Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Speaker Policies Balance Risk, Dialogue

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Speaker Policies Balance Risk, Dialogue

Article excerpt

In their statement protesting speaker policies at The Catholic University of America, 52 members of the faculty said, "Our peer Catholic institutions have not interpreted the recent bishops' statement as our university administration has done."

The point seems well taken.

On Oct. 6, for example, gay-marriage advocate and pro-choice Catholic Andrew Sullivan was a featured speaker at Jesuit-run Fordham University. His topic: "Friendship: The Forgotten Relationship."

"Fordham believes that it is important to provide our students with opportunities to examine and wrestle with the major issues of the day," wrote Elizabeth Schmalz, the university's assistant vice president for public affairs. "In inviting Hr. Sullivan to speak, the university is not endorsing his views, but offering students a chance to reflect on a contemporary issue--and to do so within a faith-supported context."

As a general rule, Schmalz said in an e-mail, "we hope to steer away from speakers who will attack and undermine the church's teaching. Sometimes, however, speakers whom we invite to campus will wander into controversial areas. We accept the risks associated with inviting speakers to campus, however, since education is not always a neat enterprise."

That policy--avoiding speakers who directly undermine church teaching--is widespread among Catholic colleges and universities, said Monica Hellwig, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. Abortion is a key test.

"As a general principle, the schools are very careful not to have pro-abortion speeches," said Hellwig, though a pro-choice speaker who is addressing a topic unrelated to abortion would generally be welcome. Further, said Hellwig, the schools "are imposing a restraint on themselves not to give awards to people who are notoriously pro-choice. …

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