With their recent decision to welcome Abby Johnson to speak on campus, Catholic University of America is sending a message to Black people: you’re not welcome.
A pro-life student group at CUA, Cardinals for Life, invited Abby Johnson to give a talk to their group about her pro-life witness about two years ago, well before she released a video last year defending racial profiling.
According to the group’s chaplain, CUA Campus Ministry Director Fr Jude DeAngelo, OFM Conv., they then learned of her comments while finalizing the logistics for her event. It was their “sincere hope that the community would overlook her personal political stand.”
Thus, they scheduled the talk for February 9, 2021.
Students and activists mobilized to stop the appearance. Cardinals for Life eventually canceled the event altogether—after receiving pressure from Campus Ministry, and not without protest (the president of Cardinals for Life resigned in response).
But the event still moved forward, though with a different host: the CUA College Republicans.
The university decided to take an offensive posture in defending itself. CUA President John Garvey sent out an apologia that included this language:
“[Deplatforming Abby Johnson] would disqualify students from inviting President Biden to speak about immigration policy, because he holds views about abortion… that the Catholic Church condemns.”
This form of bothsidesism perpetuates the harm that CUA is inflicting on Black students, alumni, and friends of the university.
The difference between inviting someone like Abby Johnson versus Joe Biden is simple: Joe Biden does not create a hostile environment at CUA or promote the oppression of Black people. As such, distinguishing between speakers with these opinions is simple. Although each disagrees with some aspect of Church teaching, only one of them creates a hostile environment for Black students, staff, and professors.
Garvey’s error is his treating opinions on race as merely partisan politics. Racism is not an opinion that can be separated out from other social or political activity. If someone is a White Supremacist, then that person wants White people to be supreme in all spaces and places, including in the Church and in the pro-life movement.
Moreover, inviting an anti-Black speaker causes Black people to experience racism and causes White people to actively participate in affirming anti-Blackness—by affirming the leadership role of anti-Black racists. Thus, platforming racists necessarily entails advancing and participating in the sin of racism.
To put it in terms of Catholic moral theology—which President Garvey claims to uphold—hosting someone who promotes racist ideology constitutes formal moral cooperation in the ideology of White Supremacy. It promotes the false and sinful narrative that White people are inherently better at leading or speaking, or are less likely to be intimidating or harmful to Catholic causes or culture. How can I, a Black man, send my children to CUA knowing it will expose them to amplified voices that, by their very amplification, tell Black people they are inherently less than White people?
This is no small issue. As CUA alumna (and Servant of God) Sr. Dr. Thea Bowman explained to the bishops in 1989: “A disproportionate number of our men are dying of suicide and AIDS and drug abuse, and low self-esteem.”
Abby Johnson is on record saying:
“When a police officer sees a brown man like my [child] walking down the road, as opposed to my White nerdy kids … these police officers know in their head… that, statistically, my brown son is more likely to commit a violent offense over my White sons. Okay. So the fact that, in his head, he would be more careful around my brown son than my White son, that doesn’t actually make me angry. That makes that police officer smart, because of statistics.”
Johnson’s message to me is that Black men are inherently more dangerous than White men, and it is “smart” for law enforcement to treat us as such. This is not mere political disagreement; it is a direct attack on the human dignity of every Black person. As Sr Thea reminds us, these are not just words—but violence.
Abby Johnson has used Black babies killed in abortion as a kind of rhetorical human shield. But in light of her statements on the inherent criminality of Black men, and her attitudes about Black fatherhood, one wonders whether her point of view has more in common with Margaret Sanger than she would like to admit.
To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, CUA and other American Catholic institutions have a rendezvous with destiny. Will they continue to create spaces for White Supremacy to thrive and promote violence against Black people? Or will they unite to the vision of Pope Francis in Fratelli Tutti and build a culture of life that embraces all people as brothers and sisters made in the image and likeness of God?
Until we see proof otherwise, it is clear which path CUA has chosen.
Gunnar Gundersen is an attorney in Newport Beach, CA. He serves in his parish council and choir, is a published essayist, and regularly lectures on natural law and the American Founding. He is also the first Ordinariate member of the Knights of Peter Claver and is starting their first council in Orange County. Follow him on Twitter at @GBGundersen.