PAXTON, Mass. — Anna Maria College has rescinded its invitation to the widow of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy to speak during spring commencement ceremonies after a local bishop said he found her an "objectionable" choice because of her association with organizations whose points of view are contrary to church teachings.
Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, Mass., said he told the president of the college that he would not attend the May 19 commencement if Victoria Reggie Kennedy were the speaker and the recipient of an honorary degree from the institution.
"My difficult is not primarily with Mrs. Kennedy," Bishop McManus told The Catholic Free Press, newspaper of the Worcester Diocese. "My difficulty is with the college choosing her to be honored by allowing her to be commencement speaker and giving her an honorary degree.
"My concern basically was that to give this type of honor to Mrs. Kennedy would in fact undercut the Catholic identity and mission of the school," he said. "And that in so far as that happens, the 'communio' (communion) or the unity that exists between the local church and the local Catholic college is strained and hurt."
Bishop McManus did not specify which of Kennedy's public appearances or statements raised concerns, but he said he was concerned that if Kennedy, who is Catholic, were honored by the college it would have given the impression that "someone can hold a position that is contrary to the church's teaching (and still be honored)."
"That cannot be allowed," he said.
Some news reports have said Kennedy supports same-sex marriage and keeping abortion legal but she is not well-known for publicly addressing these issues. Her husband, a lifelong Catholic, was a longtime proponent of access to abortion for women and supported equal rights for gays and lesbians.
A March 30 statement from the 1,100-student Catholic liberal arts college located in central Massachusetts said the invitation was withdrawn after "hours of discerning and struggling with elements of all sides of this issue."
Citing Kennedy's contributions on social issues such as gun control and child safety, the statement also said college officials still believed the late senator's wife was an appropriate choice as speaker and honorary degree recipient.
"As a small Catholic college that relies heavily on the good will of its relationship with the bishop and the larger Catholic community, its options are limited," the college's statement said. "Should the bishop's concerns become a public debate, Mrs. Kennedy's appearance at commencement and the recognition of her many outstanding achievements could be reduced to a focus other than the primary importance of commencement, a celebration for Anna Maria College graduates."
The college said it apologized to Kennedy and appreciated her understanding of its position.
Kennedy expressed disappointment that she would not be able to address Anna Maria College's class of 2012.
In a statement issued after the college's announcement, Kennedy said she accepted the decision of Anna Maria College President Jack P. Calareso and the Executive Committee of the college's board of trustees and "regretted the position" in which they had been placed.
"I have great respect and admiration for Anna Maria College and the class of 2012 and would not want my presence to hurt the school or detract from the graduates' special day in any way," Kennedy's statement said.
"Nevertheless, I am disheartened by this entire turn of events," the statement continued. "I am a lifelong Catholic and my faith is very important to me."
She is a member of the board of directors of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, is a nonprofit organization that brings together leaders from the worlds of business, finance, academia, philanthropy, nonprofits and the church to serve the Catholic Church in the United States in the areas of management, finances and human resources development.
Kennedy said she had not met with Bishop McManus "nor has he been willing to meet with me to discuss his objections."
"He has not consulted with my pastor to learn more about me or my faith. Yet by objecting to my appearance at Anna Maria College he has made a judgment about my worthiness as a Catholic. This is a sad day for me and an even sadder one for the church I love," Kennedy said.