AVE MARIA (FL)
Naples Daily News [Naples FL]
February 26, 2021
By Rachel Fradette
Australian Cardinal George Pell, who was accused, convicted and then acquitted of sexual abuse charges, will speak at Ave Maria University’s commencement where he will also receive an honorary degree from the school.
Pell will be one of the highest-ranking Catholic Church officials to have addressed the university’s graduates, according to the school.
Pell, who once served as the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, spent more than a year in prison following his conviction in 2018. The High Court of Australia overturned his conviction in April 2020.
Ave Maria University President Christopher Ice said Pell expressed to him his excitement to attend and speak at commencement.
“He went on to articulate and ask me a lot of questions about the local community and university and how things are going, very much in tune and in touch,” Ice said.
Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan founded the private Catholic university in 2003.
Pell served as an ecclesial adviser to the university during its founding, according to Ice. In that role, Pell helped develop the Catholic teachings and principles for the school, Ice said.
Pell, who was accused of sexually abusing two teenage boys in the 1990s, had his case overturned by Australia’s High Court.
Following his acquittal, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said the ruling was “disappointing.”
“We believe that this ruling will make victims lose their faith in the criminal justice system and will send the message that survivors should stay hidden and silent rather than come forward and seek justice,” SNAP Australia said in a statement following the verdict.
Ice said he does not anticipate opposition by Ave Maria’s community to Pell’s invitation to speak and receive an honorary degree.
As for survivors of clergy sexual abuse, Ice said he hopes this invitation can be a “healing moment.”
In the past, other Ave Maria commencement speakers included then-Gov. Rick Scott, former Gov. Jeb Bush and then-U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
DeVos’ visit in 2018 led to debates among AMU alumni about whether she should have received an invitation from the university.
In 2019, then-Vice President Mike Pence also visited the Catholic college where he gave a speech on the Trump administration’s focus on religious freedom.
About 215 students will receive their degrees at the school’s May 8 ceremony on Gyrene Field on the school’s campus.
In December, the university hosted fall commencement that required attendees to spread out and wear masks. Ice said these safety measures will be in place for spring graduation.
Currently, the school has two active cases of COVID-19. So far this semester 35 people have tested positive for the virus, according to the school.
Ice, who started his tenure last January, said his first year was an adjustment. Ice is Ave Maria University’s third president.
“This first year is pretty tumultuous as you can imagine with all the things going on, but I’m really, really settling in, and things are going very well,” Ice said.
Rachel Fradette is an education reporter for the Naples Daily News. Follow her on Twitter: @Rachel_Fradette, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.