One month from now Archbishop Desmond Tutu is slated to deliver the commencement address to Gonzaga University’s graduating class. A group of alumni, however, are saying he isn’t welcome and are urging administrators to withdraw their invitation to the primate.
Patrick Kirby, who graduated from Gonzaga in 1993, said Tutu is pro-abortion rights, has made offensive statements toward Jews, supports contraception and the ordination of gay clergy and shouldn’t be honored by a Catholic institution.
Kirby, a local attorney, also noted that Tutu’s visit violates the U.S. bishop’s 2004 mandate, Catholics in Political Life, which reads, “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.”
Kirby and his wife, Maureen (a Gonzaga alumna), launched an online petition lobbying for the university to choose a different commencement speaker. Nearly 700 people worldwide have signed the petition. It will be hand-delivered to Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh on Friday morning, though Kirby isn’t optimistic the university will recant its decision.
“I don’t have any realistic expectations that they’ll do that. The goal for me is to bring attention to it and hopefully remind administrators at Gonzaga about their Catholic identity and how far they’ve wandered away from it,” Kirby said, noting that essential Catholic values are no longer being taught in Gonzaga classrooms.
He said Catholic institutions all across the U.S. are choosing popularity over morality. Gonzaga will present Tutu with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at graduation. That’s the same honor President Barack Obama received from Notre Dame in 2009. Earlier this year Marquette University hired former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold as a visiting professor. Feingold has been a long-time abortion rights advocate. Kirby said these are all examples of Catholic universities forfeiting their values.
“It’s not just Gonzaga. It’s more widespread. It’s a problem with Catholic universities wandering too far away from their core and the reasons why they were established,” Kirby said.
He said it sends an unclear message to students.
“On one hand Gonzaga has a mission statement that says its purpose is to provide students with a humanistic, Catholic, Jesuit education, which allows them to create a lifetime of service using the values that Christ taught us. And then we have somebody who is standing in front of them on graduation, when they’re going off on this venture, who has taken positions publicly which are diametrically opposite to the very fundamental teachings of the church on faith and morals,’ Kirby said. “It’s a confusing and hypocritical message.”
Gonzaga administrators are not commenting on the petition. In a February press release, however, McCulloh said Tutu was “a living exemplar of Gonzaga’s historic commitment to the ideals of equality and a free society as a Catholic, Jesuit and humanistic University.”
“We are honored and humbled that Archbishop Tutu has chosen to be with us and our graduates for commencement. He is certainly among the most prominent moral icons of our time,” he said.
McCulloh especially praised Tutu for his work against South African apartheid, for which Tutu later won a Nobel Peace Prize for.
The petition will also be delivered to Blase Cupich, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane, who has not commented on Tutu’s upcoming visit.
Tracy Simmons is an award-winning journalist specializing in religion reporting and digital entrepreneurship. In her approximate 20 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti. Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas, Connecticut and Washington. She is the executive director of SpokaneFāVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Washington. She also writes for The Spokesman-Review and national publications. She is a Scholarly Assistant Professor of Journalism at Washington State University.