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Commencement Controversy

Chris Matthews’ presence at Commencement and his talk were received enthusiastically by the graduates and their families, but not by some alumni and outside groups.

“Mr. Matthews was chosen to receive an honorary degree and give the Commencement address because we knew he would give a memorable speech, because he is a prominent alumnus who has been a loyal and distinguished supporter of Holy Cross and the Catholic Church, and especially because he has used his position in the media to bring some of the most difficult moral issues in our society into the political arena, in a thoughtful and principled way,” says Holy Cross president, Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J.

It was the last point that caused the problem. While there was very little comment in March to the announcement that Matthews had been selected as the speaker, an attack arose a month before Commencement, claiming he was “pro-abortion.” Most alumni joined students, faculty and staff in supporting the College’s decision, but some registered strong protests.

Bishop Daniel Reilly of Worcester chose not to attend the ceremony, not wanting to be seen as supporting someone who was not unambiguously pro-life. In a statement explaining his decision, he made it clear that, “in making this decision, I am not questioning the fidelity of the College of the Holy Cross to its mission as a Catholic College or its dedication to the mission of the Catholic Church.” Interestingly, Avery Cardinal Dulles, often described as the greatest living American theologian, who also received an honorary degree, had no problem sharing the stage with Matthews.

“It is extremely unfair and misleading to characterize Chris Matthews as being an abortion supporter or even as ‘pro-choice’ in the sense that the decision to have an abortion is morally neutral. He does not believe that,” says Fr. McFarland. “Mr. Matthews has made it clear that he thinks abortion is wrong, and we should be concerned about preventing it.

“We regret that some alumni and other friends who have worked with admirable dedication to protect the unborn have been offended by the decision to honor Chris Matthews. That was not our intent. As a Catholic institution, Holy Cross embraces the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of all human life,” continues Fr. McFarland. “We also embrace and value all of our alumni. The most prominent among the protestors was Charles Millard ’54, longtime College Trustee and former chair of the Board.

It is out of my respect for and appreciation of Charlie Millard, a distinguished and devoted alumnus, and father of eight Crusaders, that I clear up some misinformation that has persisted in the wake of the Commencement controversy regarding our responses to the deep concerns he expressed in the weeks leading up to Commencement about awarding an honorary degree to Chris Matthews. Though we were not able to reach agreement with Charlie over the appropriateness of the degree or the wording of the citation, it is certainly not true that we ignored him. As chair of the Board, Dr. Michael Collins ’77 responded respectfully to Charlie’s concerns on behalf of the Trustees.

“As much as we lament the indignation and upset the decision may have caused some in the Holy Cross community, as an educational institution we must maintain our commitment to thoughtful and open inquiry, critical scrutiny of all positions and assumptions, examination of issues in all their complexity without losing the important distinctions and nuances, and honest and respectful dialogue with other cultures and points of view,” continues Fr. McFarland. “Only in this way can we fulfill our mission to produce thoughtful, principled, and well-prepared leaders for the Church and society, and to bring our traditions and values into constructive engagement with the wider culture.”



Chris Matthews '67

Chris Matthews '67

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