Walt Disney Co., whose image as the standard-bearer of squeaky-clean family entertainment has been troubled recently by criticism from conservative Catholics and Southern Baptists, announced Tuesday that Father Leo J. O'Donovan, the president of Georgetown University, has been elected to its board.
A Disney spokesman said there was "absolutely no connection" between the recent protests and the election of O'Donovan, a Jesuit priest.
In a statement, Disney Chairman and Chief Executive Michael Eisner praised O'Donovan as "a distinguished scholar and theologian [who] has a knowledge of business as well. He brings wisdom, a keen intellect and proven judgment to our board."
Eisner's son, Michael "Breck" Breckenridge, graduated from Georgetown in 1992, and Eisner last year completed two terms on the board of the 12,000-student university in Washington, a university spokeswoman said.
Conservative Christian groups have rapped Disney on a variety of counts recently. The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights last year protested that the movie "Priest," released by Disney subsidiary Miramax Films, was "an invidious portrait of Catholic priests and [their] religion." Also last year, some evangelical Christians complained that the Disney animated movie "Pocahontas" contained pagan and New Age ideas.
Two weeks ago, the Southern Baptist Convention voted for a boycott of Disney products and amusement parks, saying the company was favoring gay rights over traditional family values by extending benefits to the partners of gay employees and permitting gay and lesbian nights at Disney parks.
O'Donovan appeared to refer to the religious concerns in a statement Tuesday, saying he hopes to contribute "to Disney's ongoing interest in providing family-oriented entertainment and recreation."
Boards of directors are "most effective through thorough and open discussion of issues. I assume that dialogue of this kind will take place on the Disney board," he said.
He will be the 17th member of the board.
While disclaiming any connection between the priest's appointment and the protests, Disney spokesman John Dreyer conceded that the religious critiques have been frustrating to the company.
"We produce more family entertainment than anyone else, and we had more in the past year than at any time in our history. In fact, we have a growing commitment to family entertainment," he said.
O'Donovan, 62, who has been president of Georgetown for seven years, serves on the National Council on the Arts of the federal National Endowment for the Arts and chairs the board for the Consortium on Financing Higher Education.