The roiling dispute over Georgetown University’s speaking invitation to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius–a Catholic, BTW–was for a good while typical of the longstanding Cold War over the intellectual independent of Catholic colleges. Yes, the conservative Cardinal Newman Society got attention by circulating a petition demanding that Georgetown rescind the invitation, but the Society is forever fulminating about half the speaking invitations Catholic colleges issue. It’s what they do.

But now Washington archbishop Daniel Cardinal Wuerl has taken up the cudgels against Georgetown for its temerity in inviting Sebelius to speak, and on quite interesting grounds: he objects to how Georgetown’s administration is framing the issue of Sebelius’ fitness to speak, as WaPo’s Michelle Boorstein reports:

On Tuesday, the archdiocese of Washington, led by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, criticized Georgetown President John J. DeGioia for remarks he issued a day earlier — apparently to address the controversy — saying DeGioia had mischaracterized the issue as being about birth control. As the region’s top Catholic official, Wuerl is responsible for making sure Catholic institutions, including Georgetown, follow church teachings.

DeGioia “does not address the real issue for concern — the selection of a featured speaker whose actions as a public official present the most direct challenge to religious liberty in recent history,” reads the statement from the archdiocese, which covers the District and suburban Maryland.

So the Cardinal’s main objection isn’t to the underlying logic of the Jesuit school’s case for including a high-ranking Catholic public official in the circle of discussion at its public policy school, but to Georgetown’s challenge to the Bishops’ spin on their conflict with the Obama administration. Obviously, if Georgetown’s leadership bought the idea that the mild-mannered HHS Secretary was truly a tyrant, treasonously seeking to crush the religious rights of her co-religionists, they probably woudn’t want her on campus. But that’s the point on which they are asked–nay, commanded–to bend the knee.

Sure looks like the Bishops are a mite defensive–maybe even vulnerable–in their conviction that Catholics are going to accept the idea that insurance regulations are a deadly threat to the continued existence of a two-thousand-year-old faith.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.