Providence College Slips into the Materialist Trap, Risks Souls

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In an excellent interview with Providence College Professor Tony Esolen, Rod Dreher posts the complete letter that the college’s president, Fr. Brian Shanley, wrote after the easily offended snowflakes on his campus demanded he take action against Esolen for his writing.  Shanley’s words ought to give Catholics, and Christians more broadly, concern for the direction of the institution.

Most disturbing is that, though Fr. Shanley insists he had to provide his student activists with their hostage letter for “pastoral” reasons, he does nothing to grapple with Professor Esolen’s points, to express the importance of the topic he takes up, or (much less) to affirm solidarity with the professor’s stated objective of bringing the Catholic Church’s truth of Christ’s salvation to all humanity.

One suspects Fr. Shanley didn’t bother to read Professor Esolen’s offending essay, because then he may have felt compelled to address (pastorally) such points as these:

Is not that same call for diversity, when Catholics are doing the calling, a surrender of the Church to a political movement which is, for all its talk, a push for homogeneity, so that all the world will look not like the many-cultured Church, but rather like the monotone non-culture of western cities that have lost their faith in the transcendent and unifying God? …

Why should a Catholic institution not then be itself, precisely to offer to that increasingly homogeneous and nothing-adoring world a different word, the word of Christ and his Church? …

But there is no evidence on our Diversity page that we wish to be what God has called us to be, a committedly and forthrightly Catholic school with life-changing truths to bring to the world. It is as if, deep down, we did not really believe it.

If Shanley did have these suggestions in mind, his message between the lines appears to be that Esolen is correct in suggesting that the college does “not really believe” its Catholic message.  Consider a few lines from Shanley’s letter:

At the same time that we value freedom in the pursuit of truth, let us value even more our fundamental imperative on a Catholic campus: to be charitable to one another.

As important as charity is to a Catholic worldview, it is most certainly not “our fundamental imperative.”  Our fundamental imperative is to bring people to God’s truth for their sake and for ours.  Charity is an outgrowth of that fundamental imperative.  If the administration of Providence College thought it important to affirm its Catholic identity, Fr. Shanley might have emphasized that he shares Professor Esolen’s mission.

Instead (again, probably not knowing what opinions Esolen actually expressed, despite insisting that he doesn’t share them), the college president goes on almost to argue against himself:

[Pope Francis] reminds us as well that what we seek is not “unanimity, but true unity in the richness of diversity.”

Professor Esolen might as well have quoted that same line in his essay, in which he wrote:

Is not that same call for diversity, when Catholics are doing the calling, a surrender of the Church to a political movement which is, for all its talk, a push for homogeneity, so that all the world will look not like the many-cultured Church, but rather like the monotone non-culture of western cities that have lost their faith in the transcendent and unifying God?

In Shanley’s own letter we see that Pope Francis and Professor Esolen have the same vision of diversity, and yet, the president explicitly declares that he and his administration “understand and value diversity in a very different sense.”  Well, if Shanley doesn’t understand “diversity” in the same sense as the pope and the professor, then he must understand it in the sense of the politically correct.  That is, he has prove Esolen’s point.

One suspects that Father Shanley would object to this characterization as a twisting of his words, to which I would respond that words so sparsely substantiated tend to twist of their own accord.  The effect of his letter, in its refusal to grapple with the serious questions and interwoven responsibilities that the dispute raises, is to foment division, and in doing so, Shanley stands on the side of the politically correct, rather than on the side of his coreligionists.

If the Providence College administration really believed in the Church’s mission, one might expect it to be at least as worried that one among its faculty feels besieged.  Esolen’s sense of the Christian’s mission is unarguably that of the Church, and yet the college has sought to publicly isolate and scorn him, rather than seeking to foster the very unity in Christ on which we all appear to agree.

The path to real unity of faith and mission would require Shanley to meet with such professors and figure out how they are misunderstanding the school’s message on diversity or (my opinion) how his administration is misapplying it.  The very fact that Shanley met privately with the offended and then publicly chastised Esolen (identified impersonally as “one of our professors”) shows whose side he’s truly on.

This being the case, one can only conclude (as this Catholic with children approaching college age does) that it was not too provocative, as Esolen concedes, for his editor to summarize his essay with the title “My College Succumbed to the Totalitarian Diversity Cult.”



  • Rhett Hardwick

    There is an ancient legal adage “When you have the law, pound on the law. When you have the facts, pound on the facts. When you have neither the law, nor the facts, pound on the table”. I suspect a little table pounding.

  • Joe Smith

    Please Justin – let’s reveal the real motivations behind PC – when you become #1 in USNEWS rankings, you have strong incentive to maintain that position.

    PC – for all it’s ‘catholic mission” and talk about “diversity’ — well, how come despite a few years now of a ‘strategic plan for diversity’ is the college still only taking 13% Pell Grant students (well below their peers); still only has 4% black population (and take out athletes); and hmm.. is 56% female?

    Where’s the economic diversity? Where’s the male diversity? Maybe because males and Pell students graduate and retain at rates lower than a school needs to stay in the lofty USNEWS # 1 ranking?

    Please..PC will “talk the talk” with its current students..but fear not about really “diversifying” the campus..it’s going to take white females from upper income families first and work down the list..(well, athletes are a different issue because can’t forget they make money too for PC)..

    There won’t be much “walk the walk” because the primary plan at PC is ensuring the generation of net revenue.. and a “too catholic’ (at least vocally) faculty member jeopardizes that..that is the materialist trap at PC.

    The real story is less about the “talk of diversity” but why hasn’t PC *achieved* it if that is its goal? How many Pell eligible minorities does PC turn away? Why doesn’t it take more males given the ratio of HS graduates is back closer to 50/50?

    PC is the Emerald City – just don’t look behind the curtain at the administration..just look at what it says..

  • Mike678

    I hear the adage “Diversity is a strength” all the time, but no one has explained how. Look around the world–homogeneous nations are more stable than heterogeneous or ‘diverse’ states. Look at our cities… I understand that diversity of thought is important, but can anyone explain how concentrating on our differences and imposing quotas makes us stronger?

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