A Damage Assessment

The costs of secularized Catholic higher education can be measured
by the congressional voting records of Catholic college graduates.

Even as anger among faithful Catholics at the secularization of Catholic colleges and universities grows, most of the presidents, administrators, and board members of these institutions remain recalcitrant, refusing to consider any truly orthodox reforms. Students have paid the highest price for this scandal, graduating from these schools with minds untouched by the Catholic intellectual tradition.

Assaults on the Catholic faith at Catholic colleges and universities have been well documented. But less well documented are the consequences of these assaults. It is time to look closely at the graduates of these colleges and universities—to begin to assess the costs of more than four decades of the abandonment of authentic Catholic teaching on these campuses.

There is no better place to begin such an analysis than the 111th US Congress, where Catholic elected members now represent 30.3 percent of the total 535 lawmakers. Many of these men and women have been educated in Catholic colleges and universities. Graduates from Jesuit colleges and universities are especially well represented, comprising nearly 10 percent of members of Congress.

Although we cannot claim that the voting records of the Catholic collegeeducated senators and representatives are a direct result of their having attended these colleges, we cannot deny that we are all shaped by our educational experiences. It appears that the leadership of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities would agree, since its website touts the fact that there are currently 11 graduates of Jesuit colleges and universities in the Senate and 41 in the House of Representatives.

Describing these Jesuit-educated graduates as “leavens of good for the wider society,” Jack Dunn, a spokesman for Boston College, stated in an interview published in the National Catholic Reporter, “The Jesuits have always believed that their graduates can affect the social order.” Echoing that, Andy Pino, a spokesman for Georgetown University, told NCR that “through their service, they are examples of those who are living the Jesuit value of educating leaders to be women and men for others.”

While Dunn is correct that these graduates have affected the social order through their votes in Congress, it must be acknowledged that many of these “men and women for others” would be called more appropriately “men and women for some others,” because the majority of the Jesuit college and university graduates in Congress show little to no inclination to do anything to protect the unborn.


Some of the most radical pro-abortion members of Congress are the Catholic and non-Catholic graduates of Jesuit colleges and universities. The top leaders in Congress, including Senate Assistant Majority Leader Richard Durbin (D-IL), as well as Majority Leader in the House of Representatives Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and the Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Special Assistant to the Speaker Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), are all graduates of Georgetown University. They are also three of the most reliably pro-abortion voters in Congress. Rated 100 percent by NARAL Pro Choice America, indicating radical pro-abortion voting records, all three of these Jesuit-educated leaders continue the commitment that the Democratic Party has made to the right to abortion on demand, including access to partialbirth abortion.

Illinois Senator Richard Durbin is one of the most notorious pro-abortion supporters in the Senate. A Roman Catholic who has received both undergraduate and law degrees from Georgetown, Durbin frequently posts a 0 percent pro-life voting record on key pro-life legislation from the National Right to Life Committee. Durbin voted against banning partial birth abortion in 1999 and again in 2003. He also voted against maintaining the ban on military base abortions, and in 2006, he voted against notifying parents of minors who travel out of state for abortions. In 2008 Durbin voted against prohibiting minors from crossing state lines for abortions. Later that same year, Durbin voted against defining the unborn child as eligible for SCHIP, the children’s health insurance policy, and voted in favor of expanding research on embryonic stem-cell lines. All of this has indeed “affected the social order.”

Georgetown graduate Steny Hoyer’s pro-abortion votes mirror those of Durbin. Voting against restricting interstate transport of minors for abortion, against making it a federal crime to harm a fetus during another crime, and against banning partial-birth abortion, Hoyer has also voted in favor of expanding research on embryonic stem-cell lines. Hoyer, a Baptist, has been consistently rated 0 percent by the National Right to Life Committee.

Chris Van Hollen, yet another Georgetown graduate, voted in favor of expanding research to more embryonic stem-cell lines, against restricting interstate transport of minors to obtain abortions, against making it a crime to harm a fetus during another crime, against banning partial birth abortion, and against forbidding human cloning for reproduction and medical research. And, like Durbin and Hoyer, Van Hollen has been rated 0 percent by the NRLC.

Beyond the leadership of the 111th Congress, Jesuit graduates have distinguished themselves as strong prochoice proponents on recent major issues. When President Obama signed an order to lift the Mexico City Policy, a Reagan-era policy that prohibits taxpayer funds from going to organizations that promote or perform abortions overseas, eight of the 11 Jesuit graduates in the Senate refused to support an amendment that would have restored the prohibition on the funding of abortion.

Voting against the amendment (and therefore in favor of funding abortions overseas) were Georgetown graduates Richard Durbin, Patrick Leahy, Lisa Murkowski, and Jim Webb; Loyola College in Maryland graduate Barbara Mikulski; Boston College graduate John Kerry; St. Peter’s College graduate Robert Menendez; and, most notably, the self-proclaimed “pro-life” Senator Robert Casey Jr., a graduate of the College of the Holy Cross.

In addition to the Jesuit college graduates, Catholic Senators Chris Dodd—a graduate of Providence College—and Tom Harkin—a graduate of the Catholic University of America—voted in favor of funding abortion overseas. Of the five Georgetown graduates in the Senate, only one voted against funding abortion overseas. Only three of 11 Jesuit graduates in the Senate voted against funding overseas abortions: Georgetown graduate Senator John Barrasso, Xavier University graduate Jim Bunning, and Creighton University graduate Mark Johanns.

Similar voting patterns for Jesuit college and university graduates are evident in the House, where Jesuit graduates, advancing a spurious notion of “social justice,” were instrumental in helping to increase access to abortion for poor women. By a narrow margin, the House voted in July 2009 to provide government funding for abortion in the District of Columbia. The members voted for the appropriations after preventing pro-life members from offering an amendment that would have kept in place a ban on federal and local funds being used to pay for abortions in the District. The previous week, the Senate Appropriations Committee, under the leadership of Richard Durbin, rejected a pro-life amendment to reinsert the DC ban.

While some of these Jesuit graduates in the House claim to want to reduce the rate of abortion, their voting behavior in favor of funding abortions for poor women betrays that claim, as all of the available research shows that limiting government funding of abortion is the best way to reduce the rates of abortion. Last spring, even the Guttmacher Institute—the research arm of Planned Parenthood—issued a report indicating that nearly 25 percent of the women who would have had Medicaid-funded abortions chose instead to have their babies when they were barred from using public money.

Jesuit graduates voting in favor of using local taxpayer funds to pay for abortions for poor women living in the District of Columbia included Holy Cross graduates Timothy Bishop, James Moran, and Peter Welch; Boston College graduates Michael Capuano, William Delahunt, Paul Hodes, Stephen Lynch, Edward Markey, and Robert Scott; Georgetown graduates Henry Cuellar, John Dingell, Mazie Hirono, Steny Hoyer, Chris Van Hollen, and Peter Visclosky; Loyola College Maryland graduate John Hall; Santa Clara University graduate Zoe Lofgren; Marquette University graduate Gwen Moore; Fordham University graduates Jerrold Nadler, Adam Smith, and William Pascrell; University of Detroit Mercy graduate Gary Peters; and St. Peter’s College graduate Albio Sires.

Beyond the Jesuit graduates in the House, a number of Catholic graduates of non-Jesuit Catholic colleges voted in favor of funding abortion for the poor in the District, including Gerald Connolly of Maryknoll College, Rosa De- Lauro of Marymount College of Fordham, Patrick Kennedy of Providence College, Betty McCollum of the College of St. Catherine, Nancy Pelosi of Trinity Washington University, Charles Rangel of St. John’s University, Ciro Rodriguez of St. Mary’s University, and Patrick Murphy of King’s College.

There were Jesuit college graduates who voted against providing local tax funds for District of Columbia abortions, and they should be noted: Marquette University graduates Steve Austria and Donald Manzullo; Xavier University graduate John Boehner; University of Detroit Mercy graduates Vern Buchanan and Thaddeus McCotter; Fordham University graduate (and Loyola University of New Orleans JD) Anh “Joseph” Cao; Georgetown graduates Michael Castle, Jeff Fortenberry, Mark Kirk, Glen Nye, and Dan Lungren; Loyola College Maryland graduate John Hall; St. Joseph’s University graduate Frank LoBiondo; Wheeling Jesuit College graduate Tim Murphy; and Creighton University graduate Lee Terry.

There were also some Catholic House members who graduated from non-Jesuit Catholic colleges who voted against the funding, including John Bocciari of St. Bonaventure University and Webster University; Peter King, who received an undergraduate degree from St. Francis College and his law degree from Notre Dame Law School; Michael McCaul of St. Mary’s University; and James Oberstar, a graduate of the College of St. Thomas.


To understand how the culture that helped to nurture pro-abortion politicians may have emerged on many Catholic campuses, it is helpful to look closely at the culture and curriculum at Georgetown University, where in the fall of 2006, Dean T. Alexander Aleinkoff announced the creation of the Robert F. Drinan, SJ Chair in Human Rights to honor what administrators called “Father Drinan’s lifelong commitment to public service.” As an elected member of the House of Representatives from 1970 until 1980, Father Drinan provided a much-imitated model for Catholic politicians who wished to support the pro abortion movement while claiming to be faithful to Catholic moral teaching.

Drinan was instrumental in convincing the one-time pro-life Kennedy family to support legalized abortion. Throughout his tenure in Congress, Drinan could be counted on to provide some of the most extreme pro-choice votes, supporting legalized abortion and its public funding and opposing pro-life initiatives. Even when he left elected office, Drinan continued his tireless support for abortion in his position as president of Americans for Democratic Action, and remained part of a cohort of Catholic theologians, philosophers, and academic advocates who committed themselves to debunking catechetical teachings on abortion.

Father Drinan died in January 2007, at the end of the same month in which he presided over a Mass at Trinity Washington University at the request of the new US Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi—another reliable proabortion voter in the House. A Trinity alumna (along with current prochoice Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius), Pelosi knew that she would find a congenial community for pro-choice views on the Catholic campus.

Pelosi knew that most Catholic college faculty members had long ago stopped supporting Catholic teaching on abortion. Ignoring Pelosi’s 100 percent pro choice voting record and Sebelius’ similar commitment to expanding rights to abortion (including partialbirth abortion) during her tenure as governor of Kansas, Trinity honored the two women in 2003 with honorary doctorates.

It is possible that students at Trinity Washington University have never been told that abortion is contrary to Church teachings. Pelosi’s own daughter, Alexandra Pelosi, a graduate of San Francisco’s Convent of the Sacred Heart High School and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, claimed in a published interview in the San Francisco Chronicle that she “doesn’t ever remember being told that there was anything wrong with abortion.”


Celebrations of Father Drinan’s life were held at funeral Masses at Georgetown University and Boston College. At Georgetown, the late Senator Edward Kennedy eulogized the priest who had provided political cover for him on abortion for more than four decades, and Nancy Pelosi praised what she called Father Drinan’s “expansive view of the Gospel.” She knew that the Georgetown community would understand exactly what she meant by that.

If President Obama chooses to try to pass the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), he will have plenty of help from Catholic lawmakers with an “expansive view of the Gospel”—many of them graduates of Catholic colleges. Four of the 21 sponsors of the Senate version of FOCA are Catholics, including Senators Maria Cantwell, John Kerry, Barbara Mikulski, and Patty Murray. And 23 of the 111 sponsors of the House version of FOCA are Catholics, including Representatives Michael Capuano, William Clay, Joseph Crowley, Peter DeFazio, Rosa DeLauro, Raul Grijalva, Luis Gutierrez, Patrick Kennedy, Dennis Kucinich, Rick Larsen, Carolyn McCarthy, Betty McCollum, James McGovern, George Miller, James Moran, Grace Napolitano, Frank Pallone, Charles Rangel, Linda Sanchez, Loretta Sanchez, Hilda Solis, Ellen Tauscher, Michael Thompson, Dian Watson, and Jon Porter. Most of these members have histories of voting in favor of abortion rights—and against any limits on abortion.

One of the sponsors of FOCA and one of the most reliable pro-abortion voters in the House is Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), a graduate of the Academy of Our Lady of Mercy Laurelton Hall High School and Marymount College of Fordham. Despite this, De- Lauro has recognized that many Catholic voters remain wary of the continued commitment of the Democrats to abortion on demand. In an attempt to reach these voters, DeLauro recently joined with Representative Tim Ryan (D-OH) to create the “Reducing the Need for Abortions Initiative.”

Although it claims that it is “affirming the need to prevent unintended pregnancies and to help women with the economic pressures that may lead them to choosing an abortion,” in truth the DeLauro-Ryan bill would increase federal funding for Title X family planning and thereby increase the funds given by the taxpayers to abortion providers like Planned Parenthood. The bill would also increase support for Plan B—a form of “emergency contraception” that even the FDA acknowledges can function as an abortifacient. Not surprisingly, Planned Parenthood has lauded the bill.

Concerned about self-proclaimed “pro-life” Democrat Ryan’s movement to the pro-choice side, the Democrats for Life of America removed the congressman from its national advisory board over the summer, claiming that Ryan has “turned his back on the (pro-life) community at every turn.” Despite his support for what can only be described as a pro-choice bill, Ryan continues to insist that he is still a strong pro-life advocate who wants to reduce the number of abortions by addressing poverty as the “root cause” of abortion.

This “root cause” rhetoric is exactly the same strategy that President Obama used to appeal to Catholics during his presidential campaign. Throughout the lead-up to the election, Obama’s words were carefully chosen by speechwriters to appeal to Catholic voters—acknowledging that pro-life rhetoric is sometimes more important than pro-life voting behavior.

To help Obama perfect his Catholicfriendly prose is 26-year-old College of the Holy Cross graduate Jon Favreau, the president’s head speechwriter. The Jesuit-educated Favreau understood early in the campaign that to appeal to Catholic voters, references to Cardinal Bernardin’s seamless garment are helpful, as are phrases like “working together for the common good” and “seeking common ground on abortion.” Unfortunately President Obama’s rhetoric has not matched his behavior.

Health care reform and the creation of a taxpayer-funded government health plan with provisions for full reproductive health care stand as the current major challenges to lawmakers. Not surprisingly, Catholic college graduates like Pelosi, Durbin, and Hoyer have pleased the Planned Parenthood and NARAL lobbyists by promoting public funding for abortion within the plan. In campaign speeches, Obama promised to make “reproductive rights central to the government health plan.”


Still, pro-life advocates should be encouraged by the courageous response to the health care proposal offered by Representative Anh “Joseph” Cao (R La.), a graduate of Fordham University and Loyola University Law School in New Orleans. Cao, who had spent time in formation to be a Jesuit priest prior to his career in politics, has said that he will not support any bill that permits public money to be spent on abortion.

In an interview published in Louisiana’s Times-Picayune Cao said, “Being [Jesuit-educated], I very much adhere to the notion of social justice…I do fully understand the need of providing everyone with access to health care, but I cannot be privy to a law that will allow the potential of destroying thousands of innocent lives.”

Representative Cao’s statement reflects what the founders of Catholic colleges and universities had in mind when they created these institutions. There are vestiges of this mission still left on these campuses. It can be recaptured. But it has become more difficult than ever to find faithful faculty and administrators on these campuses. The voices of orthodox Catholics, including those of bishops, have been largely silenced.

A few years ago Archbishop Michael Miller, then the secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, told a gathering at the University of Notre Dame that Catholic college administrators needed to come up with ways to measure their Catholic identities— and to think broadly about what it means to be a Catholic institution. He was talking about looking at the outcomes, and he suggested that it was time for Catholic colleges to demonstrate that they are making a difference.

The bishops would do well to begin a systematic assessment program that looks closely at these outcomes and holds the Catholic colleges and universities in their dioceses accountable for the graduates they are producing. There may come a day when Catholic colleges and universities will be proud to honor faithful graduates like Representative Cao rather than those like Sebelius and Pelosi.


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About Anne Hendershott 101 Articles
Anne Hendershott is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.  She is the author of The Politics of Envy (Sophia Books, 2020)