A photo of Pope Francis holding up a Georgetown University scarf, even while Vatican officials consider a canon law petition questioning Georgetown’s commitment to Catholic teaching, highlights significant contradictions at the nation’s oldest Catholic university.
The photo was taken on Saturday during a visit to Rome, not with University officials, but with leaders of a Georgetown center for religious freedom who seem at odds with the University’s capitulation to the Obama administration’s mandatory insurance coverage for sterilization, contraceptives and abortifacients.
According to Vox Populi, the blog for the Georgetown Voice:
On Dec. 14, six Georgetown students, professors and staff members had the opportunity to meet Pope Francis. They were attending an international conference on religious freedom organized and sponsored by Georgetown’s Religious Freedom Project, part of the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs.
The conference, entitled “Christianity and Freedom: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives” and held from Dec. 13-14 in Rome, explored Christianity’s contributions to freedom, particularly in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, despite persecution and opposition. Dozens of scholars around the world, including those from Georgetown, also presented the findings of a two-year study on the subject.
Pictured in the photo on either side of Pope Francis are Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project, and associate director Timothy Shah. To Farr’s right is former solicitor general Ken Starr, whose wry smile may have something to do with his current position as president of Baylor University, a historically Baptist institution with a demonstrably stronger commitment to the Christian Faith than has Georgetown.
Both Farr and Shah have been critics of the so-called HHS insurance mandate, despite their University’s decision to comply with the mandate rather than fight it in court, as have several Newman Guide colleges and the University of Notre Dame.
Last year, after President Barack Obama was reelected, Farr expressed deep concern but also hope for relief from federal courts. He told Aleteia:
I think the president and most of the leaders of the Democratic party no longer believe that religious freedom is the first freedom of the human soul and American democracy, that they no longer believe it’s necessary for the flourishing of individuals and societies—this is not new; this has been clear for some time—and that the challenges to religious liberty are going to become even more stark over the next four years than they are now.
…It’s hazardous to predict things these days… but it does seem to me if the First Amendment still says what it used to say, the first 16 words—add to that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, it seems to me the courts will find on the side of religious liberty and overturn the HHS mandate. I think there is a good chance this will happen.
The Becket Fund is taking the lawsuits to court against the federal government on behalf of religious liberty. I think they will prevail. That’s my hope and prediction, based on what the Constitution says and on what the law says.
Kevin Sullivan, the Georgetown student who provided the University scarf as a prop for the photo with Pope Francis, told Vox Populi that he was impressed with the Holy Father: “He walks very intently, takes the time to make eye contact and smile at everyone in the room, and chuckles even though I don’t think he understood some of our jokes.”
It is not clear whether the student intended the photo as one of those jokes.
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