Senator Claire McCaskill Disinvited From Daughter's High School Commencement Over Stem Cell Debate

Sen. Claire McCaskill was disinvited from speaking at her daughter's Catholic high school commencement because her positions on abortion and embryonic stem cell research are at odds with those of the church.

Students at St. Joseph's Academy in the St. Louis suburb of Frontenac wanted to have McCaskill speak at their graduation this month, McCaskill spokeswoman Adrianne Marsh said Tuesday.

But the offer was rescinded last week. The senator was told by the school that the decision came from St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke, Marsh said.

Marsh said the senator, a Catholic, understands that her positions supporting abortion rights and stem cell research are different than those held by the church, but she's made peace with them.

The Democratic senator had seen the chance to speak at commencement as a special opportunity because her daughter is one of the graduates, McCaskill said in a statement.

"I'm disappointed that the Archbishop has made this decision. It does not diminish my respect and admiration for St. Joseph's Academy, their faculty, and students."

Archdiocesan spokeswoman Anne Steffens said, "The decision was not made by the archbishop." She said he wasn't part of discussions on the matter.

The president of St. Joseph's Academy, Sister Michaela Zahner, said she made the decision to rescind the invitation to McCaskill after receiving a call from the archdiocesan education office.

She was told of an archdiocesan policy that forbids providing a public forum for speakers who do not hold to truths as they are presented by the Catholic Church. Zahner said the policy clearly reflects Burke's position.

She said McCaskill was not asked to give a political speech, but was chosen to address the class because she is a woman who has served Missouri "well and faithfully for over 30 years."

Zahner said she was concerned about possible disruptions by anti-abortion activists if McCaskill spoke. While St. Joseph's is a private, rather than an archdiocesan school, it receives its right to be identified as a Catholic institution through the archdiocese, she said.

"It was a very hard decision," Zahner said. She personally believed having McCaskill speak was going to be a good choice for the girls. "My personal belief could not affect the good of the institution," she said.

Marsh said McCaskill did not intend to publicize the matter for fear it would put a "political cloud" on the commencement. She issued a statement only after being approached by a reporter.

"She doesn't want her daughter or the other girls to suffer," Marsh said. "She is very saddened that this is putting girls at the school on political display."

Just last week, Burke resigned from the board of the Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center Foundation in St. Louis where singer Sheryl Crow was providing entertainment for a fundraiser, because he disagreed with her support of abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research.

Zahner said the call from the archdiocese came in the days before Burke made his announcement about the Cardinal Glennon board foundation.

St. Joseph's Academy is a college preparatory high school sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. About 640 girls attend the school.