2009-05-07 / Local & State

Bishop Criticizes College Over Speech

SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) - The bishop of an eastern Pennsylvania diocese is criticizing a local Catholic college's decision to have U.S. Sen. Bob Casey speak at its graduation ceremony later this month, accusing him of siding with abortion rights forces recently.

Bishop Joseph Martino of the Scranton diocese called the choice of Casey, D-Pa., to speak at the May 17 commencement at King's College in Wilkes-Barre "an affront to all who value the sanctity of life.''

Martino said in a statement late Friday that Casey's vote to confirm Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services despite her abortion rights stance showed that Casey was "a reliable vote for President Barack Obama's aggressive proabortion agenda.'' He said Casey lacked "the moral stature'' to address graduates about the challenges they will face.

Casey opposes abortion and has said he favors overturning the Supreme Court's 1973 ruling guaranteeing abortion rights. Martino acknowledged that the college invited him long before he voted to confirm Sebelius and against reversing Obama's decision to end a ban on the use of federal funds for groups overseas that provide abortions or abortion information.

"Now, however, it is truly unfortunate that this Catholic institution will be seen as providing a forum for a politician who is steadily distancing himself from pro-life principles,'' he said.

Casey spokesman Larry Smar said the senator believed it would be irresponsible to leave the health position vacant.

"He disagrees with her on abortion, but feels that she has the required expertise to help pass health care reform and provide health care to the uninsured - one of our country's top priorities,'' Smar said. He also said Casey has been criticized by his own party for his anti-abortion position.

King's spokesman John McAndrew said the school would have no comment. At the time the school invited him to speak, the college's president, the Rev. Thomas J. O'Hara, praised the Casey family, calling them "a shining example of a family of faith who have dedicated their lives to public service.''

After the Senate's confirmation of Sebelius on April 29, the bishop hinted that he might one day deny communion to Casey.

"If necessary, future determinations will be made regarding whether Sen. Casey is worthy to receive Holy Communion,'' a statement from the Diocese said.

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