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AFL-CIO's Sweeney honored by Georgetown University, conservative Catholics protest award
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AFL-CIO's Sweeney honored by Georgetown University, conservative Catholics protest award

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney was honored by Georgetown University with a Doctor of Laws degree on September 3.

Sweeney, a Roman Catholic who has advised the US Conference of Catholic Bishops on social justice issues, is retiring from his position at the AFL-CIO after 14 years leading the labor federation.

According to Georgetown President John DeGioia, the university sought to recognize Sweeney's "dedication to fighting for better working conditions and human rights for workers," causes "rooted in his Catholic education and beliefs."

Saying in his speech at the ceremony that his Catholic faith has been "the bedrock of my life," Sweeney went on to say that the "Holy Father [the pope] reaffirms our belief in government as a legitimate tool for correcting injustice and inequality, and for regulating business. He writes: 'The market is not, and must not become, the place where the strong subdue the weak.'"

The Cardinal Newman Society was not happy with the guest of honor, however. The conservative Catholic group, which describes itself as "dedicated to renewing and strengthening Catholic identity at America's 224 Catholic colleges and universities," protested the award of a degree to Sweeney.

Citing the AFL-CIO's "advocacy for homosexual 'marriage' and laws mandating employee insurance coverage for contraceptives," the Cardinal Newman Society (CNS) called on Georgetown to reverse itself.

"The Catholic bishops have made it abundantly clear that Catholic universities are not to publicly honor leading opponents of Catholic moral principles," said CNS President Patrick J. Reilly. "We strongly urge Georgetown to uphold its Catholic mission and rescind the honor to John Sweeney."

"This criticism is totally unwarranted," Georgetown's Director of Media Relations Andy Pino replied. "Georgetown University awards honorary degrees based on an individual's distinguished accomplishments over the course of his or her career. Throughout his career, John Sweeney has championed the needs of working people, demonstrating his commitment to principles of Catholic social teaching such as social justice and social equality."

In March of 2009, the Executive Council of the AFL-CIO unanimously called on the California Supreme Court to invalidate Prop 8, which overturned the Court's previous decision in favor of marriage equality.

In December 2001, the AFL-CIO National Convention passed a resolution calling for a "national law that codifies the EEOC and District Court rulings, making coverage for contraceptives available under health care plans on the same terms that the plans cover other drugs, devices, and preventive care for employees."

The Cardinal Newman Society says both positions are contrary to Catholic moral doctrine laid down by a succession of popes. CNS also expressed dismay at the activities of two AFL-CIO affiliates, Pride At Work and the Coalition of Labor Union Women.

"The AFL-CIO constituency group Pride At Work has repeatedly promoted homosexual 'marriage' and hailed laws in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts and Vermont in the face of strong opposition from the Catholic Church," the CNS media release said.

"Another AFL-CIO constituency group, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, launched its 'Contraceptive Equity Project' in 2001 to demand that employers provide health insurance coverage for prescription contraceptives. The group advocates state laws forcing employers to fund such coverage," the CNS statement continued.

Sweeney was elected AFL-CIO President in 1995 at the head of a reform slate which promised greater democracy and inclusiveness in the labor federation. As part of that agenda, constituency organizations representing women, communities of color, and the LGBT community affiliated with the AFL-CIO as member organizations.

The Cardinal Newman Society spearheaded conservative Catholic protests this past May, when President Obama was invited to address Notre Dame's commencement ceremony. CNS claimed to have collected 65,000 signatures on a petition demanding Notre Dame rescind its invitation. The petition was unsuccessful.

The organization was formed in 1993 at Fordham University to combat university recognition of Gay and Lesbian student organizations.

Cardinal Newman was a 19th century British churchman who converted to the Catholic faith from the Anglican church, and led a movement to return Anglicanism to its Catholic roots. He is now a candidate for sainthood, with one approved miracle to his credit.

Ironically, in his own lifetime, Newman was accused by rival clergymen of being Gay. Although he announced at the age of 15 that he felt a calling to celibacy, Newman was notoriously fond of the younger priests in his entourage, living with one of them as his constant companion for 32 years. At Newman's orders, the two were buried in the same grave.

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