Gonzaga University is rejecting calls by social conservatives to find a new commencement speaker because of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s support for abortion rights and gay marriage.
Critics say the apartheid era hero and Nobel laureate’s social views contradict Catholic teachings, and more than 700 Gonzaga alumni, staff, faculty and students have signed petitions protesting Tutu’s campus appearance in May and the university’s plans to award the Anglican archbishop an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.
“It goes against Catholic teaching and so much of what Gonzaga stands for – or at least should stand for,” Spokane attorney Patrick Kirby said in a letter to GU President Thayne McCulloh.
A statement released by GU spokeswoman Mary Joan Hahn highlighted the archbishop’s fight against apartheid and emphasized the college is honored Tutu accepted its invitation.
“In the 1980s and early 90s, Gonzaga faculty, staff and trustees, together with a generation of students, worked to bring awareness of the evils of apartheid in South Africa to the forefront of the Spokane community,” Hahn wrote.
Tutu has been given several awards for his work as a Christian leader, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 and Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism in 1986. Additionally, he has campaigned to fight AIDS, tuberculosis, poverty, racism and sexism.
“At the University’s 2012 undergraduate commencement, we are privileged to welcome a world-renowned Christian leader and social rights activist whose faith-based lifelong dedication to the cause of justice so clearly resonates with our work as a University,” Hahn said in a statement.
The GU student body senate voted unanimously to approve a resolution for their support to host Tutu as a commencement speaker earlier this week, said Tyler Hobbs, student body president.
Support for the bishop has gone national as well. After hearing of the petition against Tutu, Faithful America, which describes itself as “an online community of tens of thousands of citizens motivated by faith to take action on the pressing moral issues of our time,” is circulating its own petition to encourage GU to keep Tutu as a speaker. The group has gathered more than 11,000 signatures.
The group previously fought efforts to have President Barack Obama disinvited from speaking at Notre Dame University in 2009.
Tutu speaking at Gonzaga isn’t the issue, Kirby said. “What we object to is Gonzaga honoring him as a commencement speaker and giving him a degree. We have tremendous respect for his work fighting apartheid and racism, but honoring him … is the height of hypocrisy.”
Kirby thinks Tutu’s public advocacy for abortion rights, including statements that contraception is an “obligation for Christians,” endorsement of same-sex marriage and reportedly offensive remarks against Jewish people, are all cause to rescind Tutu’s invitation.
Some of the petitioners have included comments along with their signatures. Here’s one example: “Gonzaga should be ashamed. … Serious consequences should follow if the school brings in such persons such as Tutu to indoctrinate young impressionable minds.”
The next move for Kirby’s group is to contact the petitioners and encourage them to write individually to the president of Gonzaga, and “show some moral leadership,” he said.
Spokane Bishop Blase Cupich has also been contacted and asked to intervene, Kirby said. But so far, Cupich has not responded to written requests and he appeared to support Gonzaga’s decision to honor Tutu when asked in person, Kirby said.
Cupich was en route to Rome and not available for comment.
Said Hahn, “Our students are excited for the opportunity to honor the determination and persistence of Tutu. The event is also an important opportunity to recognize our graduating seniors, whose commitment to social justice and to serve others around the globe inspired the Archbishop to join us.”