Group says Sebelius speech at Georgetown ‘insulting’ to Catholics

Georgetown University is facing criticism from some Catholics for inviting Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) Kathleen Sebelius to give a commencement address.

The Cardinal Newman Society, an organization focused on Catholic universities, called the invitation “scandalous and outrageous,” given Sebelius’s involvement in the Obama administration’s controversial contraception mandate.

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The organization launched a new website — georgetownscandal.com — and is collecting signatures for a petition asking Georgetown President John DeGioia to rescind the invitation. Sebelius is slated to address graduates of Georgetown’s Public Policy Institute later this month.

“Georgetown insults all Americans by this honor,” the Cardinal Newman Society said in a letter to DeGioia. “The selection is especially insulting to faithful Catholics and their bishops, who are engaged in the fight for religious liberty and against abortion. The contrast is stark between Georgetown University and those faithful Catholic colleges and universities that have stood for faith and freedom.”

Georgetown has been central to the debate over HHS's contraception policy. The policy, which requires most employers to cover birth control in their employees’ health plans, initially met with unified opposition among Catholic groups. 

The blowback set the White House on its heels, and President Obama himself — with Sebelius at his side — quickly announced new “accommodations” for religious-affiliated employers such as Catholic universities.

The changes helped splinter Catholic groups, though the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops remains staunchly opposed to the policy. And the political winds also began to shift when Republicans barred Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student, from testifying at a hearing about the policy.

She was then invited to testify in front of congressional Democrats, who framed the issue around women’s health, rather than religious freedom. They received some unintended help from radio host Rush Limbaugh, who attacked Fluke as a “slut” and a “prostitute.”

The White House policy requires most employers to cover contraception in their health plans without charging a co-pay or deductible. Churches and houses of worship are exempt. Institutions like Catholic hospitals and universities don’t have to directly pay for the coverage, but their employees will be able to access contraception through the employer’s insurance company.

HHS has not determined how the policy will work for self-insured religious-affiliated employers.