The New Hate Speech: Catholic Teaching at a “Catholic” College

The New Hate Speech: Catholic Teaching at a “Catholic” College

An affirmation of Church teaching at Providence College is seen by students and administrators as an act of ‘homophobia’ and ‘transphobia.’

New Oxford Review Notes – May 2018

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when homosexuals were routinely bullied. It was unacceptable, odious behavior back then, as much as it is today. But oh, how the tables have turned! Now, it seems, homosexuals (and their politically active allies) are themselves the bullies — even at Catholic colleges. Case in point: This March, Providence College (PC) in Rhode Island — which is run, ironically, by the Dominican’s Province of St. Joseph, one of the most orthodox religious communities in the country — was the scene of harassment, intimidation, and the threat of forced sodomy. The victim: PC senior Michael Smalanskas. His “offense”: He posted a bulletin-board display in the hallway of his dorm that affirmed Church teaching on marriage. The display, which he titled “Marriage: The Way God Intended It,” included a quote from Pope Francis, “We must affirm the right of children to grow up in a family with a mother and a father,” and showed a bride and groom inside a church. Other parts of the display read, “Traditional marriage: God ordained it. Nature reveals it. Science affirms it,” and “Marriage should be reinforced. Not redefined!” Finally, the display quoted the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark: “And the two shall become one flesh….” That’s it.

Smalanskas, a 22-year-old resident advisor (RA) in one of the college’s undergraduate dorms, told (Mar. 19) that as soon as he put up the display, he “immediately [started] getting all sorts of harassing text messages.” Soon a mob of students, including RAs from other buildings, started showing up and milling around outside his room. They tore down his bulletin-board display. Smalanskas says he couldn’t even brush his teeth for several nights “without facing a mob in my hallway.” The protestors called for him to be fired from his RA position and, according to a drawing one of the students placed on a mirror in Smalanskas’s dorm bathroom, forcibly sodomized. The students who were gathering outside his room were threatening enough that campus security had to move Smalanskas to a safe, undisclosed location on the other side of campus. This, in reaction to a bulletin-board display affirming Church teaching. At a Catholic college.

Readers will recall that Anthony Esolen, an orthodox Catholic professor who had taught Renaissance studies at PC for 25 years, was taken to task last year by politically correct forces at the college for confronting PC’s politically correct usage of the word diversity (see our New Oxford Note “The Cult of Diversity at Providence College,” Jan.-Feb. 2017). The problem, as Esolen saw it, was this: Providence College, in appealing to the vague and undefined empty vessel of diversity, was willingly suppressing its own Catholic culture in favor of an infection with Western sexual obsessions.

It is this same infection that ignited the controversies following both the “outing” of Esolen’s lamentation and Smalanskas’s bulletin-board display. But controversy is one thing. People, be they students or professors or chaplains or administrative fat cats, are human. They get angry, they get irate, they get frustrated. Sometimes they might even band together to protest, exercising their right to free speech. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with any of this, whether you agree with the subject of the protest. Harassment, intimidation, and the threat of bodily harm, however, are not acceptable. They are not free speech; they are barbarism.

The politically correct automatons who follow the ideological narrative of leftist politics would never stand for this kind of behavior if, say, a student were harassed, intimidated, and threatened for posting a bulletin-board display promoting same-sex marriage and criticizing Church teaching. The same could be said of university administrators. They would swiftly come forward and roundly condemn the bullies, calling them out for what they are: barbarians who are unable or unwilling to engage in the dialogue of ideas.

It should be noted that nothing of the kind has been happening. In fact, in the hallway of one of PC’s female dorms, someone posted a pro-lesbian bulletin-board display that remained intact and unmolested for the entire month of February. “Nobody was rioting outside the girl’s door,” Smalanskas said of its creator.

By now, we all know that there’s a double standard on college campuses: If the offenders are themselves the politically correct automatons, they are protected. But when it comes to Catholic colleges and Church teaching, this is an especially sad state of affairs. Why would administrators encourage and support reprehensible behavior? Why would the victim be treated as the perpetrator? Why would affirming Church teaching be considered hate speech?

This is, in fact, exactly what happened in the case of Michael Smalanskas. Providence College administrators flat out failed to condemn the actions of the bullies. On the contrary, they sympathized with them! PC’s president, Fr. Brian Shanley, O.P., responded by saying, “It belongs to a Catholic college to consider the views of those who disagree with the Church’s teaching.” That might be true, but it is hardly an appropriate response to this incident. Not to be outdone, Kristine Goodwin, PC’s vice president of student affairs, responded to the bulletin-board display by sending an email to student leaders encouraging them to attend the “Providence College March Against Transphobia and Homophobia.” She quoted Pope Francis’s now-infamous claim that the Church should apologize to gays, and Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, a Dominican priest who has suggested that sodomy can be eucharistic.

Smalanskas and his faculty advisor, in a meeting with PC administrators (including Goodwin), asked for three things: that they (1) publicly denounce the “malicious acts” and “hatred” against Smalanskas, (2) publicly affirm the mission of the college as consistent with the content of the bulletin board, and (3) publicly affirm that they will protect freedom of speech on campus. PC administrators refused to do any of these. Smalanskas was told instead to stop “throwing culture bombs” and “graduate in peace.”

The bottom line is this: Affirming Church teaching at this Catholic college is seen — by students and administrators alike — as an act of “homophobia” and “transphobia.” It is considered hate speech and warrants intimidation and threats because it is seen as an offense against diversity, an offense against the politically correct narrative.

Some questions arise: If one cannot affirm Church teaching at a Catholic college, where can Church teaching be affirmed? If students struggle to understand or accept Church teaching, why not seek to clarify? And if students at a Catholic college do not accept Church teaching, and seek to bully those who do — and they receive administrative support (or suffer no consequences) — is it not time to consider that a Catholic college might not be the best place to be educated?

Fortunately, Providence’s Bishop Thomas Tobin made this point in a personal response to Smalanskas. In his letter to the student (Mar. 21), Tobin wrote, “I think we have the right to presume that those who teach or study at a Catholic school should accept, or at least respect, the stated identity, mission and fundamental teachings of the Faith. Otherwise, there are lots of other good options for higher education they can choose if they really feel threatened by or are uncomfortable with the teachings of the Church.” Tobin went on to tell Smalanskas, “I admire and commend your courage in stepping forward to proclaim the teachings of the Church about Holy Matrimony.” The bishop’s letter also said Providence College is at a “crossroads and now has to make a conscious decision about which road to travel,” and he wondered whether Providence College, abbreviated as PC, will become merely p.c. — as in “politically correct, the pathetic, ephemeral fashion that has, in recent years, taken such an ironclad grip on our culture.”

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