Odds Without Ends

I’m not ashamed to admit that I have attended Catholic school my entire life. Elementary school, high school, even St. John’s – every academic setting I’ve ever been in has had a Catholic undertone.
Yet, despite all of that, I’ve never been taught to blindly accept Catholic beliefs or not to consider opposing arguments. I still remember a day in eighth grade when my teacher, in a religion class, allowed the students to debate the arguments concerning pro-choice or pro-life stances on abortion. Hearing these different arguments and civilly discussing them with classmates made for one of the most educational experiences I have ever had.
That is what makes the recent controversy at St. Edward’s University seem so disturbing.

Last week, the school invited controversial priest Rev. Charles Curran to lecture on its Austin, Texas campus despite his rocky relationship with the Catholic Church. Decades ago, the Church stripped Curran of his title of “Catholic theologian” after he espoused unorthodox views on premarital sex, birth control, and human sexuality.

Austin Catholic Bishop Gregory Aymond led a massive protest against the university, arguing that Curran’s controversial stances go against the school’s Catholic message.

According to the Austin American Statesman, Aymond said he was “gravely disappointed” with the school’s choice of lecturer.
“I believe that it does not foster the Catholic identity of a university to present him as a guest lecturer,” said Aymond,
Foster the Catholic identity of a university? Is that what every guest lecturer at a Catholic college ought to do?
Aymond’s point is a bit misguided.
Stifling a speaker simply based on his beliefs – ones that may counter the Catholic Church’s – is a dangerous precedent to make at any university.

Isn’t academic freedom important in fully understanding controversial issues? This same question came up just a month ago during Columbia University’s hosting of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
But, historically, Catholic universities are the ones that stir up the most conflicts. Georgetown, Notre Dame, Fordham, and countless other Catholic colleges have denied at least a few controversial forums or speakers; even St. John’s has had its fair share of controversies, especially in the last 10 years.

Last semester, for example, the University denied a student the right to bring a performance of the Vagina Monologues to campus. Just years prior, former New Jersey poet laureate Amiri Baraka was uninvited from St. John’s after a controversial poem he wrote made reference to Israel’s supposed involvement in the 9/11 World Trade Center attack.

Something definitely could have been learned from these controversial speakers and performances. Open forums to discuss the merits and pitfalls of these issues could have been highly beneficial to the student body. It is a tactic that is, as far as I am concerned, the best way to foster academic thinking and thought-provoking debate.

St. John’s is not entirely to blame here. Rather, Catholic universities in general should take a note from St. Edward’s University and learn to welcome controversial issues.

“Academic dialogue includes a broad spectrum of viewpoints,” said St. Edward’s spokeswoman Mischelle Diaz. “The Bishop McCarthy lecture series is part of a larger academic dialogue that happens here on campus on a regular basis.”

Diaz could not have said it better. Catholic universities should be confident enough in their religious foundation to host and even welcome opposing viewpoints on campus.

Open debate about both sides of an issue is the best way to learn. I understood that in eighth grade; when will some Catholic universities learn the same?