Action Alert!

New York Archdiocese Says Marist College 'No Longer Catholic'

by Association of Students at Catholic Colleges


The Cardinal Newman Society, an organization which attempts to ensure Catholic colleges are faithful to their Catholic identity, objected in a letter to the Archdiocese of New York against Marist College's selection of pro-abortion New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer to give this year's commencement address on May 17. The archdiocese has responded to Cardinal Newman Society's protest by declaring the college "is no longer a Catholic institution," and therefore not under the Church's jurisdiction.

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Newman Society Catholic Higher Education Alert

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Cardinal Newman Society, May 13, 2003

The Archdiocese of New York has responded to Cardinal Newman Society's protest of Marist College's commencement speaker by declaring the college "is no longer a Catholic institution" and therefore not under the Church's jurisdiction.

It is the first time since Pope John Paul II issued Ex corde Ecclesiae, the apostolic constitution on Catholic universities, that a bishop has declared an historically Catholic college or university to be not Catholic. The 1990 document gives local bishops the responsibility of determining whether colleges can bear the label "Catholic." Catholic colleges established prior to 1990 are assumed to be Catholic and to conform sufficiently to the guidelines of Ex corde Ecclesiae until a bishop declares otherwise.

Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York, was founded in 1946 by the Catholic order of Marist Brothers and established an independent board of trustees in 1969--an action taken by most religious colleges in New York in the late 1960s to ensure state and federal aid. Recently, college officials have claimed the college is no longer Catholic, and its promotional materials and website claim it is an "independent, liberal arts college."

Nevertheless, the college's status remained unclear, partly because college officials have been careful not to put too much distance between the college and the Catholic Church. College materials still promote its "ineradicable Judeo-Christian roots" and "Marist spirit and heritage."

The college retains a few Marist brothers on the faculty and staff, offers a Catholic Studies minor and sponsors lectures by prominent Catholics--recently Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., spoke on Catholicism in the modern world, and Catholic peace activist Tom Cornell discussed the morality of war. Several sources identify the college as Catholic, including the Official Catholic Directory, which requires the Archdiocese of New York to approve local listings; the websites of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, the National Catholic College Admission Association and the Diocese of Brooklyn; and Catholic college directories compiled by Paulist Press and

The confusion ended with a letter dated May 2 and signed by Joseph Zwilling, Communications Director of the Archdiocese of New York, who on behalf of Cardinal Edward Egan confirmed that "Marist College is no longer a Catholic institution"--a statement that was repeated later this week to the Poughkeepsie Journal. Zwilling said Marist College will not be included in future editions of the Official Catholic Directory.

"The president of Marist College, Dr. Dennis Murray, has assured us that Marist College is truly independent, and does not identify itself as a Catholic college in any way," wrote Zwilling in his letter to Patrick Reilly, president of Cardinal Newman Society.

Zwilling was responding to Reilly's letter dated April 30, in which he asked Cardinal Egan to make a public statement opposing the college's selection of New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer to give this year's commencement address on May 17. Spitzer is a public advocate of abortion rights who recently harassed 34 pro-life pregnancy centers in New York, issuing subpoenas based on abortion advocates' claims that the centers were unlicensed and deceptive, and established a special unit to "promote access to reproductive health."

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