A New Day Shines – The Tower, September 17 2010
Here on campus, a stringent speaker policy stirs continued debate over the merits of this or that presenter. In doing so, the University attempts to follow the bishops’ directive to withhold honors from or give a platform to those in direct opposition to core moral beliefs. This has caused tremendous controversy over what constitutes the criteria to speak here and who meets it.
As most members of the University know, the application of the policy is often selective and partial to specific issues. Across the parking lot, at “America’s Catholic Church,” these rules seem to be disregarded altogether.
On Sunday afternoon, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception will be hosting a book signing for Newt Gingrich. As a reminder for those of you who do not remember him, this is the former Speaker of the House from the 1990s, who is suddenly experiencing a minor renaissance in his career.
While it is this author’s view that politicians should be kept out of churches and Catholic institutions as a general rule, Newt’s history and his present views, both of which stand in stark contrast with Catholicism, make him a remarkably inappropriate choice for The Catholic University of America last year and the Basilica this weekend.
Let us first look at his history. As Speaker, he faced dozens of ethics charges, eventually leading to 395 representatives voting in support of a $300,000 penalty to be paid by the Speaker. In his private life, Newt is on his third marriage. Newt met his latter two wives during affairs with them, going so far as to divorce his first wife as she lay in the hospital recovering from cancer.
Most troubling, however, is not what he has done, but what he would like to do. In large part, it is Gingrich’s growing trail of interviews, publications, and statements on his website that give Americans a glimpse of his increasingly worrisome agenda.
He is at the forefront of a hateful campaign to redefine Islam, a religion of peace, as something to be feared and even fought against. His website calls the proposed Islamic community center in lower Manhattan as a ”statement of Islamic triumphalism.” Furthermore, he called the ” war on terror” designation a mistake because the United States is really at war with radical Islam. In his conspiracy theorist mind, Muslims really seek to impose Sharia law through cultural, economic, and social means as well. This is all framed as an attack on religious liberty.
It is people like Newt Gingrich, who in turn inspire Qur’an burners and fuel the fire of anti-Islam bigots, that the Catholic Church and the Christian community at large have come out strongly and clearly against. There is no threat posed by Islam in particular, instead there is a threat of violence posed by extremists of all creeds and faiths.
Yet, the fact the Basilica provides Gingrich with a forum to spread his intolerance and ignorance is not surprising. A recent convert to Catholicism in 2009, he experiences the ultimate experience in preferential treatment by Church prelates. This is not a treatment opening his eyes to the poor and oppressed as Jesus instructed, but one that exalts one man over many other Catholics.
After working through his conversion at the Basilica outside of a parish-based program, Gingrich celebrated his baptism with high-ranking prelates from the D.C. church. It would be hard to believe that those in attendance would have celebrated this author’s baptism if requested to do so.
It seems as if the double standard at many Catholic institutions remains in play. There will always be a spot for conservatives, even those opposed to fundamental Church teachings. Yet, anyone perceived as a liberal will face the wrath of the right.
Gingrich’s celebrity appearances at Catholic University and at the Basilica should be examples of the wrong way to approach the bishops’ directives. While the University members cannot change the Basilica’s poor decision, they can boycott it and deny Gingrich the praise he so desperately seeks.
They can also learn from the Basilica’s error and work harder to ensure the speaker policy here, if it is to exist at all, is dispensed fairly and equally. In this moment of exciting and positive change, to improve on the disastrous interpretation of the Speaker policy in the past decade should be a top priority.