JOHANNESBURG — Social conservatives in the US are campaigning to have Archbishop Desmond Tutu barred from speaking at a Catholic university.
But supporters of Tutu have launched a rival petition backing the South African Nobel laureate's invitation from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, where he is to receive an honorary doctor of laws degree and deliver a keynote speech.
Critics say Tutu's views on gay marriage and abortion contradict Catholic teachings, The Spokesman-Review reported.
More than 800 people, including college alumni, students, staff and members of conservative American groups, signed a petition calling for the invitation to be rescinded.
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The petition said: "In addition to his position on abortion, Archbishop Tutu promotes same-sex 'marriage,' the ordination of homosexual clergy and has made comments that are offensive to Jewish people."
Tutu, 80, earned a Nobel Peace Prize for his peaceful struggle against apartheid and has been described as the “moral conscience” of South Africa. He is also known for making brash public statements on a range of issues.
He responded to his critics by saying he is "getting really bored with this stuff," South Africa's Times newspaper reported.
"People should be entitled to express their opinions, and I will continue to work hard to support the right of all people around the world to express their opinions," he said, according to the South African Press Association.
A counter petition in just 48 hours drew 11,000 signatures of people supporting Tutu's invitation to the university for the May 13 senior commencement keynote address, according to SpokaneFAVS, a religious news website.
Gonzaga University has rejected calls for Tutu's invitation to be canceled.
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In a statement, university spokeswoman Mary Joan Hahn highlighted the archbishop’s fight against apartheid, describing Tutu as "a world-renowned Christian leader and social rights activist" with a "faith-based lifelong dedication to the cause of justice."
“In the 1980s and early 90s, Gonzaga faculty, staff and trustees, together with a generation of students, worked to bring awareness of the evils of apartheid in South Africa to the forefront of the Spokane community,” Hahn wrote, according to The Spokesman-Review.
A newspaper editorial noted that in the 1980s, Gonzaga University's endowment fund held stock in companies doing business in South Africa, under white minority rule.
The university refused widespread pressure to divest, only doing so in 1990 — in the last days of apartheid South Africa.
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