Hiding behind the veil

Boston College’s decision to honor Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at this year’s commencement is a legitimate decision and should not have provoked the negative reaction it has.

Needless to say, the political spectrum is wide and some may object on ideological grounds to the visit of a political figure who had an important role in the Bush administration’s pre-war strategy — one that proved to be rooted not on strong facts but faulty intelligence. However, use of the “Catholic” or “Jesuit” traditions to argue against the college’s decision is nothing more than a smoke screen to disguise the political and ecclesiological agendas of those behind the controversy.

It is particularly troubling that many of those who initiated the opposition to Rice’s appearance are theology professors. Theology experts should know that, at least based on Church teachings, there is no impediment to honoring a politician simply because she was part of the decision-making process that brought us to war. Just-war doctrine states — as a quick look at the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” will confirm — that the decision as to whether the circumstances for war meet the conditions of moral legitimacy, “belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.” In this case, that was the president and his advisors.

Of course, those decision-makers can be wrong. Indeed, in this space we repeatedly opposed the decision to go to war in Iraq. However, merely participating in that decision does not make a politician unworthy of being honored by a Catholic college.

The effort is further troubling because Catholics may be led to believe — particularly since many of those orchestrating it are theology professors — that all social issues are of equal gravity in the eyes of the Church. That is inconsistent with the Catholic tradition they invoke.

Some actions, such as as abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and euthanasia, are always immoral. However, when it comes to the issue of waging war, Catholic doctrine allows for consideration of the particular circumstances of each case. Every war is not inherently immoral.

As if to shore up their argument, some who oppose Rice’s appearance are claiming she also holds some pro-abortion views. While that could have weighed into BC’s decision, that too is certainly not an impediment to receiving an honor from the school, since the current position of the U.S. episcopate is that institutions should not honor Catholic politicians who support abortion. Rice, we note, is not a Catholic.

Questions concerning the war in Iraq remain and are worthy of discussion, particularly in an academic setting such as Boston College. However, those who oppose the secretary of state’s appearance should not hide behind the veil of Church teaching.

BC philosophy professor Father Paul McNellis put it best when he told the Catholic News Service, “This is a political disagreement, not one of dogma or doctrine.”