John M. Becker

Catholic College Censors John Corvino

Filed By John M. Becker | September 24, 2013 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: Catholic Church, Catholicism, censorship, gay marriage, John Corvino, marriage discrimination, marriage equality, Providence College, Roman Catholic Church, same-sex marriage

john_corvino.jpgProminent gay philosopher John Corvino has become the latest victim of the American Catholic Church's campaign to marginalize and silence those who speak out for LGBT equality.

Corvino, chair of the philosophy department at Wayne State University, is an author, activist, and vlogger who advocates for marriage equality across the country and often engages in friendly debates with proponents of marriage discrimination. (He even co-wrote a book with Maggie Gallagher!) Corvino is well-known for the artful yet respectful way he demolishes the anti-gay side's talking points about marriage, sex, and family.

He was scheduled to deliver a lecture, titled "The Meaning of (Gay) Marriage," this week at Providence College in Rhode Island. However, on Saturday the provost of the conservative Catholic school announced via email that he was disinviting Corvino and cancelling the lecture.

The New York Times reports on the cancellation::

"In his e-mail announcing the cancellation, Hugh F. Lena, the provost and senior vice president of Providence College, cited a document produced by the American bishops in 2004, 'Catholics in Political Life,' to support the decision. And he said that college policy 'dictates that that both sides of a controversial issue are to be presented fairly and equally...'

"...Mr. Corvino said he suggested that it be a debate and provided the names of several potential sparring partners. Last week, the organizers added Dana L. Dillon, a theologian at Providence College, to present a response.

"But Dr. Lena, the provost, said in an interview late Monday night that the event was canceled because it was largely a platform for only one side, and that it could be rescheduled if it included a philosophy professor with experience arguing against gay marriage.

"Fred K. Drogula, president of the faculty senate at Providence College and an associate professor of history, said he could not find a college policy dictating that every lecture must have an equal opposing viewpoint. And he said it was 'inappropriate' to invoke the bishops' document, 'Catholics in Political Life,' because it applied primarily to politicians.

"Dr. Drogula said, 'The job of any quality academic institution is to teach students how to think critically, which includes challenging, testing and defending our ideas.'

Clearly, this decision isn't actually a matter of a college enforcing some kind of longstanding fairness policy. Instead, it's about silencing those who argue in support of marriage equality, then concocting some kind of bogus justification after the fact. Such conduct is unbecoming for any credible academic institution.

UPDATE: Providence College responded today in a statement that reads, in part:

The incident in question is thus not really about academic freedom, but rather goes to the meaning of being a Catholic college. Should a Catholic college invite an outside speaker to campus, pay that person an honorarium, and give that person an unchallenged platform from which to present arguments designed to undermine a central tenet of the Catholic faith? ...[To] do so would be to undermine the very nature of a Catholic college. Our interpretation is in accord with that of the United States Bishops Conference, which has asked Catholic institutions not to provide honors or platforms for speakers who advocate for positions inconsistent with Church teaching.

It is important to note that Providence College had originally agreed to host this speaker in tandem with another well-known philosopher for a two-sided debate of the issue of gay marriage. We believe that this kind of free and fair discussion of both sides of a controversial issue would be beneficial to our community. The event was cancelled only when it became clear that this would not be the case. We would welcome a real debate about this issue on our campus and look forward to hosting an academic event that comports with our mission.

Providence College clearly wants to have it both ways: claim that it's an educational institution dedicated to academic freedom, yet reserve the right to silence speakers whose policy positions differ from those of the Catholic Church. But what does it say about Providence College's confidence in the strength of the Catholic Church's positions, if it thinks its students can't handle listening to an opposing view from an intelligent yet mild-mannered philosophy professor?

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