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A Catholic university in Michigan has cancelled a lecture by a notable theologian due to right-wing attacks over that theologian’s LGBT-positive stances.
The Center for Catholic Studies and Interfaith Dialogue at Madonna University, Livonia, planned to host Dr. M. Shawn Copeland of Boston College this month. She was set to speak on ““A New Vision for the Church: Pope Francis’ Agenda for Social Justice.” But on September 18th, the Center posted a message on its Facebook page that it had cancelled Copeland’s lecture. The post quoted the Center’s director, Sr. Nancy Marie Jamroz, C.S.S.F.:
“We are sorry for this lost educational opportunity for Madonna students, and for the heavy blow it strikes to academic freedom and to Pope Francis’ vision for the Church.”
Global Sisters Report clarified that Copeland was not uninvited from speaking at the University, but that a mutual decision had been reached to cancel this specific lecture.
The cancellation was prompted by attacks from the right-wing group, Church Militant, which criticized Copeland for being a “pro-LGBT speaker.” This group is the same group which recently attacked Fr. James Martin, SJ, over his new book on LGBT issues in the church. Those attacks led Theological College, the seminary affiliated with The Catholic University of America, to cancel a lecture by Martin on encountering Jesus.
Copeland has declined to comment, but the chair of her Theology Department at Boston College, Dr. Richard Gaillardetz, criticized such groups sharply:
“‘The practice of pressuring both bishops and leaders of Catholic institutions to rescind speaking offers has, sadly, been going on for over three decades now. . .What has changed is the sophisticated employment of social media to ramp up digitally manufactured rage against important voices in the church like Fr. Martin, and most recently, my esteemed colleague, Professor M. Shawn Copeland.’ . . .
“‘Until bishops and leaders of Catholic institutions repudiate these tactics and stop following the path of least resistance simply to avoid conflict and bad press, militant church groups will continue to feel emboldened to further their character assassinations, oblivious to the extent to which they are undermining the very credibility and effectiveness of the church they claim to love.'”
Gaillardetz said the attacks not only harm those involved, but threaten church unity. He added:
“‘A church which does not know how to handle conflict and disagreement with charity and a determination to impute only the best of intentions on those with whom we disagree, is a church deeply compromised in its ability to witness to the liberating power of the gospel.'”
Dr. Copeland has indeed affirmed LGBT people’s goodness within the larger context of her theological writings. Sadly, it only took few quotes on LGBT issues from that work, quotes cited out of context by Church Militant, for the Felician Sisters at Madonna University to cancel the lecture.
Writing in response to the cancellation of Martin’s lectures, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego wrote that the right-wing attacks should be a “wake-up call” for U.S. Catholics to not concede to fringe groups. Beyond concern for parish and school functions, it is even more worrying that such groups have been able to curtail academic freedom so successfully.
As the U.S. institutional church grapples with how it can repel these right wing groups generally, the cancellation of Dr. Copeland is a poignant reminder that too often LGBT issues have been an excuse to harm Catholic higher education, too.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 29, 2017