The Current has received a copy of this letter, sent by the Most Reverend Thomas J. Tobin, Bishop of Providence.
March 21, 2018
Mr. Michael Smalanskas
Thank you for your letter of March 4, 2018 in which you describe the troubling situation you have experienced at Providence College as a result of your attempt to express in a public way the teaching of the Catholic Church about the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. I take this opportunity to share with you a few observations about this matter, with the hope that, in response to your request, we can still meet personally in the near future.
First, I admire and commend your courage in stepping forward to proclaim the teachings of the Church about Holy Matrimony. It is so sad that, in response to your bulletin board posting, you have experienced ridicule and personal attacks, especially on a Catholic campus. I am pleased to note that a number of prominent Providence College professors, as well as the priest chaplains of the College, have now come forward to support you. Good for them!
As your billboard expresses so clearly, marriage is designed by God to be a union of one man and one woman; it is the “way God intended it.” This teaching of the Church is most certainly not arbitrary, nor is it homophobic or bigoted, but, in fact, is based on the Word of God and reflects the immutable teaching of Christ.
In a broader context, however, I would also like to observe that, along with courage, prudence is also a virtue that we always need to practice in expressing our Catholic beliefs in a secular, hostile world. Timing, and the context of our prophetic statements, should always be carefully evaluated. We avoid being aggressive, provocative, inflammatory or “in-your-face” in stating our beliefs and in challenging others. As you know, if you poke a beehive, you can expect to get stung, and in the world today a strong, traditional moral stance will invariably draw a fierce response.
Charity is also a virtue. As others have emphasized, we need to respect those individuals who hold diverse beliefs and opinions on these important issues, and even be willing to dialogue with them. However, we do them no favors, and we fail to fulfill our Christian vocation, if we hesitate to present and explain the divinely revealed truth about faith and morals.
It is truly unfortunate that in explaining our Faith, you have received such a negative and even reprehensible response, particularly at a Catholic college, one that is publicly committed to professing Catholic and Dominican values. As I have stated previously, I think we have the right to presume that those who teach or study at a Catholic school should accept, or at least respect, the stated identity, mission and fundamental teachings of the Faith. Otherwise, there are lots of other good options for higher education they can choose if they really feel threatened by or are uncomfortable with the teachings of the Church.
For the sake of the record, I want to say that the President of Providence College, Father Brian Shanley, O.P., continues to have my personal support. He is a good man, a dedicated and faithful priest, and has proven to be an effective leader of Providence College. As I have stated on other occasions, I think that as a president of a Catholic College he has the toughest job in the Church these days, at least as difficult as being a bishop! He has so many diverse constituencies to think about and affirm, and to keep peace and harmony on a college campus in these turbulent times is a Herculean task. I am confident that in the end Father Shanley will do his best, and will be successful, in helping the College move forward in charity, truth and unity.
Having said that, it does seem to me that Providence College is standing at the crossroads and now has to make a conscious decision about which road to travel. Will it maintain, proudly, unapologetically and unambiguously, its Catholic heritage by preaching, teaching and living the Catholic Faith in all its beauty and richness? Or, like so many other institutions today, will it succumb to modernist trends and become just one more progressive, secular bastion of political correctness? Or, we might ask: Will it continue to be P.C. – the Providence College we’ve come to know and love; or simply be p.c. – politically correct, the pathetic, ephemeral fashion that has, in recent years, taken such an ironclad grip on our culture?
Once again, Michael, in response to your request, I hope to meet with you in the near future to continue this interesting and very timely conversation. In the meantime, please be assured of my admiration, prayers and blessings. May God reward your faithfulness and courage, and give you his richest blessings in the days to come.
I hope that you will have a blessed Holy Week and Easter.
+Thomas J. Tobin
Bishop of Providence
C: Father Brian Shanley, O.P.
Of the following two issues related to Rhode Island’s public schools, which one is a greater concern?