Worcester Bishop Robert J. McManus won’t be attending graduation exercises at Anna Maria College this year at the behest of college officials, who met with the bishop and asked him to stay home this year.
Because of Bishop McManus’s concerns, Anna Maria previously withdrew an invitation to “pro-choice” Catholic Victoria Reggie Kennedy, the widow of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, to be the 2012 commencement speaker and to receive an honorary degree. But then Anna Maria President Jack Calareso and Sister Yvette Bellerose, chairman of the board of trustees, met briefly last week with the bishop, who has generally been present at Anna Maria commencement exercises, and asked him not to attend the May 19 commencement ceremonies.
The college issued a statement, saying, “Sr. Yvette Bellerose, Chair of the Board of Trustees, and Dr. Jack P. Calareso, President of Anna Maria College, asked Bishop Robert J. McManus to consider not attending the commencement, to which the bishop agreed that he didn’t want anything distracting from the significance of the ceremony for the students.”
“It was mutually agreed that it would be better for the students if the bishop didn’t attend,” Anna Maria spokesman Paula Green told The Cardinal Newman Society. Green reiterated that the presence of the bishop would have been “a distraction.”
Ironically, Bishop McManus had originally informed school officials that, if Mrs. Kennedy spoke, he would refrain from attending. The bishop explained to The Catholic Free Press, the diocesan newspaper, that he had based his objections to Mrs. Kennedy’s speaking at the college on two documents: Ex corde Ecclesiae (“From the Heart of the Church”) and “Catholics in Political Life.” The bishop told the newspaper that he had an obligation to protect the school’s Catholic identity.
Ms. Kennedy was quoted in the Washington Post saying she was “disheartened” by the decision to withdraw the invitation to speak and that the bishop had not responded to her invitations “to discuss the matter, nor had the bishop spoken to her pastor.”
“I am a lifelong Catholic and my faith is very important to me. I am not a public official. I hold no public office nor am I a candidate for public office,” Kennedy was quoted saying. “Yet by objecting to my appearance at Anna Maria College he has made a judgment about my worthiness as a Catholic. This is a sad day for me and an even sadder one for the Church I love.”
A petition to “let Vicki Kennedy speak” has been circulated by Catholic Democrats and Faithful America, a non-denominational online group; it reportedly drew 20,000 signatures and was presented at the chancery. Kennedy’s supporters point to her support of gun control and work with needy children as reasons she would be a good commencement speaker at a Catholic college.
The college’s statement said that ”the relationship between the College and the Diocese remains strong and the two organizations will continue to work together with respect and collegiality to advance the goals and values of quality Catholic education.”