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Universities Under Fire for Pro-Abortion Honorees


Catholic organizations have criticized two prominent Catholic universities, Boston College and Seton Hall, over honors the schools bestowed recently on abortion supporters.

Boston College Law School invited Margaret H. Marshall, chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, to serve as speaker at its May 25 commencement ceremonies. Prior to becoming a judge in 1996, Marshall served on the board of directors of Crittendon Hastings House & Clinic, an abortion facility in Brighton, Mass.

Seton Hall granted an honorary degree May 7 to Dolores Cross, the president of Morris Brown College in Atlanta. Cross has been publicly identified as a member of the National Abortion Rights Action League's 1992 National Commission on America Without Roe.

While Seton Hall continues to argue that Cross's pro-abortion views have not been clearly established, Boston College officials did not deny the links between Marshall and abortion when contacted by the Register regarding her service with the organization that operates the Brighton abortion clinic.

"Boston College Law School chose Margaret Marshall as its commencement speaker because she's the highest ranking jurist in the state and the first female Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court," said Boston College spokesman Jack Dunn. "She's a vigorous defender of the First Amendment, particularly the rights of religious institutions."

As for Marshall's involvement with Crittendon House, which operates the abortion clinic, Dunn said it "is a multiservice organization, providing housing for homeless people, childcare, GED and a host of other services."

Dunn added that Marshall's views on abortion were not a consideration in her selection as commencement speaker.

When Marshall was nominated to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 1999, Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston sent a letter to Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci expressing concern over the appointment. The cardinal's concern stemmed from a letter Marshall wrote in 1992 while serving as chief legal counsel for Harvard University, in which she advised Harvard professor Mary Ann Glendon, an anti-abortion advocate, to stop using Harvard letterhead to promote her political views. The Catholic Action League of Massachusetts criticized Marshall's appearance at Boston College in a May 25 press release.

Secularization is all too common in Jesuit Universities, according to Father Peter Hans Kolvenbach, Superior General of the Society of Jesus. "For some [Jesuit] universities," he told Father Richard John Neuhaus, "it is probably too late to restore their Catholic character."

"It is incomprehensible how any Catholic with a shred of conviction or an ounce of loyalty could acquiesce in the selection of someone whose career is so antithetical to what the Catholic religion teaches about human life and human dignity," said the league's executive director, C.J. Doyle.

"Those who participated in the decision to select Marshall have made themselves collaborators in what Pope John Paul II has called the 'culture of death.'"


In the earlier controversy involving Seton Hall, Raymond Flynn, president of the Catholic Alliance, issued a May 18 press release calling for the revocation of Cross' honorary degree because of her link to the 1992 pro-abortion commission. "Just by being on the Commission whose stated goal is to advocate for abortion, Dr. Cross is making a statement," said Flynn.

But in a June 1 statement by Susan Diamond, Seton Hall's assistant vice president for university relations, the university declined to revisit its actions.

Said Diamond's statement, "Before we awarded an honorary degree to Dr. Cross, she assured the University that she had never spoken publicly on any issues contrary to the Church's teaching and that she made it a practice to maintain her privacy on matters unrelated to her professional life."

Regarding Cross' participation on the pro-abortion commission, Diamond said that Cross had told Seton Hall she had merely attended a single "America Without Roe" meeting. "Spokepersons for various groups have endeavored to interpret Dr. Cross' attendance at the America Without Roe meeting but, absent a public statement from Dr. Cross herself, relying on such interpretations would be both unjust and improper," Diamond said.

However, the Seton Hall statement did not address the fact that Cross was publicly named as a member of the 1992 pro-abortion commission. There is no record of Cross having stated subsequently that the National Abortion Rights Action League misrepresented her by naming her as a member.

According to a transcript of a Jan. 22, 1992 press conference announcing the creation of the pro-abortion commission, National Abortion Rights Action League executive director Kate Michelman specifically introduced Cross, who was then the president of Chicago State University, as one of the commission's members.

Remarks by Michelman and other speakers at the press conference left no doubt about the commission's pro-abortion objectives. "The Commission will recommend goals and strategies for protecting reproductive choice in a nation without Roe," said Michelman.

Added Walter Dellinger, a professor of constitutional law at Duke University, "Our goal is to devise a realistic and concrete strategy leading to the enactment of a national policy of guaranteed access to safe and legal abortions for every American woman, no matter what state she calls home."

Cross said that the requests for the revocation of her honorary degree were an attack on her constitutional rights of free speech and association, The Atlanta Constitution reported May 30. Said Cross, "To carry out the suggestion recommended would have a chilling affect and violate the spirit of the Constitution."

Pro-abortion groups have defended Cross as an abortion supporter whose views should be acceptable at Catholic institutions.

NARAL president Kate Michelman issued a statement May 30 criticizing Flynn for requesting that Seton Hall "retract an honorary degree conferred upon Dr. Cross this year, merely because she holds the view that women have a constitutional right to reproductive choice."

Frances Kissling, president of the pro-abortion lobby Catholics for a Free Choice, issued a similar statement May 31.

Kissling's group has been denounced by the U.S. bishops for improperly representing itself as a Catholic organization.

Said Kissling, "In objecting to Dr. Cross' participation in the National Commission on an America Without Roe, a group organized in 1992 by NARAL, Flynn ignores the fact that most Catholics are both in favor of legal abortion and committed to social justice for the poor, minorities and women."

In an e-mail that reprinted Kissling's comments, Priests For Life spokesman Father Peter West said, "I wonder if the administration of Seton Hall feels vindicated now that Frances Kissling has come to their defense."


"Universities Under Fire for Pro-Abortion Honorees." National Catholic Register. (June 10-16, 2001).

This article is reprinted with permission from National Catholic Register. To subscribe to the National Catholic Register call 1-800-421-3230.

Copyright 2001 National Catholic Register




Copyright 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved