Bill Clinton Gets Honorary Doctorate from LMU; Pope Francis Invoked to Justify It

Not only did Bill Clinton deliver the commencement address, but he also received an honorary doctorate from LMU.   Fr. Allan Deck, S.J., rector of the LMU Jesuit Community defends this decision as follows, “LMU, precisely because it is a Catholic and Jesuit University, seeks to follow the inspirational leadership of Pope Francis in promoting a culture of encounter that requires an openness to meet people cordially where they are rather than negatively in a judgmental way.”

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Fr. Deck’s defense of violating the teaching of the U.S. Catholic Bishops, as noted earlier, attacks a straw man.  While it is true that a culture of encounter requires an openness to meet people cordially where they are, it does not require inviting them to give a commencement address nor does it require giving them an honorary doctorate.  Indeed, Pope Francis’s particular emphasis on the authority of local conferences of bishops does not exonerate but exacerbates LMU’s action.  If Pope Francis is right that abortion is a “crime” and an “absolute evil,” surely we must, with respect, disagree with Fr. Deck.

Encountering and dialoguing with those who facilitate serious injustices is one thing.

Celebrating and honoring them, in the highest manner institutionally possible, is quite another.

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6 thoughts on “Bill Clinton Gets Honorary Doctorate from LMU; Pope Francis Invoked to Justify It

  1. Fr. Deck unctuously glides over the basic difference between (1) honestly engaging a politician who supports both abortion on demand and same-sex “unions,” and (2) honoring and celebrating that individual as a model for collegians. While I respect Fr. Deck as a priest, I am appalled by his moral obtuseness. How painful it is to see Pope Francis pushed under LMU’s public relations bus.

  2. Clinton is Clinton. His actions both political and personal are actions against God and people of Faith. I question that LMU is a truly Catholic University. The Church is being attacked from within the Catholic community. Fr. Deck is in grave error.

  3. I want to share a few thoughts I have had after reflecting on the controversy surrounding the decision to honor President Clinton. To begin with, we have to acknowledge that Bill Clinton delivered an exceptional commencement address on Saturday morning, both in terms of style and substance. It was thoughtful, challenging, and respectful of LMU’s foundational values.

    Of course no one ever doubted that Bill Clinton could give such a speech; and while we can be grateful for its message, I am convinced that we were still right to protest the messenger. In fact, it seems to me that the invitation to President Clinton is exactly the sort of issue that we should continue to weigh in on. Before we can expect significant long-term change, such as increasing the percentage of practicing Catholics on the faculty, we have to insist that the university not go any further in the wrong direction – which at a minimum means that LMU ought not to go out of its way to honor those who are openly and unrepentantly hostile to our moral principles.

    That being said, I think we have to be candid about the challenging path that we are calling on the LMU administration to follow. As a comprehensive university in a secular urban environment, and one which must attract qualified students and faculty in an increasingly competitive marketplace, it is probably not an option for LMU to express its Catholic identity with the depth and fullness that one can find at a small school like Thomas Aquinas College. LMU is necessarily going to have to make some concessions to the demands of popular culture, even as it (hopefully) seeks to influence that same culture in a positive way.

    We also have to realize that the Catholic Church, as a human institution, is in the midst of a transformation. Of course that cannot mean that its moral principles have changed, but it has certainly caused a change in perceptions. Eight years ago, when Archbishop Gomez was presiding in San Antonio, he vigorously protested a scheduled appearance by Hillary Clinton at the local Catholic university. As LMU’s senior administration could not help but notice, he had nothing at all to say about their invitation to Bill Clinton. Perhaps he even privately gave his approval. And in an ironic twist of fate, on the day before President Clinton was honored by LMU, Pope Francis used the occasion of an honor bestowed on him (the Charlemagne Prize) to call for the strengthening of the European Parliament – which has recently acknowledged abortion and same-sex marriage as fundamental human rights.

    In other words, it is a tough sell to ask university administrators to be more Catholic than the Pope. What we had all assumed to be a bright line that should not be crossed turned out to be so fuzzy that Archbishop Gomez did not even feel the need to distinguish this situation from the policy he had signed on to as a member of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. While it was undoubtedly wrong for LMU to have honored President Clinton, in retrospect perhaps we have to concede that it was not particularly outrageous in light of the current priorities of the leadership of the Catholic Church.

    It seems to me that our alma mater is in a very unique situation right now, on the edge between crisis and opportunity. On the one hand, it would be easy enough for LMU to become like Georgetown, which is now almost a parody of a Catholic university. On the other hand, LMU is still the most prominent and influential Catholic institution in the global epicenter of popular culture. It can and should be an increasingly important force for good in Los Angeles and the world.

    Even though we were not successful in persuading the university to dis-invite President Clinton, I am confident that our efforts were not wasted. As in baseball, you can’t really expect the umpire to reverse a bad call; sometimes the best you can do is kick up a little dirt to encourage him to get it right the next time.

    • Mr. Belna–

      Thanks for your reflections. The are perceptive, and I appreciate them. That said, and said sincerely, please let me offer a few points for consideration. They are keyed to your comments.

      1. Though I didn’t hear Clinton’s address, it seems that his speechwriter did right by him. Historically, sophists have been effective communicators.

      2. A test case for LMU’s unraveling is the new physician assisted suicide (PAS) law. Will LMU facilitate its insurance coverage or will it finally say “enough”?

      3. On the travails of a Catholic comprehensive university in a secular urban environment, no doubt the wisdom of a serpent must accompany the innocence of a dove. But LMU is neither Catholic (its brand of social justice is on a par with that of Target and the NFL) nor is it comprehensive (the humanities are in free fall).

      4. St. Mary’s, in San Antonio, is my alma mater, so I am well aware of Archbishop Gomez’s leadership in the case you mention, and I applaud him for it. Now comes the Clinton affair and the archbishop’s seeming silence. What to say? Pues, quien sabe? Solo Dios. And the Holy Father’s Charlemagne Prize? Pope Francis isn’t keen on casuistry. Still, hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue. Francis merits the honor, Clinton does not. Its a distinction to note.

      Again, thanks for your thoughtful and developed remarks—not easy to produce on even the best of blogs.

  4. Absurd,Wrong, and a absolutely sends a terrible message about our Catholic Faith, giving an honor to this man. Makes me a ashamed of LMU. None of my grand children will ever attend this university!

  5. Disgusting honor given to a man that openly opposes what the Catholic Faith stands for! I am ashamed that they honored this man, WRONG!

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