Kаnsаs City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker may have stirred controversy in some quarters for his proclamations of conservative politics and Catholicism on May 18, but he received a standing ovation from graduates and other attendees of the May 11 commencement ceremony at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kаnsаs.

The fast-growing college is part of a constellation of conservative Catholic colleges that tout their adherence to church teachings and practice — part of a larger conservative movement in parts of the U.S. Catholic Church. Butker’s 20-minute speech hit several cultural flashpoints.

Butker, a conservative Catholic himself, dismissed Pride month as consisting of the “deadly sin sort of pride” while denouncing abortion and President Joe Biden’s handling of the pandemic. He said women are told “diabolical lies” about career ambition when “one of the most important titles of all” is that of homemaker. He said this is not time for “the church of nice” and in particular blasted Catholics who support abortion rights and “dangerous gender ideologies.”

On May 16, the National Football League distanced itself from Butker, saying “his views are not those of the NFL as an organization.”

“Harrison Butker gave a speech in his personal capacity,” Jonathan Beane, NFL senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer, said in a statement. “His views are not those of the NFL as an organization. The NFL is steadfast in our commitment to inclusion, which only makes our league stronger.”


Butker, 28, referred to a “deadly sin sort of pride that has a month dedicated to it” in an oblique reference to Pride month.

“For the ladies present today, congratulations on an amazing accomplishment. You should be proud of all that you have achieved to this point in your young lives. I want to speak directly to you briefly because I think it is you, the women, who have had the most diabolical lies told to you. How many of you are sitting here now about to cross this stage and are thinking about all the promotions and titles you are going to get in your career? Some of you may go on to lead successful careers in the world, but I would venture to guess that the majority of you are most excited about your marriage and the children you will bring into this world.

I can tell you that my beautiful wife, Isabelle, would be the first to say that her life truly started when she began living her vocation as a wife and as a mother. I’m on the stage today and able to be the man I am because I have a wife who leans into her vocation. I’m beyond blessed with the many talents God has given me, but it cannot be overstated that all of my success is made possible because a girl I met in band class back in middle school would convert to the faith, become my wife, and embrace one of the most important titles of all: homemaker.”

Butker also took aim at President Biden’s policies – who is Catholic, including his condemnation of the Supreme Court’s reversal of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and advocacy for freedom of choice — a key campaign issue in the 2024 presidential race.

Butker ignored the criminally indicted ex-president Trump’s failed response to COVID-19, which has killed nearly 1.2 million people in the U.S., to re-direct the blame at President Biden.

“While COVID might have played a large role throughout your formative years, it is not unique,” he said. “Bad policies and poor leadership have negatively impacted major life issues. Things like abortion, IVF, surrogacy, euthanasia, as well as a growing support for degenerate cultural values and media all stem from pervasiveness of disorder.”


Benedictine College is a Catholic college in Atchison, Kаnsаs, that traces its roots to 1858. It is located about 60 miles north of Kаnsаs City, and has an enrollment of about 2,200.


In some ways, Benedictine College portrays itself as if it is a typical Catholic college. Its “mission as a Catholic, Benedictine, liberal arts, residential college is the education of men and women within a community of faith and scholarship,” according to the claim on its website.

But its home to more traditional expressions of conservative Catholicism, such as the Latin Mass, all-night prayer vigils, and an ultra-strict code of conduct. Its mission statement further cites its commitment to “those specific matters of faith of the Roman Catholic tradition, as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ and handed down in the teachings of the Church.”

The school gets a high ranking from the Cardinal Newman Society, a group that touts nearly two-dozen conservative colleges that exhibit what it calls “faithful Catholic education.” That includes upholding church teachings and Catholic identity while providing ample Masses and other devotional activities in shaping their students.

The society seeks to differentiate schools that “refuse to compromise their Catholic mission” from those that have become “battlegrounds for today’s culture wars.” Others praised by the society include Catholic University of America in Washington DC, Ave Maria University in Florida, and Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.

The society’s ranking says Benedictine benefits from having monks in residence, multiple Masses and prayer groups, spiritually focused organizations and theology programs with professors with a “mandatum” of approval from the local bishop.


Benedictine’s enrollment has doubled in the past 20 years. Some 85% of its students are Catholic, according to the Cardinal Newman Society. Students said in public interviews they embrace the college’s emphasis on Catholic teaching and practice.

“It’s a renewal of, like, some really, really good things that we might have lost,” one student told the AP in its recent article on the revival of conservative Catholicism.


Annual tuition for full-time undergraduates is $35,350, but Benedictine says 100% of its students receive some form of financial aid. Benedictine’s sports teams, called the Ravens, compete in National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. Its athletics department says it is committed to “setting the highest standards for academic success, athletic competition, ethical behavior, fiscal responsibility, and spiritual development.”


Video of the commencement shows virtually all the graduates and spectators rising to a standing ovation, but student interviews showed a more mixed reaction.

ValerieAnne Volpe, 20, who graduated with an art degree, lauded Butker for saying things that “people are scared to say.”

“I was thinking about my dad, who was also here, and how he’s probably clapping and so happy to see what he would say is a real man (reflecting) family values, good religious upbringing and representation of Christ to people,” she said. “You can just hear that he loves his wife. You can hear that he loves his family.”

Kassidy Neuner, 22, said the speech felt “a little degrading” and gave the impression that only women can be a homemaker – especially after spending tens of thousands of dollars on a college education.

“I think that men have that option as well,” said Neuner, who will be spending a gap year teaching before going to law school. “And to point this out specifically that that’s what we’re looking forward to in life seems like our four years of hard work wasn’t really important.”

Elle Wilbers, 22, who is heading to medical school in the fall, said the Catholic faith focuses on mothers, so that portion of the speech wasn’t surprising. She was more shocked by his criticism of priests and bishops “misleading their flocks” and a quip comparing LGBTQ+ Pride month to one of the seven deadly sins.

“We should have compassion for the people who have been told all their life that the person they love is like, it’s not okay to love that person,” Wilbers said. “It was sort of just a shock. I was like, ‘Is he really saying this right now?'”


The Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica, one of the founding sponsors of Benedictine College, issued a statement on May 16 criticizing Buter’s speech, contending it did not properly represent the college’s values.

“Instead of promoting unity in our church, our nation, and the world, his comments seem to have fostered division,” the statement said.

“One of our concerns was the assertion that being a homemaker is the highest calling for a woman,” it added. “We sisters have dedicated our lives to God and God’s people, including the many women whom we have taught. … These women have made a tremendous difference in the world in their roles as wives and mothers and through their God-given gifts in leadership, scholarship, and their careers.”

Peter Smith, Heather Hollingsworth, and MI Staff

Associated Press

Charlie Riedel (AP) and Nick Ingram (AP)