By Stephen Majewski

In inviting political talk show host Chris Matthews to deliver a commencement speech and receive an honorary doctorate next week, the leaders of St. Joseph's University seem intent on killing the school's Catholic identity.

Although Matthews claims to be Catholic, he is a longtime enthusiastic proponent of "abortion rights" - in defiance of the clear teachings of the church. And he has displayed hostility toward those who want to protect innocent human life. In March, Matthews said on his MSNBC program, Hardball, that Kathleen Sebelius, at the time President Obama's nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services, might face "the terrorism of the anti-abortion people."

Many Catholics are dismayed and confused by the University of Notre Dame's decision to honor Obama at its commencement. Similarly, a Catholic university's invitation to Matthews cannot be easily dismissed with lofty language such as "common ground" and "dialogue." Matthews is not being invited to take part in a public discourse. And abortion is not an issue up for debate by Catholics; the value of human life from conception to natural death is a principle at the heart of the Catholic worldview.

St. Joseph's seems to have forgotten that the church has consistently taught that the killing of an unborn child is always intrinsically evil. This is not a case of single-issue tunnel vision. The church's position toward life is a lens through which we must view all other concerns.

The right to life also upholds the fundamental principle of justice on which America is founded. When we fail to protect life, all other rights are in jeopardy.

St. Joseph's is unashamedly undermining the authority of the nation's Catholic bishops. In 2004, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement providing guidance on these matters to Catholic universities. "The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles," the statement said. "They should not be given awards, honors, or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."

In 2003, when Matthews was honored during graduation ceremonies at the College of the Holy Cross and the University of Scranton, local bishops boycotted the ceremonies. Like those schools, St. Joseph's is committing a grave scandal.

In Catholic parlance, a scandal is an attitude or behavior that might induce another to do or believe something morally wrong. According to the catechism, a scandal "is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others."

Jesus told his disciples to expect scandals, and he added a warning: "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea."

A Catholic university's mission, first and foremost, must be to adhere to church teachings. While the values of institutions of higher learning - such as open dialogue and inquiry - should be fostered at Catholic universities, they must be within the framework of the church's beliefs and practices. By inviting and honoring Matthews, St. Joseph's has decided that it is a university first and Catholic second.

Stephen Majewski is a St. Joseph's University alumnus and a member of St. Mary of the Lakes Parish in Medford.

He can be reached at stephenmajewski@yahoo.com.