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Catholic Scholar Attacked for Catholic Views at Catholic College

Prominent Catholic scholar of Renaissance literature Anthony Esolen is under attack for daring to talk openly about the teachings of the Catholic faith.

The orthodox professor at the Dominican-led Providence College in Rhode Island is the author of many books, including a translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Esolen recently penned two articles at Crisis magazine, the first in which he laments that his school – like many – has “succumbed to the totalitarian diversity cult.”

Esolen observes that the “celebrate diversity” culture crowd is “at odds with…the diversity of male and female to be resolved most dynamically and creatively in the union of man and woman in marriage.”

In a second piece, the scholar asserts that Catholics are facing a “relentless institutional persecution,” and asks his readers to consider how they will prepare for the onslaught when it comes to them.

Rod Dreher interviewed Esolen at the American Conservative where the scholar recounted what happened after his pieces were published.

“Naturally, some students and faculty on Esolen’s campus were so outraged by his suggestion that ‘diversity’ as they understand it is misguided and destructive that they have commenced a campaign to punish him, perhaps even to fire him,” writes Dreher, observing that Esolen is now facing his own persecution.

Esolen explained to Dreher the students at his school “accused me of racism” and were angry that he suggested “there was something totalitarian in the impulse of the secular left, to attempt to subject our curriculum to the demands of a current political aim.”

Yet, Esolen said his quarrel was not with students, but rather with “anti-Catholic professors and their attempts to hurt or to stifle my colleagues.”

The professor continued that even though he invited students to meet with him to discuss what it’s like to be a minority student at Providence, “I have received NO phone calls and NO e-mails from any students; and yet word has spread around campus, possibly originating from the administration itself, that I have ‘blown off’ the students, when exactly the reverse is true, and if anybody has been ‘blown off,’ it has been me.”

Esolen continued that students demanded a “response” from the school’s president, Father Brian Shanley, with some insisting he be fired. After meeting with the students, Shanley sent a letter to all faculty, staff, and both undergraduate and graduate students. The letter reads in part:

After dialoging with the students, I believe it is imperative for me to respond to their concerns.

Universities are places where ideas are supposed to be brought into conflict and questioned, so let us robustly debate the meaning of “diversity.” But we must also remember that words have an impact on those who hear or read them. When a professor questions the value of diversity, the impact on many students, faculty, and staff of color is to feel that their presence is not valued and that they are not welcome at Providence College. I have heard from many students about the pain that this causes. When student activists are described as “narcissists,” they understandably feel demeaned and dismissed. We need to be able to disagree with each other’s ideas without attaching labels to them or imputing motives that we cannot know.

Our Catholic mission at Providence College calls us to embrace people from diverse backgrounds and cultures as a mirror of the universal Church and to seek the unity of that Body in the universal love of Christ. Pope Francis has likened this communion to the weaving of a blanket, “woven with patience and perseverance, one which gradually draws together stitches to make a more extensive and rich cover.” He reminds us as well that what we seek is not “unanimity, but true unity in the richness of diversity.” Finally, Francis reminds us that “plurality of thought and individuality reflect the manifold wisdom of God when we draw nearer to truth with intellectual honesty and rigor, when we draw near to goodness, when we draw near to beauty, in such a way that everyone can be a gift for the benefit of others.” Amen.

Writing also at Crisis, American Principles Project education director Emmett McGroarty and senior fellow Jane Robbins observed:

Sadly, Fr. Shanley followed the template of invertebrate college administrators everywhere: He weakly defended Esolen’s academic freedom but—and there’s always a “but”—rebuked him for causing “pain” to the protesting students. Shanley then suggested that Esolen’s truth-telling had violated “our fundamental imperative on a Catholic campus: to be charitable to one another.”

On its website, Providence College answers the question what it means to be “Catholic”:

On the one hand, it means that one is a member of the Catholic Church, believes what the Church teaches, and does what Catholics do. On the other hand, to be catholic — and here the lowercase is intentional — is to be open, tolerant, and universal in one’s interests and sympathies. Both definitions are right and both apply to Providence College. But the most radical sense of being Catholic is to view the created world as a sacrament of the divine, that is, as something that both points to and makes present God’s saving grace.

Esolen told Dreher that, after being singled out by Shanley, the school’s president met with faculty where the scholar was reviled further, with several of Esolen’s colleagues defending his right to express his views.

“When the president said that he believed that he had to act ‘for pastoral reasons,’ they replied that it was a strange form of pastoral care that pits every member of a community against one,” Esolen said, adding that a petition or “resolution” was then circulated among faculty, stating that academic freedom must be “exercised responsibly.” The resolution, he said, denounced “racist, xenophobic, sexist, homophobic, and religiously chauvinistic” articles such as his.

Esolen’s essay on diversity “rests on a central teaching of Christianity: ‘God created man in his own image, in the image of God he create him, male and female he created them’ (Gen. 1:27),” note McGroarty and Robbins, adding:

Esolen’s offense seems to lie in his taking this teaching seriously. As his essay makes clear, he sees an individual first and foremost not as a member of a group, but as a human person created in the image of God. Esolen also notes the paradox that the campus diversity movement results in enforced sameness, not the true diversity of the Church—“a political movement which is, for all its talk, a push for homogeneity, so that all the world will look not like the many-cultured Church, but rather like the monotone non-culture of western cities that have lost their faith in the transcendent and unifying God.”

Esolen himself has a message for Christian parents sending their children off to college:

Christian parents — please do not suppose that your child will retain his or her faith after four years of battering at a secular college. Oh, many do — and many colleges have Christian groups that are terrific. But understand that it is going to be a dark time; and that everything on campus will be inimical to the faith, from the blockheaded assumptions of their professors, to the hook-ups, to the ignorance of their fellow students and their unconscious but massive bigotry. Be advised.

Esolen was also one of some 130 Catholic scholars who signed onto a letter to the United States Catholic bishops in 2013, urging them to abandon any implementation of the Common Core standards in their dioceses.

“Common Core shortchanges the central goals of all sound education and surely those of Catholic education: to grow in the virtues necessary to know, love, and serve the Lord, to mature into a responsible, flourishing adult, and to contribute as a citizen to the process of responsible democratic self-government,” that letter read.

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