Lucye Rafferty/The Hoya University President John J. DeGioia responded to controversial remarks made in a graduation address at a meeting with student press on Friday.

University President John J. DeGioia responded to concerns raised about comments made by Cardinal Francis Arinze, who addressed the graduating class from the College on May 17, assuring students and faculty that Georgetown would remain committed to the “full inclusiveness” that he said has characterized the university since its inception.

A handful of students and a theology professor Theresa Sanders, left the ceremony after Arinze, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments as well as a leading candidate to succeed Pope John Paul II, made controversial remarks stating that today the family is “mocked by homosexuality.”

“In many parts of the world, the family is under siege,” Arinze said. “It is opposed by an anti-life mentality as is seen in contraception, abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. It is scorned and banalized by pornography, desecrated by fornication and adultery, mocked by homosexuality, sabotaged by irregular unions and cut in two by divorce.”

Seventy faculty members later signed a letter of protest submitted to College Dean Jane McAuliffe on May 21. McAuliffe held a public meeting with concerned students and faculty and sent a letter to graduates and their parents.

While university officials have neither publicly defended nor repudiated Arinze’s statements, DeGioia said that the commitment of the university to inclusiveness had not changed.

“The commitment of this university and the underlying ethos with our commitment to the full inclusiveness and care of each individual has characterized this place since 1789,” he said in an interview with student press on Friday. “That commitment is as deep today as it was in any time in our history. Nothing has altered the depth of our commitment to that place.”

McAuliffe said in an e-mail to College faculty in May that she invited Arinze with the expectation that he would speak about Christian-Muslim relations. “Since for some years I sat on an inter-religious dialogue commission with the Cardinal, I expected inter-religious relations to form the substance of his remarks at commencement and was very surprised that it was not the topic,” she said.

DeGioia said that Arinze was someone who “has provided very strong leadership” on inter-religious dialogue, which he said he viewed as growing in importance in the world.

“Cardinal Arinze was invited here in that context,” he said. “He was invited because of leadership in inter-religious dialogue and he has been a greater leader in that context.”

DeGioia also said that he did not believe that Arinze meant to offend people in his speech.

“I don’t think that was the intention of the remarks,” he said. “I want to ensure that no one would interpret [the remarks] as a huge shift in our underlying ethos.”

DeGioia also said that Georgetown has long taken an interest in inter-religious dialogue, both as a Catholic university with a history rooted in administering to people of all faiths and as a school located in Washington, D.C., citing the university’s campus ministry department, which has included a rabbi for over 30 years and a Muslim imam.

As evidence of Georgetown’s ongoing commitment to inter-religious dialogue, DeGioia announced that this March, the Archbishop of Canterbury will visit Georgetown, which will play host to a forum on inter-religious understanding.

The meeting will be the third such forum. The previous two conferences were held by the Anglican Church in Doha, Qatar, and in London.

“This is a unique moment for Georgetown to provide unique leadership,” DeGioia said.

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