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Catholic U’s new president: Law school dean who named abortion proponent a commencement speaker

June 15, 2010

John H. Garvey, the dean of Boston College Law School, has been named president of Catholic University of America. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Harvard Law School, Mr. Garvey served as assistant to the Solicitor General during the Reagan administration. He has written numerous articles on legal issues, concentrating on the First Amendment.

Commenting on academic freedom and Catholic identity in a 2002 letter, Mr. Garvey wrote:

On several occasions I have heard people express concern that the Catholic identity of Boston College and the Law School will require a certain orthodoxy, or suppress unorthodox opinions, among its faculty and students. No school that regulates ideas can justly call itself a university. Indeed, it is precisely because we are committed to the search for truth in an atmosphere of academic freedom that the Law School can render a useful service to the Church and the cause of justice. It is natural that we should have a particular interest in the intersection of law and religion. (Though this is not our only focus.) But when people address that subject here they do not speak for (or against) the church hierarchy. They follow where their inquiries lead them.

In 2007, Mr. Garvey was criticized by the Cardinal Newman Society when the law school named as its commencement speaker Rep. Edward J. Markey, an abortion proponent with a 100% 'pro-choice' voting record. “Congressman Ed Markey is one of the most distinguished graduates of Boston College Law School, whose career of public service reflects the very best values and traditions of the School,” said Mr. Garvey. “I don't believe Boston College has ever had a better friend in the United States Congress than Ed Markey.”

In naming Rep. Markey its commencement speaker, Boston College Law School failed to heed the 2004 US bishops’ document “Catholics in Political Life,” which stated, “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

“I'm very grateful that he's an accomplished scholar, and I think he brings from his legal scholarship a lot of wisdom about the Church's place in contemporary society,” said Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, who led the search for the new president of the university, which was founded by, and is sponsored by, the bishops of the United States. “He's a very thoughtful man, very measured. He tries to bring light and insight to matters about which there's a lot of argument.”

In a 2002 Commonweal essay, Mr. Garvey said that he assented to Catholic teaching on the immorality of divorce but disagreed with Pope John Paul’s statement that “professionals in the field of civil law should avoid being personally involved in anything that might imply a cooperation with divorce.” However, by the conclusion of his article, in which he quoted additional papal remarks, Mr. Garvey appeared to be in agreement with the Pope.

In a 2000 essay on Mario Cuomo-- the New York governor who supported legalized abortion-- Mr. Garvey concluded, “The point is that most of us, not just Catholics, see nothing wrong with relying on authority to decide moral questions. And if that is so, there is no reason to disqualify religious authorities.”

According to federal election records, Mr. Garvey made three donations to Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, whose support for abortion led 14 bishops to state during the 2004 presidential campaign that they would deny him Holy Communion. In June 2002, Mr. Garvey donated $250 to the Kerry Committee; in March 2003, he donated $1,000 to John Kerry for President, Inc.; and in April 2004, he donated $500 to John Kerry for President, Inc.

Mr. Garvey succeeds Vincentian Father David O’Connell, who has been named coadjutor bishop of Trenton.


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  • Posted by: annedanielson4099 - Jul. 19, 2010 1:08 AM ET USA

    We must remember that there is a difference between a University and a Catholic University. In order to be a Catholic University, a University must be in communion with The Catholic Church.

  • Posted by: Bernadette - Jun. 16, 2010 12:40 PM ET USA

    I have been disappointed in Bishop Vigneron. When he stood up back in 2001 or maybe earlier and suggested that the bishops needed to meet in a Plenary Council and revamp the leadership, goals, etc... of the USCCB, he was a young and upcoming bishop and I liked what he said. I had great hopes for him. He was a disappointment in Oakland and now we can see that he has veered to the left of center even more! I say disband the USCCB, sell the D.C. building, get to a monastery and pray!!!

  • Posted by: lauriem5377 - Jun. 15, 2010 10:56 PM ET USA

    It's these kinds of decisions that cause so much confusion for the laity. We try to be faithful to the Word and the teachings of our church. We look to our bishops to be our leaders in matters of faith. I work everyday, like so many Catholics, to defend the lives of defenseless unborn children. Why would a bishop give honor and praise to someone who supports pro-abortion politicians? Why would he select him to educate our young people?

  • Posted by: jpthegr82109 - Jun. 15, 2010 7:14 PM ET USA

    Appointing him to this post is like establishing Saul as Apostle but without a conversion. No assent to the truth required here. Boston College keeps asking the same old questions about moral truth hoping to come up with a clever new way to allow what we want. Bottom line with Boston University is there is no established truth or foundation from which to argue. Nothing has been revealed or understood. Let's just keep asking to establish every seeker's own truth! Well now isn't that refreshing

  • Posted by: jpthegr82109 - Jun. 15, 2010 7:10 PM ET USA

    What does it mean when our own Bishops foster dissent within the Church? Who do we follow? Where is the Shepherd. Are we all just our own little Popes? Where is the voice of Truth? Don't need to be protestant to pick your brand of morality. Our Bishop's show us every brand and they are all within the Church.

  • Posted by: Defender - Jun. 15, 2010 6:27 PM ET USA

    So, more of the same is it? This is the best that our bishops can do (and a lawyer to boot)? It's bad enough that he has ignored the bishops before, but to then be endorsed by the archbishop leading the search for a replacement indicates where the USCCB is really at.