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Catholic University of America Shows How to Host Controversial Speaker Despite Uproar

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AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File

The Catholic University of America, the college established by the United States bishops in Washington, D.C. became the latest university to come under fire for the views of an invited speaker.


For two years, a campus organization known as Cardinals for Life worked to schedule a speech by Abby Johnson.  Ms. Johnson is noted for being a former Planned Parenthood abortion clinic director who, after witnessing atrocities in the abortion industry, resigned and committed herself to pro-life advocacy.  Ms. Johnson recounted her story in the memoir, Unplanned (Disclosure: this writer’s public relations firm was hired to publicize the feature film “Unplanned,” which was based on the book).

It is understandable why students at a Catholic college would want to hear of Ms. Johnson’s experience. In his first week in office, President Joseph Biden, the nation’s second Catholic president, revoked the Mexico City policy, which prohibits federally funded nongovernmental organizations from recommending abortion abroad. If there was ever a time for students at the Catholic University of America to discuss abortion policy, it is now.

Shortly before the event was to take place, Father Jude DeAngelo, the University chaplain and advisor to Cardinals for Life, according to news reports, tried to “pressure” the group to cancel the event.  Regrettably, the president of Cardinals for Life resigned after Father DeAngelo’s request to indefinitely postpone Ms. Johnson’s appearance.

Father DeAngelo believed some of Ms. Johnson’s comments, unrelated to the pro-life issue, were problematic.  Some of these tweets dealt with race and her biracial son.  Specifically, Ms. Johnson said in an online video that police officers would be “smart” to profile her adopted biracial son because “statistically my brown son is more likely to commit a violent offense over my white sons.”


It is understandable that these remarks may make some people might feel uncomfortable.  However, discomfort should not be the basis of disinviting a speaker.

“As chaplain charged with the care of souls, I personally believe there are better pro-life speakers than Ms. Johnson who can bring the pro-life message to students who are hungry for the truth that every human life from conception to natural death is sacred and needs our protection,” Fr. DeAngelo said in an online statement.

One must ask who is better to discuss these issues.  Few pro-life advocates have seen the inner workings of an abortion clinic.  Furthermore, if Ms. Johnson was such an objectionable speaker, why did Fr. DeAngelo not raise this point two years ago when she was first invited.

More than three hundred people watched Ms. Johnson’s virtual speech. During the presentation, Ms. Johnson explained how Planned Parenthood makes money from abortion and how the aborted fetus is referred to as “products of conception.”  She even displayed tools doctors use in the abortion process.

In his introduction to the event, College Republicans president Blayne Clegg-Swann said that if his group had allowed Ms. Johnson’s speech to have been cancelled, it would have been “easy and comfortable.” However, the decision to host the event “sets a precedent for student leaders for years to come.”


Mr. Clegg notes that the College Republicans’ office had been vandalized and they had received angry emails, as has happened at colleges across the country.  Perhaps the best result of this situation is that student leaders will be allowed to advocate to have speakers with whom others disagree and they can find strength and courage.

This was an event long in the planning.  Ms. Johnson has been a recognized pro-life advocate for years, as well as a convert to Catholicism. The comments of Ms. Johnson to which many objected were made last summer.  It was unreasonable to attempt to cancel a knowledgeable, high-profile speaker to assuage feelings.  To cancel the event would have been easy, but the entire university community would have suffered.  Colleges need more of this steadfastness.

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