Local bishop calls treatment of pro-marriage Providence College student ‘reprehensible’
PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island, March 22, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Bishop Thomas Tobin has written a letter to Providence College student Michael Smalanskas, commending him for his “courage” and denouncing the “reprehensible” treatment he’s received on campus for creating a bulletin board explaining Catholic teaching on marriage.
In a letter dated March 21, Bishop Tobin praised Smalanskas for his courage. Tobin’s ecclesiastical territory as the Bishop of Providence, Rhode Island includes Providence College.
“I admire and commend your courage in stepping forward to proclaim the teachings of the Church about Holy Matrimony,” he wrote.
Tobin assured Smalanskas of his “admiration, prayers and blessings” and said he hopes to meet with the 22-year-old soon.
Church teaching on marriage is not “arbitrary,” Tobin wrote, and Smalanskas’ bulletin board “expresses [that] so clearly.”
Smalanskas told LifeSiteNews that he was “extremely grateful to Bishop Tobin for his letter.”
“To me, he did what a Bishop ought to do and that is to teach. The Bishop clearly articulated and reaffirmed the truth about marriage, while also reminding others that this truth is in no way homophobic or bigoted. He demonstrated what it means to be a true shepherd of souls and that is to speak the truth with love and clarity.”
Smalanskas is a Resident Advisor (RA) at Providence College, which is run by the Dominicans of the Province of St. Joseph. For his own safety, campus police had to move Michael to an undisclosed location in the middle of the night after other RAs began congregating outside his door in a threatening manner. They did this after he created in the residence hall where he works a bulletin board saying marriage is between a man and a woman. The board was repeatedly vandalized.
A cartoon showing Smalanskas being anally raped was placed on the bathroom mirror in his hall. Shortly after that, Vice President of Student Affairs Kristine Goodwin sent an email to student leaders encouraging them to attend an “anti-homophobia” march that was organized in response to the educational bulletin board, completely in line with Catholic teaching, that Smalanskas created. It’s unclear if Goodwin knew about the rape cartoon before she sent that email.
Providence College’s president, Father Brian Shanley, OP, hasn’t condemned the gay rape cartoon. Neither has any other administrator. Shanley released a letter saying “it belongs to a Catholic college to consider the views of those who disagree with the Church’s teaching” and suggesting such discussions belong in the “classroom” and “pulpit.” Tobin also sent a copy of the letter to Fr. Shanley.
Bishop Tobin “did what Fr. Shanley should have done a long time ago – denounce the hatred, unapologetically proclaim the Church's teaching, and reaffirm the mission of the college,” said Smalanskas.
Tobin’s letter also said Providence College is at a “crossroads and now has to make a conscious decision about which road to travel,” wondering if Providence College, abbreviated as PC, will become “p.c. – politically correct.”
Despite this being a Title IX issue now – and the college appearing to do nothing to stop the hostile sexual assault threat against Smalanskas – on Tuesday, March 20, all RAs on campus were gathered in a room and ordered to surrender their cellphones (presumably to ensure nothing could be recorded). This meeting was an opportunity for them to talk about how they “felt” about the Catholic bulletin board. Smalanskas told LifeSiteNews he left the meeting shortly after it began. His friends who remained inside say that one dean said they shouldn’t speak about someone who wasn’t there, but nevertheless the other RAs spent the rest of the evening trashing him and demanding he be fired.
Providence College has now told its RAs they are to post no more bulletin boards for the rest of the year.
Smalanskas wrote Tobin a letter on March 4 explaining the situation as it began to unfold. In Tobin’s letter to Smalanskas, the bishop wrote, “It is so sad that, in response to your bulletin board posting, you have experienced ridicule and personal attacks, especially on a Catholic campus. I am pleased to note that a number of prominent Providence College professors, as well as the priest chaplains of the College, have now come forward to support you. Good for them!”
Bishop Tobin called what happened to Smalanskas “reprehensible.”
“It is truly unfortunate that in explaining our Faith, you have received such a negative and even reprehensible response, particularly at a Catholic college, one that is publicly committed to professing Catholic and Dominican values,” wrote Tobin. “As I have stated previously, I think we have the right to presume that those who teach or study at a Catholic school should accept, or at least respect, the stated identity, mission and fundamental teachings of the Faith. Otherwise, there are lots of other good options for higher education they can choose if they really feel threatened by or are uncomfortable with the teachings of the Church.”
“This was a clear wake up call from the local ordinary to the president of a college in crisis,” concluded Smalanskas. “Bishop Tobin challenged Fr. Shanley to act before it is too late and the school falls prey to the forces that have overcome too many of our Catholic colleges and universities.”
Tobin’s full letter, which his office delivered to Smalanskas via email, is available below:
March 21, 2018
Mr. Michael Smalanskas
Thank you for your letter of March 4, 2018 in which you describe the troubling situation you have experienced at Providence College as a result of your attempt to express in a public way the teaching of the Catholic Church about the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. I take this opportunity to share with you a few observations about this matter, with the hope that, in response to your request, we can still meet personally in the near future.
First, I admire and commend your courage in stepping forward to proclaim the teachings of the Church about Holy Matrimony. It is so sad that, in response to your bulletin board posting, you have experienced ridicule and personal attacks, especially on a Catholic campus. I am pleased to note that a number of prominent Providence College professors, as well as the priest chaplains of the College, have now come forward to support you. Good for them!
As your billboard expresses so clearly, marriage is designed by God to be a union of one man and one woman; it is the “way God intended it.” This teaching of the Church is most certainly not arbitrary, nor is it homophobic or bigoted, but, in fact, is based on the Word of God and reflects the immutable teaching of Christ.
In a broader context, however, I would also like to observe that, along with courage, prudence is also a virtue that we always need to practice in expressing our Catholic beliefs in a secular, hostile world. Timing, and the context of our prophetic statements, should always be carefully evaluated. We avoid being aggressive, provocative, inflammatory or “in-your-face” in stating our beliefs and in challenging others. As you know, if you poke a beehive, you can expect to get stung, and in the world today a strong, traditional moral stance will invariably draw a fierce response.
Charity is also a virtue. As others have emphasized, we need to respect those individuals who hold diverse beliefs and opinions on these important issues, and even be willing to dialogue with them. However, we do them no favors, and we fail to fulfill our Christian vocation, if we hesitate to present and explain the divinely revealed truth about faith and morals.
It is truly unfortunate that in explaining our Faith, you have received such a negative and even reprehensible response, particularly at a Catholic college, one that is publicly committed to professing Catholic and Dominican values. As I have stated previously, I think we have the right to presume that those who teach or study at a Catholic school should accept, or at least respect, the stated identity, mission and fundamental teachings of the Faith. Otherwise, there are lots of other good options for higher education they can choose if they really feel threatened by or are uncomfortable with the teachings of the Church.
For the sake of the record, I want to say that the President of Providence College, Father Brian Shanley, O.P., continues to have my personal support. He is a good man, a dedicated and faithful priest, and has proven to be an effective leader of Providence College. As I have stated on other occasions, I think that as a president of a Catholic College he has the toughest job in the Church these days, at least as difficult as being a bishop! He has so many diverse constituencies to think about and affirm, and to keep peace and harmony on a college campus in these turbulent times is a Herculean task. I am confident that in the end Father Shanley will do his best, and will be successful, in helping the College move forward in charity, truth and unity.
Having said that, it does seem to me that Providence College is standing at the crossroads and now has to make a conscious decision about which road to travel. Will it maintain, proudly, unapologetically and unambiguously, its Catholic heritage by preaching, teaching and living the Catholic Faith in all its beauty and richness? Or, like so many other institutions today, will it succumb to modernist trends and become just one more progressive, secular bastion of political correctness? Or, we might ask: Will it continue to be P.C. – the Providence College we’ve come to know and love; or simply be p.c. – politically correct, the pathetic, ephemeral fashion that has, in recent years, taken such an ironclad grip on our culture?
Once again, Michael, in response to your request, I hope to meet with you in the near future to continue this interesting and very timely conversation. In the meantime, please be assured of my admiration, prayers and blessings. May God reward your faithfulness and courage, and give you his richest blessings in the days to come.
I hope that you will have a blessed Holy Week and Easter.
+Thomas J. Tobin
Bishop of Providence
C: Father Brian Shanley, O.P.