Editor’s note: Last month, a student and Residence Assistant at Providence College in Rhode Island posted material on a campus bulletin board that affirmed the Church’s teaching on marriage. “LGBT” students reacted with menacing behavior–including an apparent rape threat–and an LGBT pride march on campus.
College administrators scolded the faithful Catholic student, and failed to condemn his opponent’s behavior for weeks. Catch up on the whole story here and here. Below is an op-ed by Michael Smalanskas, the whistle-blowing student at the center of the scandal at Providence College.
A few weeks ago, Providence College administrators stood idly by while I was threatened and harassed for promoting Church teaching on marriage.
Last week the College of the Holy Cross protected a professor whose writings about Jesus as a “drag queen” with “queer tendencies” came to light.
Bishops intervened in both cases and the presidents of each institution resisted. These colleges are on the same trajectory, one just slightly behind the other, and every faithful Catholic should be concerned about where this trend could be leading.
Countless times I have found myself praying in the back of St. Dominic chapel at Providence College when a tour of prospective students comes through. Without fail, each time some version of the question is asked, “How Catholic is Providence College?”
And without fail, the response from the tour-guide is inevitably the same: “It’s there if you want it, but otherwise you won’t be affected by it.” The parents and students often seem relieved.
There’s a truth and a lie to what the tour-guide has likely been told by the college to say to that question. The truth is that besides crucifixes on the walls in most buildings and two required theology courses for each student, one can leave Providence College largely untouched by Catholicism if that’s what one wants. And many do.
The lie is that, while the college might be a failing Catholic college that hides its identity, it still really is a Catholic college. And that is perhaps the greatest tragedy.
Even before students begin their coursework here, they’ve been told that they will not be confronted by the teachings of the Catholic Church in a meaningful way.
If, like me, you are one of the students who goes out of his way to find and discuss those teachings, you may well be outed as some kind of far-right religious zealot.
In a college atmosphere that continually reinforces the idea that students should not be confronted with Church teaching, the kind of reaction seen in recent weeks to a bulletin board about heterosexual marriage as the way God intended it is entirely understandable.
Students at Catholic colleges like mine have been set up. It’s not the students’ fault but rather the college’s. When the faith is constantly watered-down to empty platitudes about “love” and “welcoming”, that is all people come to expect.
Having been darkly warned about the Church teaching that lurks safely contained within the chapel, who can blame them if they treat it with indignation and hostility when they encounter it in the public square?
I’ve been told repeatedly, concerning the bulletin board, that it was maliciously uncharitable to just “toss out” part of the Church’s teaching like a bomb without fully accounting for context.
I’m told it needs to be laced with cushions about the dignity of the human person. This is the other lie perpetuated by the college. They’ve set up a false dichotomy between human dignity and the Church’s teachings on marriage.
By the way, why does nobody charge the LGBTQ warriors with the same accusation about context? Not only do they not “contextualize” their stance, they are most often not even able to provide a half-decent rational explanation for their position besides exhausted slogans like “love is love.”
The professors at Providence College who produced a statement in my support said it best:
We reject the notion that the Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage … presents a threat to the wellbeing of homosexual persons. Rather, those teachings… aim at the flourishing of all persons.
It is not that Church teaching needs to somehow be contextualized by references to love and dignity. Rather, its teachings on marriage and sexuality follow necessarily from the dignity of a being created in the image of God.
In fact, the Church’s teachings on marriage and the dignity of the human person are inseparable. One contains the other and they are certainly not at odds.
Likewise, diversity and inclusivity should not be pitted against Catholicism. The Church has proven Herself throughout time and space to be the world’s most multicultural institution and is supremely equipped to handle such matters if colleges are willing to dip into Her vast treasury of wisdom and experience.
As long as Catholic colleges continue to dispense the lie that their students will not be impacted by Catholicism, they will alienate their Catholic base and set up non-Catholics for failure.
As long as Catholic colleges set up a false opposition between Church teaching and the human good they will continue to see a campus embroiled in confused rage.
As it is, those who profess Church teaching and care about an authentic Catholic identity are not protected, while those who actively work against the college’s mission are empowered. Catholic institutions of higher learning cannot go on like this.
The antidote is to finally give students what they deserve from a Catholic college or university. Give them an intellectually compelling account of what the Church teaches and why. Even if they don’t agree with it, they will at least have enough exposure to know and respect it and the college will have done its job.
It should have been easy for Providence College to quickly denounce the behavior of LGBTQ activist students last month, and to proudly proclaim the constant and unchanging teaching of the Church. Perhaps the college’s hesitancy was partly due to the fact that the ugly behavior was a monster they themselves had created, and they could not very well denounce it without denouncing themselves.
But denounce they should. That is real charity.
Likewise, Holy Cross should have taken immediate action against the professor who blasphemed. But they will not and they cannot because it does not fit their narrative.
It is only a matter of time until we see the next Catholic college in the news for allowing some other unspeakable behavior to go on. Administrators will probably continue to tow the middle line and end up hurting people on both sides.
Sadly, that is the pattern of what it means to be a Catholic school these days.