The recent decision by Providence College to cancel a scheduled lecture on the philosophic implications of same-sex marriage was disappointing, but unfortunately not particularly surprising. As an alumnus of the college, I find this self-defeating squelching of dialogue all too familiar.
The event in question was a lecture by John Corvino, chairman of the philosophy department at Detroit’s Wayne State University, which he has given at several other Catholic universities, including Boston College and Notre Dame. Professor Corvino’s lecture, organized by Chris Arroyo, a PC philosophy professor, was co-sponsored by nine academic departments and was to include a response from Dana Dillon of the Providence College department of theology.
What was surprising was the reasoning Provost Hugh Lena used to explain his decision. In an email sent only to faculty, Provost Lena provided two reasons for the cancellation. First, he quoted a 2004 letter from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, headed “Catholics in Political Life,” which says, in part, “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.” This is generally understood to refer to the conferring of honorary degrees or other special tributes to Catholic elected officials who break with the Church on a particular social teaching. Never before had I seen it applied in an academic context as reason to prevent the exploration of a controversial topic.