Parents and students attending this year’s commencement at Georgetown University, a Catholic school, would surely expect to hear a commencement address that took Catholic teaching seriously. And that’s what they got. But many in the crowd were offended, even outraged.
The commencement speaker was Francis Cardinal Arinze, the head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. The dean who invited Arinze expected him to speak about the relationship between Christianity and Islam, especially in places like the Cardinal’s native Nigeria.
Instead, Cardinal Arinze told Georgetown’s class of 2003 that "happiness is found not in the pursuit of material wealth or pleasures of the flesh, but by fervently adhering to religious beliefs." Warming to his task, he then told graduates and guests about the importance of the family in Christian faith and life.
He said that "in many parts of the world, the family is under siege" as a result of what he called "an anti-life mentality [that can be seen] in contraception, abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia." Instead of being honored, the family is "scorned and banalized by pornography, desecrated by fornication and adultery, mocked by homosexuality, sabotaged by irregular unions, and cut in two by divorce."
Well, that’s a very Catholic message one might expect from a Catholic cardinal. But it proved too much for many in the audience. Teresa Sanders, a professor of theology, left the stage during Arinze’s remarks. Seventy other faculty members signed a letter to the dean protesting what one of them called Arinze’s "wildly inappropriate" remarks. Really? As a result, the dean apologized for the Cardinal’s remarks and the "hurt" they caused.
This incident speaks volumes about the spiritual and moral condition of the West. As historian Philip Jenkins has written, the numerical and geographical heart of Christianity has shifted from the West to the developing world. One result of this shift is that, as was predicted, Christians from Africa are now evangelizing Europe and America, instead of the other way around.
Thus, we see Anglican bishops from Africa standing against Western apostasy by ordaining American clergy who will uphold historic Christian teaching on faith and morals. And we see Cardinal Arinze pointing out the damage being wrought by the West’s forsaking of these teachings.
The response to the Cardinal shows just how phony all the rhetoric about "tolerance" really is. Tolerance originally meant allowing people whom you believed to be wrong to live according to their beliefs without fear of reprisal.
It then mutated into the idea that all beliefs are equally valid. While this was mistaken, at least it allowed for the possibility that Christians might publicly express their beliefs. Now "tolerance" means that no one—other than Christians—should ever hear anything that contradicts what they think, or otherwise upsets them. This is especially true if the subject is human sexuality.
This bogus definition of tolerance is why the dean felt the need to apologize for what the Cardinal said. Fortunately, our African brethren think otherwise. They take their faith seriously—seriously enough to tell the truth about the state of our souls, whether we like it or not.
There is hope in Africa, if not in Georgetown.
For further reading:
Read the text of Cardinal Arinze’s speech (scroll down to "Francis Cardinal Arinze: Arise, Rejoice, God Is Calling You").
Julia Duin, "Criticism of gays riles Georgetown," Washington Times, May 30, 2003.
Al Dobras, "Will the Real Bigots Please Stand Up?" BreakPoint Online, May 9, 2003