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Catholic U. Bars Actor-Activist at Forum

By Amy Argetsinger
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 17, 2004; Page B05

Catholic University has told the organizers of a local Italian film festival that it will not host a panel discussion scheduled for its campus if a prominent actor with ties to an abortion rights group is featured.

A spokesman for the university said it cannot "give . . . any platform" to film and stage actor Stanley Tucci or any other people who "act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles," following an order from the nation's Catholic bishops this summer. Tucci, a 2003 Tony Award nominee best known for writing, directing and starring in the elegiac Italian-restaurant film "Big Night," has also lent his name to the abortion rights cause, through activities with the national and New York regional chapters of Planned Parenthood.

Actor-director Stanley Tucci has worked for abortion rights. (Doug Hyun, TNT via AP)

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The university's decision caused a stir as the news circulated among faculty members on the Northeast Washington campus yesterday. It came after school officials heard that Tucci was on the roster for an Oct. 15 seminar on campus highlighting contemporary Italian cinema -- part of a week-long film festival at several locations across the city.

The announcement also caused some consternation among festival organizers and Tucci's representatives, who said the New York-based actor had not even officially been invited to the campus event.

"We haven't picked anybody yet," said John Hale, president of the Washington, Italia Film and Music Festival. "We have a list of about four or five names, and Stanley Tucci is one of them. Frankly, my pick if I can get it worked out is Giancarlo Giannini."

Hale added, "If [Tucci]'s not welcome there, we'll take him off the list."

Catholic's decision is reminiscent of two others. In February 2003, the contractors who run the campus bookstore canceled an appearance by Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's nonvoting delegate in Congress, after students complained about her abortion rights stance.

Last spring, the university denied a student's petition to sponsor and fund a campus chapter of the NAACP -- citing the civil rights group's support of abortion rights laws, as well as the overlap with two existing minority groups on campus.

The latest step, though, represents a more decisive statement by the university administration against supporters of abortion rights. Spokesman Victor Nakas said the decision by the Rev. David M. O'Connell, the university president, follows a directive issued in July by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, specifically prohibiting Catholic institutions from giving "awards, honors and platforms" to those who oppose the church's fundamental positions, particularly on abortion.

Tucci was listed as an honorary chairman of a star-studded "Stand Up for Choice" event in New York last month and as a member of Planned Parenthood's "celebrity coalition" supporting an April 25 abortion rights march in Washington.

The preemptive barring from campus has left many faculty members concerned, said Ernest M. Zampelli, a professor of economics.

"We can certainly understand that this university would not want to provide a forum of advocacy on that topic," he said. "The concern is if someone is not being an advocate for a particular issue, then upon what basis are we deciding these things?"

Though Tucci presumably would not have discussed abortion at the film seminar, Nakas said the university has been told that by "platform," the bishops meant any speaking engagement.

"Stanley Tucci is a celebrity, and he has taken a very public stand," Nakas said.

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