Mr. President: This place is not your place
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On Friday, May 11, President Bush is scheduled to give the commencement address at St. Vincent College in Latrobe. To honor the leader of this country would seem a unique opportunity. However, President Bush and his administration have so often violated Christian, Catholic and Benedictine teaching and tradition that I firmly oppose this distinction. Let me explain.
Maynard Brennan was president of St. Vincent College from 1963 to 1969 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
For 35 years I was educated and lived the venerable Benedictine life. I maintain the Benedictine spirit as essential and defining for my life journey.
Four years ago, I was heartsick when President Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq. At that time I endorsed the words of Pope John Paul II as he opposed this ill-fated, immoral adventure. I was pleased that in 2005 the leadership of Benedictine men and women, 2,357 strong, issued the Benedictine Peace Statement: "We believe that violence does not yield peace. We are concerned about the military and political ethos of our own country where justice is defined on the basis of our self-interest rather than on a consciousness that we are part of a common humanity."
I am disturbed that my alma mater will place before graduating seniors one whose leadership and administration have violated and ignored this exhortation. Recently, during his Easter greetings, Pope Benedict XVI continued the criticism: "Nothing positive comes from Iraq, torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees."
In addition, while Mr. Bush served as governor of Texas, 152 people were executed. On at least five occasions Pope John Paul II wrote to Gov. Bush requesting clemency for individuals on death row. Mr. Bush rejected these requests, as well as one made to him during his presidency. This shows Mr. Bush's outright disregard for contemporary Catholic moral teaching.
Mr. Bush calls himself a born-again Christian; he quotes the Bible; conservative Christians form his political base. Yet, in Matthew 25 we read that Jesus identifies with the hungry, the thirsty, the naked and the imprisoned. This gospel further challenges us: If we do not care for the least and the lowest, we cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven.
Has Mr. Bush led us to care for the powerless and the marginalized? The numbers of poor, homeless and imprisoned people in this country continue to rise. The gap between the rich and poor grows exponentially: According to the most recent figures, the top 1 percent of Americans -- whose average income was $1.1 million a year -- received 21.8 percent of the nation's income. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 37 million Americans, or 12.6 percent of our population, were living in poverty in 2005. I cannot forget the many pictures of American poor struggling for survival after Katrina. Many continue to suffer so many years later.
Certainly our country needed to respond to the horror of Sept. 11, 2001. Subsequently, we broke the back of al-Qaida and took military action to eliminate the Taliban in Afghanistan. Imagine what would have happened if the United States had then focused on building hospitals and training Afghans to heal their own people. Imagine what humane gospel values would have been seen if we had improved the irrigation system, thus bringing clean water to isolated villages. Those pictures would have been broadcast throughout the Arab and Muslim world.
Instead we invaded Iraq, a country with many revered Muslim holy sites, making us seem to many as the latest incarnation of Western domination or even crusade. Extreme fundamentalists in Afghanistan are making a fearsome return. Our actions have become the best recruiting tool for terrorists.
When I was president of St. Vincent College, I was proud to stand before the graduates and encourage them to engage the world with wholesome gospel values. A commencement speaker is a living example of such virtue, sending graduates forth with vision and hope. I have serious misgivings that President Bush can fulfill this exalted role. How can a man whose administration has been so tainted by incompetence and corruption be a worthwhile role model for young people?
St. Vincent College, as a vibrant example of Benedictine and Catholic Christian life, must reach back and feel its backbone. I greatly regret that the Latrobe Benedictine Community will honor the former boss of the current St. Vincent president, James Towey.
Actions do speak louder than words, and the actions of Mr. Bush and his administration have aptly demonstrated that he does not stand for the values which this college has historically represented: the principle of justice and adherence to the biblical admonitions for nonviolence and concern for the poor.
First Published May 1, 2007 5:51 pm