I am writing to follow up on my communication of March 19 and to address again the controversy that is currently roiling our campus. Since I wrote my first message, the College has been the subject of much discussion and negative publicity, mostly on conservative social media sites. Much of what has been reported is not accurate. My office has been barraged with phone calls and e-mails that have been angry, accusatory, and ironically uncharitable. Many suggest that Providence College has abandoned its Catholic identity and fidelity to Church teachings, particularly with regard to the sanctity of Marriage, and has succumbed to “political correctness.” In order to address several of the issues that have surfaced, I would like to make the following points:
1. The College always has, and always will, remain faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church. We will do everything in our power to proclaim and explain these teachings to our students from the pulpit, in the classroom, and in the day-to-day life of our campus. We will, however, do this in a spirit of Christ-like charity and compassion. This is especially important and challenging in difficult matters related to human sexuality. For those who do not accept the premises of the Church’s teaching on marriage and human sexuality, the doctrine can appear to be hard to accept or even harsh. Our challenge is to dialogue respectfully with those who disagree with the Church. This is especially a challenge for those on our campus who are members of the LGBTQ+ community. What I hear from members of that community is not that they expect us to disavow the Church’s teaching, but rather to find a way to help them feel included in the light of our Catholic identity and in a way that recognizes their inherent dignity as created in the image and likeness of God. Our collective challenge is to find a way to be faithful to our Catholic identity and to be inclusive.
2. I am distressed by the way Michael Smalanskas has been vilified and ostracized by many of his peers. While some might not agree with how he tried to express Church teaching, he is entitled to the same respect, charity, and protection that is due any student. There can be no place on our campus for bullying, harassment, or intimidation. The drawing of him that was posted in the St. Joseph Hall men’s room was odious and reprehensible. The Providence Police were notified, and the Office of Public Safety is attempting to determine who was responsible. If you have any information about this, I would encourage you to contact Public Safety.
Let me conclude by saying that I believe that the challenge to be faithful to our Catholic and Dominican identity and to be inclusive appears daunting. It is a challenge on every Catholic campus and in the Church as a whole. We are not alone. I take heart in the belief that God’s providence will guide us through our challenges as a community. It is my hope and prayer for our community that as we enter into the Church’s holiest time of the year, we will find the gift of a Resurrection that brings healing, reconciliation, and peace.
Fr. Brian Shanley