL 111-148), among other Obama administration policies that are opposed by some Catholics. The Cardinal Newman Society called the choice of Sebelius as a commencement speaker "scandalous and outrageous" and launched a website collecting signatures in support of having the invitation rescinded (Baker, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 5/7).
A day after the announcement, Pope Benedict XVI told a group of U.S. bishops that they need and universities need to agree on how to affirm the church's beliefs and avoid "confusion created by instances of apparent dissidence between some representatives of Catholic institutions and the church's pastoral leadership." USA Today notes that a controversy also erupted when President Obama spoke at the University of Notre Dame's commencement in 2009.
It seems unlikely that Georgetown will change the selection, according to Religion News Service/USA Today. A press release announcing the decision praised Sebelius for helping "34 million uninsured Americans get health coverage" through the health reform law and for leading efforts to improve healthcare delivery for "some of the nation's most vulnerable populations, including young children, those with disabilities and the elderly." Further, Washington, D.C.'s cardinal has been reluctant to start public fights about such issues, Religion News Service/USA Today reports (Religion News Service/USA Today, 5/7).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Marya Torrez, associate editor & senior reproductive health policy counsel, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
Justyn Ware, editor
Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership