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2/12/2013 - Statement from the President Regarding Senator Whitehouse's Speech at Providence College

Dear Members of the Providence College Community:
The impending visit of Senator Whitehouse to this campus has provoked some legitimate and important questions regarding the appropriateness of a Catholic institution sponsoring a talk by a politician who advocates positions at odds with those of the Church on vital issues such as abortion. Let me begin by noting that the invitation to Sen. Whitehouse was made by the Political Science department without any consultation with me. I do not say this to criticize the department, since it would be normal for departments to make their own judgments regarding academic speakers. It was their judgment that Sen. Whitehouse’s views on the challenges facing Congress as an institution would be of obvious interest to the department and to the wider community. I do not believe that any reasonable person could argue that the opinion of a sitting senator on the state of Congress is not academically valuable.
Does this invitation violate the U.S. bishops’ request that Catholic institutions neither honor nor provide a platform for politicians holding views at odds with the Church? We are not giving Sen. Whitehouse an award. Nor are we giving him a platform to promote views at odds with the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Therefore I do not consider this inconsistent with the bishops’ wishes and I see no reason to seek to disinvite him from speaking.
I deeply disagree with some of Senator Whitehouse’s espoused positions. But that would not mean that I would bar him from speaking on campus in an area in which he has expertise that will enrich the learning of our campus and that does not conflict with the teaching of the Church. You may recall that Senator Whitehouse also spoke on campus in the fall of 2008 about his experience as a freshman senator and there were few, if any, objections to his appearance at that time.
I do not expect everyone to agree with this judgment. Some will wonder why this is even an issue since Sen. Whitehouse is discussing an issue in which he has obvious expertise and on which there is no conflict with Church teaching. Others will argue that by giving him any kind of platform to speak on any topic we are not being faithful to the bishops. I think the truth lies in the middle. And I think this debate is good for our community.
Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P.
Catholic and Dominican

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