Newman Catholic plagued

I was deeply disturbed by the Newman Catholic Association’s response to Frances Kissling’s talk. Particularly disturbing was Jeff Padilla’s opinions piece in the Record, which compared Frances Kissling to David Horowitz, thus completely missing the essence of Kissling’s lecture. Kissling repeatedly stressed how she does not demonize those who are pro-life, but rather she attempts to understand their point of view, freely admitting that this is a complex issue in which people have a wide variety of feelings. Kissling also asked that she be treated with the same respect that she gives others.

Frances Kissling’s talk also brought to the forefront the issue of dissent in the Catholic Church. Kissling is still a Catholic because she has not been excommunicated by the Bishop of Washington, the only bishop possessed with the authority to excommunicate members. Despite being an outcast in her own faith, she wishes to change it from within, rather than leave, as many would have her do. She is speaking out against what she considers to be sexism within the hierarchical ranks of the Catholic Church (namely the Pope, cardinals and bishops) rather than insulting the Catholic rank-and-file in general. However, Kissling does question the role of the rank-and-file Catholic as simply a receptacle of canonical law, as opposed to an active moral agent responsible for making his or her own decisions.

One of the most disturbing aspects of this was the Newman Association’s blatant opposition to the possibility of bringing Kissling to campus. The Newman leadership did not believe her to be a “normative” Catholic, and thought that many people would believe Kissling’s talk to be representative of the Catholic Church’s position on abortion. They also did not consider Kissling to be a Catholic at all. This is strange coming from the same group that once loudly proclaimed their right to hold the chastity talk in October, couching it in the language of First-Amendment freedoms and their right to bring in speakers with whom many in the student body would disagree with. Newman Association’s leadership’s selection of speakers and reactions regarding Ms. Kissling’s talk would indicate that they believe in bringing in dissident speakers, so long as they agree with them.

The Newman Association also occupies an elite position amongst religious groups on campus. They claim to represent over 400 Catholics on campus, yet less than a hundred people attend Mass regularly, and less than 20 are regularly involved in Newman activities such as community service or recitation of the rosary. Yet this group not only has their own chaplain, but a chapel, a spacious room in Thompson Chapel’s basement and an extensive library of Catholic literature. The chaplain, Peter Feudo, also employs two students for their on-campus jobs. The Newman Association at Williams has a great deal more resources than other spiritual groups. The Feast, an inter-denominational, progressive Christian organization, lacks their own personal space for meeting and is almost entirely run by students. If the Feast had the benefits that Newman possesses, they too could bring in more speakers and hold more events that would bring in more people. However, there is only so much that students can do in their free time, in an organizational setting. Padilla states that the administration has not appropriated money to provide support for those students affected by the recent sex-abuse scandal. Unlike Reverend Rick Spalding who widely advertised special office hours for those affected directly by the war, I do not recall that Peter Feudo made any public mention of similar office hours, either through advertisement to the entire campus (such as through Daily Messages, etc.), or through the Newman list server.

The lack of Catholic-focused classes is only due to the fact there is not enough interest on campus and because Catholics do not take advantage of the classes available to them as it stands now. Of the 27 students in the Development of Christianity course, only 5, including myself, are Catholic. The nature of religion classes at Williams may also not be what students such as Padilla are interested in. They carefully examine all works, both canonical and heretical with the same level of scrutiny, in order to best study the development of religion in history. The nature of this academic pursuit is not to instruct students about their faith. If the Newman library is not enough, Sawyer also stocks a number of books on topics that a small college such as Williams is not able to provide classes on; there are currently 71 books about St. Thomas Aquinas available.

Before the Newman Association complains about what they do not have, they should fully utilize what they do, while pursuing a more inclusive Catholic community, both on campus and off.