Friday, February 19, 2010

UST: Archdiocesan potential restrictive speaker rules would weaken Catholic intellectual tradition


The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis recently published new guidelines that address the question of who can speak at Catholic institutions in the archdiocese.

According to the guidelines, which debuted in November, a prospective speaker’s previous writings and presentations must “be in harmony with the teaching and discipline of the church.” In addition, “those living a lifestyle at variance with church teaching would also not be eligible [to speak].”

These guidelines make some sense for parishes as well as for Catholic elementary and high schools. But if the archdiocese tries to replace St. Thomas’ current speaker policy with these more restrictive rules, the university’s claim to be a school that is “inspired by Catholic intellectual tradition” would be weakened.

If a university is inspired by Catholic intellectual tradition, it is open to the discussion of different opinions. It encourages informed debate among students and doesn’t restrict students’ access to speakers, as long as those speakers are respectful and don’t insult the Catholic faith.

St. Thomas’ current speaker policy strikes a healthy balance. The Rev. John Malone, vice president for mission, said St. Thomas’ policy allows for the expression of a diverse range of opinions while simultaneously advancing Catholic teachings.

“We would insist regardless of who’s speaking that we state our Catholic position,” he said. “People who come here who have a different position than that, they should talk about what they’re here to talk about, not to take a tack on various positions of the Catholic Church.”

This is a rational way of deciding which speakers should be allowed at Catholic universities. Prohibiting speakers based on their lifestyle choices, on the other hand, could have harmful repercussions. Students would benefit from listening to a speaker discussing poverty in Third World countries, even if the speaker’s personal lifestyle isn’t perfectly in line with Catholic teaching. As long as the speaker is there to talk about the issue and not to sell the benefits of his or her lifestyle, I don’t see a problem.

Malone said no one has decided yet exactly how or if the new guidelines will apply to St. Thomas, but he doesn’t think they will replace the university’s current policy. However, he also said he thinks the archdiocese would like some form of the new policy to be put into place at St. Thomas.

This can’t happen if St. Thomas wants to keep its reputation as a university that promotes intellectual freedom and informed discussion. The policy we have now provides us with a good mix of new ideas and respect for Catholic teachings. It’s always a precarious balancing act, of course, and I’m sure there will be numerous discussions in the future about which speakers should or shouldn’t come to campus.

But as we debate what being a Catholic university means, we should remember that listening to opposing viewpoints can actually strengthen our own beliefs. St. Thomas should continue to offer students access to different opinions so we can be informed citizens who are aware of many viewpoints, not just our own.

Katie Broadwell can be reached at


PCV Editor said...

Thanks for sharing this, Ray. Katie raises some good points.

I've reprinted it on the Progressive Catholic Voice.



For The Sake Of Him said...

As a recent alumnus of UST, I fully support the Archbishop's policy and think it should be extended to St. Thomas.
I don’t feel that the policy unduly infringes on academic freedom at all. The policy doesn't say that non-Catholic views and opinions won't be permitted to be discussed, it just states who may speak at Catholic institutions in the Archdiocese. Even if a speaker who espouses opinions not in line with Catholic teachings is speaking on a topic in line with Catholic teachings, it could still cause scandal because the Catholic institution invited a speaker who is known for articulating viewpoints not in line with the Magisterium.
Moreover, as stated in Ex Corde Ecclesiae, article 5 section 2,“Each Bishop has a responsibility to promote the welfare of the Catholic Universities in his diocese and has the right and duty to watch over the preservation and strengthening of their Catholic character. If problems should arise conceming this Catholic character, the local Bishop is to take the initiatives necessary to resolve the matter, working with the competent university authorities in accordance with established procedures(52) and, if necessary, with the help of the Holy See”. If His Excellency decides to apply this policy to St. Thomas, and he believes it will help safeguard the Catholic identity of St. Thomas, who am I to question his judgment? Archbishop Nienstedt is the chief teacher of the faith in this archdiocese, and, unless he is doing something contrary to what the Church teaches or what the Holy Father wishes, we as Catholics are to defer to his judgment. It is evident from his leading "Lectio Divina" sessions open to the public once a month, and the fact that he takes the time to personally greet each participant at a reception afterwards, along with his monthly visits to both seminaries, and meetings with faculty and staff, that Archbishop Nienstedt cares deeply about UST, especially the students and the seminarians, and I am confident that whatever he decides will be what is best for UST.