College Honoring Clinton Declared 'No Longer Catholic'
By Randy Hall
CNSNews.com Staff Writer/Editor
April 29, 2005
(CNSNews.com) - The Catholic college that offered to give U.S. Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York an honorary doctoral degree was formally dropped as a Roman Catholic institution on Thursday.
Two sources have confirmed for Cybercast News Service that Marymount Manhattan College (MMC) in New York City will no longer be listed in "The Official Catholic Directory," which identifies institutions formally recognized as Catholic.
As Cybercast News Service previously reported, the school announced plans to give Sen. Clinton a special degree on Friday, May 20, when she is also scheduled to deliver the college's commencement address.
"The decision to honor one of Congress's most outspoken and strident advocates of abortion 'rights' was just the latest episode in a long history of secularization at Marymount Manhattan College," said Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society and one of the sources who confirmed the archdiocese's action.
"Why the college chose to remain officially Catholic while turning traitor against the Catholic Church, I cannot say," Reilly said.
Reilly wrote to New York Cardinal Edward Egan on April 14, suggesting "immediate action to prevent scandal in the Archdiocese of New York." Though he asked the cardinal to consider advising the college privately to withdraw Clinton's invitation, Reilly acknowledged that the school might have to be declared no longer Catholic.
Reilly said the college's actions defied the "Catholics in Political Life" statement that was approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2004.
"The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles," the bishops' statement said. "They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."
On Thursday, Reilly concluded that the archdiocese's decision marked "a good day for those seeking truth and clarity." However, he said it was also "a sad day for Catholics, who founded, attended and funded this college only to be turned away for the sake of government funding and private ambitions.
Fania Tavarez, assistant to the vice-president for institutional advancement at MMC, also confirmed the ruling from the archdiocese. In a prepared statement, Tavarez defended the school as "an independent, non-sectarian, private liberal arts college.
"Throughout the year, Marymount Manhattan invites speakers of all political persuasions to speak on campus," she added. "Such diversity of opinion strengthens the critical thinking skills of our students," who are "very excited" to have Sen. Clinton as their commencement speaker.
"She has worked diligently on behalf of New Yorkers and the nation, and the college community looks forward to hearing her message," Tavarez concluded.
According to Reilly, MMC employees had been rebuffing protesters of the Clinton honors by claiming that the school has not been Catholic since 1961, when it separated from its parent institution -- Marymount College of Tarrytown, N.Y., -- and its founding women's religious order, the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary.
Reilly responded that in fact, the college's actions in 1961 were similar to those of most other Catholic institutions throughout the country that incorporated separate from the church to qualify for state government funding.
"The vast majority of those colleges continue to claim a Catholic identity while slowly secularizing, and Marymount Manhattan College is not much different," he said. "Any apparent trace of its Catholic identity has disappeared over time, even though until today, it preserved its official status as Catholic, possibly to avoid alienating its Catholic alumni and donors.
Reilly added that there was "tremendous value" to identifying "wayward Catholic institutions as no longer Catholic, as Cardinal Egan has done so courageously.
"If Sen. Clinton had a similar degree of dignity," he noted, "she might have declined the college's honor out of respect for faithful Catholics who are appalled by her stridency on abortion and embryonic stem cell research.
This is the fourth time since Pope John Paul II issued "Ex Corde Ecclesiae," the apostolic constitution on church universities, that a bishop has declared a historically Catholic college or university to be no longer Catholic. The 1990 document gives local bishops the responsibility of determining whether colleges can be called "Catholic."
Catholic colleges established prior to 1990 are assumed to be Catholic and to conform sufficiently to the guidelines until a bishop declares otherwise.
Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., was declared "no longer Catholic" by Egan in 2003, following a similar protest by the Cardinal Newman Society of the college's commencement speaker, New York State Democratic Attorney General Elliott Spitzer.
The society also protested Spitzer as the commencement speaker at Marymount Manhattan College last year, but no public action was taken by the archdiocese and the college took no step to end its affiliation with the Catholic Church.
Two other historically Catholic colleges in Rochester, New York -- Nazareth College and Saint John Fisher College -- have been declared no longer Catholic by Bishop Matthew Clark.