At Boston College, David Hollenbach, S. J., remains a Big Man on Campus even after his unsuccessful effort to block the awarding of an honorary degree to the Secretary of State, but the family that endowed his chair is now saying what protesters put on placards during Condoleeza Rice’s speech: Not in my name.
“Well, the commencement was today, and too bad the Flatley Professor [David Hollenbach, S.J.] did not also quit,” Dan Flatley wrote to us on Monday. “If he had any integrity he would, and you can quote me on that.”
“Let the public know that the Flatley family that funded that chair would like him fired, for being a damned disgrace to his faith.”
The theology professor’s two-hundred-name petition did not take issue with whatever Rice’s position on abortion is but instead claimed that “policies that have shaped the war’s ongoing conduct cannot be justified in the light of the moral values of the Catholic tradition.”
“It can’t just oppose people who take a position for abortion,” Father Hollenbach said of the Catholic Church. He noted that Rice describes herself as “mildly pro-choice” but this may have been an afterthought. Rice supports parental notification and a ban on late-term abortions, positions much more pro-life than those of other BC speakers Father Hollenbach had no problem with.
He circulated no petitions to bar the awarding of honorary degrees to both of the Bay State’s U. S. senators as well as to Kate Michelman, former president of the National Organization for Women. A review of Father Hollenbach’s public utterances, moreover, shows that he has provided cover for pro-choice public officials on more than one occasion.
“The bishop’s statements repeatedly issued in election years are that the full array of issues with moral significance have to be considered, not one,” Father Hollenbach told CBS News in 2004. This is a somewhat disingenuous claim on the professor’s part, since he wrote at least one of those edicts—the Keynesian pastoral letter on economics.
“But apart from abortion, on a broad array of other currently debated political issues, the moral and religious convictions of American Catholic bishops are in direct objection to some of the political stands of the Christian Coalition,” Father Hollenbach told the Associated Press. “The idea that there can be some kind of alliance between the Christian Coalition and the Roman Catholic Church is nonsense.”
As you can see, presenting himself as the voice of the Catholic Church to the media while delivering liberal apologies is a standard operating procedure for Father Hollenbach. Even in his most unequivocal statement on abortion, Father Hollenbach equivocated.
“Let me just add, that I think that to be Catholic is to be pro-life,” Father Hollenbach told Larry King. “But we have to ask the question of effectiveness.”
“What really is pro-life?” This variation of “the meaning of is” led naturally to a defense of the most pro-choice president to occupy the White House since the Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade.
“In the Clinton administration, the number of abortions went down,” Father Hollenbach told King. “In the early years of the Bush administration, the number of abortions has been going up.”
“The question is why? It’s because there are women in situations of desperation, with no economic resources, that are being pushed toward making choices that are tragic.”
Some might think it presumptuous for a Jesuit to speak for the Catholic Church when the College of Cardinals goes to the trouble of electing a man to a lifetime appointment to do just that. Indeed, Father Hollenbach’s relationship to the last pontiff was an interesting one.
“It is not easy to be a Christian in the midst of American culture today and I think many American Catholics would like the next pope to recognize that this is not an easy task and that he would be supportive and encouraging in that regard and not simply negative and judgmental about it,” Father Hollenbach told the Voice of America last year.
But two years ago, he labeled as “false” the teachings of the Holy Father on sexual ethics, at a public lecture given by scholar George Weigel at BC. And in 1996, the Holy Father denied Father Hollenbach a promotion, according to the National Catholic Reporter.
Of an imminent concern to Father Hollenbach and BC: Following the example of other disillusioned donors, the Flatleys could demand a refund.
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.