PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island, March 19, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Catholic college students are threatening, harassing, and targeting a Resident Advisor (RA), including with a cartoon depicting him being anally raped, for posting a bulletin board affirming Catholic teaching on marriage.
“I couldn’t even go brush my teeth for several nights without facing a mob in my hallway,” the RA, Michael Smalanskas, told LifeSiteNews.
Providence College, where this is taking place, is run by the Dominican order’s Province of St. Joseph – well-known in most places for its orthodoxy. However, in response to repeated vandalism of the bulletin board and other student employees threateningly congregating outside the Catholic RA’s door – requiring campus security to move Smalanskas to a safe, undisclosed location – the college’s president, a Dominican priest, said “it belongs to a Catholic college to consider the views of those who disagree with the Church’s teaching.”
Another administrator, Vice President of Student Affairs Kristine Goodwin, sent an email to student leaders on March 14 encouraging them to attend a protest “against homophobia and transphobia,” quoting Pope Francis’ now-infamous claim that the Church should apologize to gays, and quoting Father Timothy Radcliffe, a Dominican priest who has suggested sodomy can be “eucharistic.”
Smalanskas is a 22-year-old senior and former seminarian from Holden, Massachusetts. He’s double majoring in philosophy and theology.
What is the “offense” Smalanskas committed that infuriated his fellow students so much they’ve called for him to be fired and raped? He posted a bulletin board articulating what the Catholic Church teaches about “Marriage: The Way God Intended It.”
The bulletin board includes a quote from Pope Francis, “We must affirm the right of children to grow up in a family with a mother and a father.” It shows a bride and groom inside a church.
“Traditional marriage: God ordained it. Nature reveals it. Science affirms it,” another part of the bulletin board says. “Marriage should be reinforced. Not redefined!”
And finally, the bulletin board quotes the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark: “And the two shall become one flesh…”
“This situation is the logical consequence of the Anthony Esolen affair last year,” a Providence College faculty member told LifeSiteNews on the condition of anonymity, referring to the systematic leftist targeting of that former Providence professor.
The actions of this “angry mob of students don’t understand the Church’s teaching” is precisely why Providence needs to uphold Catholic doctrine, this anonymous professor said. “They need to reaffirm clearly the Church’s teaching on marriage. Often times when they speak about it, they pit marriage against the dignity of the human person.”
But it’s out of respect for the fundamental dignity of the human person, according to the professor, that the Church teaches people should not engage in sinful acts contrary to natural law. The professor said the administration is acting as if not firing Smalanskas is a sufficient response to his being targeted and threatened with violence.
Students ‘asking for a safe space from Catholicism’ at a Catholic college
Putting up the pro-marriage bulletin board “was not an act of aggression in any way,” Smalanskas told LifeSiteNews.
“There had been a pro-lesbian bulletin board up for the entire month of February in one of the female residence halls,” he explained. He said he’d quietly raised an issue through the chaplain’s office to that board having been posted at a Catholic school.
“But nobody was rioting outside the girl’s door,” he said.
“There’s a tremendous double standard when it comes to Catholic teaching or conservative views,” said Smalanskas. “They are just not protected in the same way” as other beliefs.
Smalanskas recalled that as soon as he put the bulletin board up, “I immediately [started] getting all sorts of harassing text messages.”
Some of those other RAs started “to show up in my building,” and were able to do this through a “total abuse of their power.”
They were “keying into the building after hours. They let themselves into the building and started milling around and they ripped down [the board]…I am an employee of the college, and these are other employees of the college behaving this way.”
Smalanskas told LifeSiteNews his co-workers and other non-RA students are calling for him to be fired and are asking Providence President Father Brian Shanley, OP to enact a policy ensuring “this sort of thing will never happen again.”
“They’re really asking for a safe space from Catholicism here,” he said.
As his fellow RAs congregated outside his room, campus security became very concerned for Smalanskas’ safety, he told LifeSiteNews. He went to bed and about 30 minutes later, campus security knocked on his door telling him they were worried about his safety. They offered to move him to another location for the night “as a precaution.”
After getting “shipped off across campus” in a “squad car” because the mob was a safety threat to Smalanskas, Providence College, per its protocol, offered him “mental health resources.”
“I said to call the chaplain’s office,” Smalanskas said. But the priest tasked with helping the victimized student “didn’t even want to come. When he did finally show up, he basically begged and pleaded with me to ‘graduate in peace’…he told me that I was ‘throwing culture bombs.’”
That priest “has since” changed his tune, Smalanskas said, and is now “overcompensating” for the way he treated Smalanskas the night he had to be moved for his own safety.
‘Horrifying’ meeting with priest, administrator, and lawyer
The bulletin board went up on Thursday, March 1, right before Providence’s spring break.
During that break, Smalanskas wrote a letter to Bishop Thomas Tobin, in whose diocese Providence is located. Bishop Tobin, who has been a strong advocate of the Church's moral teachings, is not to be confused with Newark’s Cardinal Joseph Tobin, who has endorsed Fr. James Martin's LGBT advocacy.
In his letter to his ordinary, Smalanskas said he pointed out, “The environment of Providence College is such that Catholic teaching is so foreign to the student population that it has this kind of shock value” and is “being treated as hate speech.” He told the bishop about how his safety had been threatened and explained that “the administration is not taking this seriously.”
Smalanskas said he is scheduled to have a meeting with Tobin. On March 17, Tobin retweeted an article about a group of faculty who have come out in support of Smalanskas. The bishop also tweeted:
Catholic schools are often in the news these days over campus disputes. But, it seems to me that those who teach or study at a Catholic school should accept the stated identity and mission of the school? Otherwise, why are they there? There are lots of other good options.
— Thomas J. Tobin (@bishoptjt) March 17, 2018
By the time spring break was over and classes were back in session, the bulletin board had been ripped down and re-posted several times.
On Monday, March 12, upon returning from spring break, Smalanskas and his faculty advisor Dr. James Keating met with Vice President of Student Affairs Kristine Goodwin, Vice President of Mission and Ministry Fr. R. Gabriel Pivarnik, O.P., and the school’s attorney.
“It was horrifying to sit there with the Vice President of Mission and Ministry and ask him to affirm the college’s mission and to hear him say he won’t,” said Smalanskas.
In this meeting, Smalanskas and Keating asked the administrators for three things: to publicly denounce the “malicious acts” and “hatred” against Smalanskas, to publicly affirm the mission of the college as being consistent with the content of the bulletin board, and publicly affirm that freedom of speech would be protected on campus.
The cartoon showing Smalanskas being forcibly sodomized hadn’t yet been drawn and posted on the mirror of his dormitory bathroom.
“They could have prevented that, perhaps,” by condemning the hatred and harassment he was enduring, Smalanskas said.
But “by the end of the meeting, they made it very clear” they wouldn’t do any of the three things Keating and Smalanskas asked. “The meeting ended having made zero headway with them. They made it abundantly clear that they would do nothing to affirm the mission of the college.”
The cartoon showing another male sodomizing Smalanskas emerged on March 14.
Later that day, Vice President of Student Affairs Kristine Goodwin sent student leaders an email encouraging them to attend the pro-LGBT march being organized in response to the Catholic bulletin board.
Goodwin did not respond to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews about whether she’d seen the threatening cartoon of sexual assault before sending that email, the full text of which follows:
Dear Student Leaders (of Residence Life, Student Congress, and BMSA),
I am writing to you, as student leaders, because Dean Sears, Jana Valentine, Fr. Pivarnik, Dean Gaffney, Dean Bevely and I have met with a number of students who have expressed serious concerns about their own and others’ well-being—to us and to each other. Your call for the administration to act was received, but there is wide disagreement about what such action(s) entails. I write to affirm some fundamental truths and to provide you with information you may need, or at least find helpful, as we collaborate on how to move forward.
First and foremost, I believe we need to treat each other with respect at all times. Every person deserves to be treated with dignity whether or not we agree with their point of view. People should resist the urge to vilify one another in words or actions. Vilification of any person or group further divides our community, can have a chilling effect on honest communication, and prevents us from understanding each other.
Second, the purpose and functioning of RA bulletin boards is not clearly and specifically articulated. Consider that over the last two weeks the Office of Residence Life received complaints about at least two boards—describing them as “inconsistent with the Mission of Providence College”, but for different reasons. We recognize that this needs to be addressed. To that end I have asked Dean Sears and Jana Valentine to work in collaboration with student leaders because you are well suited to explore this issue and assist us. If you are interested in serving on a task force, please let one of them know.
The RA who posted the bulletin board that has resulted in controversy described his intentions as informing students about the Roman Catholic teaching on the sacrament of marriage while promoting the College’s Catholic values. While there is disagreement about the effectiveness of using a bulletin board to do this, the message in and of itself is consistent with the Church’s teaching.
In the context of our larger response, Fr. Pivarnik and I tried to explain that this is only part of the Church’s teaching. In discussing all of this with my colleagues—students, faculty, Dominicans and other administrators—I was reminded that at Providence College we simultaneously hold together the Church’s teaching on the sacrament of marriage and the teaching on the dignity of every human person. This is not easy to do here at Providence College or in the Church more broadly. As we have seen in recent days, when any part of the Church’s teaching is taken out of context, it can have detrimental consequences, especially if it ends up alienating people from the truth that it serves. Therefore we must work earnestly toward deeper mutual understanding and the inclusion of all within the wide embrace of God’s love and mercy.
Perhaps the following two quotes will help further our understanding and provide context:
On the way home from Armenia, in a conversation with a group of reporters who asked Pope Francis about whether he agreed with a statement made by a Cardinal, he is reported to have said, “We Christians must say we are sorry . . . I think the church not only must say it is sorry to the gay person it has offended, but also to the poor, to exploited women [and anyone whom the church did not defend when it could].”
Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, O.P. former master of the Dominican Order and author ofA New Way of Being Church: Pope Francis encourages us to be comfortable with uncertainty (September 2013) wrote “ . . . [Pope Francis] also sees the Christian mission as offering [a] healing gaze to others. He is touched by seeing how individuals live. When he addresses the question of welcoming gay people in the church, he says, ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ If we dare to really see people, in their dignity and humanity, then we shall discover the right words to say. Who knows where this will take us?”
I sincerely hope others will join me in committing to studying, to really listening, and to being in dialogue so that we can be informed and effective allies and educators. One way to do this is to walk in solidarity with SHEPARD next Wednesday, March 21st, promoting unity, affirmation, and inclusion even amidst controversy. Another way is to ask someone whom you know has different beliefs than you to meet so that you may listen to their perspective. As you know, inspired by Dr. Bernice A. King’s challenge to actively promote our shared humanity, we are currently engaged in a series of initiatives that we believe will bring us closer to the ideal of the “beloved community.” A student leader recently reminded us that stories about acts of kindness can be found at #Friars50Forward as well as posted in Slavin Center.
Finally, I offer you a quote that I have been contemplating this Lenten season. “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” (Viktor E. Frankl M.D., Ph.D, neurologist, psychiatrist, author, and Holocaust survivor). When we see, read, or hear something that causes us to have a strong emotional reaction, we have the power to pause and choose a “response” that is consistent with who we are and claim to be. I hope we have the strength to resist hurting each other any more than we already have.
I pray for civil discourse and healing, and look forward to when we can share knowledge and narrative absent fear.
Thank you for your openness and consideration.
Lawsuit ‘not off the table’
Campus police informed Smalanskas of the anal rape cartoon that “had been found in my common bathroom…posted on the mirror.”
This “very disturbing threat” is “a Title IX issue now,” said Smalanskas. A “lawsuit’s not off the table by any stretch.”
Even after the pro-sexual assault cartoon emerged, Providence College has been silent and not condemned the way other students are treating Smalanskas.
A “lawsuit’s not off the table by any stretch.”
“The example that I gave to Kristine Goodwin is, let’s say a young Mexican-American student had put up a poster that said, ‘God loves the dreamers,’ that poster had been torn down, and [the student who created it] felt unsafe in her own dormitory because kids who tore it down were milling outside her door,” said Dr. Keating. “Then, a poster is put up of her being raped. How would the college react?”
“For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Michael doesn’t even get a little bit” of sympathy from the administration. Keating said Providence College’s foremost responsibility is to protect its students’ right to express their opinions, especially when those opinions are in line with the Roman Catholic Church.
The college has “failed” to do this, Keating told LifeSiteNews.
“This kid has had to move to another dorm for safety and the president of the college won’t speak to his parents,” said the anonymous faculty member quoted earlier in this story. If the student was “gay or black,” the college’s response would have been totally different.
Things like this happen ‘every year,’ Providence College turning into a ‘lunatic asylum’
Dominican Father Nicanor Austriaco, one of Smalanskas’ professors who has a good reputation and is thought of as orthodox, “sat me down in the middle of the library in full view of everybody and lectured me for an hour,” Smalanskas said.
That meeting, which Smalanskas thought would be private, “was on full display in the full library.”
“He lectured me about how much hurt I had caused and how I harmed people,” Smalanskas recalled. “I didn’t even have an opportunity to fill him in on the facts because he wouldn’t let me.”
Austriaco expressed “no concern for the fact that I had been threatened or my safety was in jeopardy.”
Another priest urged Smalanskas to march with the pro-LGBT student group against “homophobia” but then rescinded that advice.
“When things start to get big or the heat starts to turn up,” the Dominicans at Providence College “just don’t wanna end up on ‘the wrong side of history,’” said Smalanskas. “When it was behind closed doors in the middle of the night, they practically begged me to stop” defending marriage.
“Some of them have come around, but the initial reaction [from the order] was just awful,” Smalanskas said. He called the campus-wide email President Fr. Brian Shanley sent this morning “a whole lot of nothing.”
That email said:
Dear Members of the Providence College Community:
In the light of the latest controversy to roil our campus, I would like to share some thoughts about how to move forward.
It belongs to the nature of a Catholic institution of higher education to explore the beauty and intelligibility of what the Church teaches. That includes the Church’s view of human sexuality and marriage. The Church’s teaching ought to be explored intellectually, especially in the classroom, and proclaimed from the pulpit. Additionally, it belongs to a Catholic college to consider the views of those who disagree with the Church’s teaching in the spirit of the disputed question.
Precisely because the nature of human sexuality and marriage is a disputed question, the dialogue that we have on our campus needs to be respectful of different points of view. For those who cannot agree with the Church’s teaching or who find it even offensive, it would be uncharitable to describe it as homophobic because the Church teaches that homophobia is a sin. In a similar way, those of us who profess what the Church teaches need to do so in a charitable way that recognizes the human dignity of every person as created in the image and likeness of God and in a way that does not foster the exclusion or marginalization of members of our community, like LGBTQ people or divorced and remarried Catholics, who find the Church’s teaching difficult to accept.
We will never eliminate the tension between what the Church teaches and what modern secular culture professes about human sexuality and marriage. Our challenge is to create a campus climate that will enable us to explore our differences dialogically with mutual respect and charity. In the opening prayer at Mass today we asked to “walk eagerly in that same charity with which, out of love for the world, your Son handed himself over to death.” Let us walk and talk eagerly in that charity as we go forward.
Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P.
Other Dominican priests, speaking to LifeSitenews anonymously, expressed frustration at how their brother priests run Providence College, noting it functions in a way that is incongruent with the otherwise generally orthodox Province of St. Joseph.
“Something like this blows up at Providence College every academic year,” one told LifeSiteNews. Things have “gotten out of hand” at the institution.
“The purpose of a Catholic college or university is not simply to create an atmosphere of dialogue as if all points of view are equal,” he said. “Rather the purpose is to pursue the authentically true and good, to advance not only in knowledge but to holiness in God. Dominicans don’t pursue dialogue for its own sake but as a means of evangelization.”
Over the past few years, students and professors have “been putting up all sorts of posters throughout campus promoting the LGBT cause.” One philosophy professor has a Planned Parenthood poster on his door, the priest said.
“There doesn’t seem to be a freedom of thought or expression when it comes to what the Church actually teaches as true about God, about marriage, and about love.”
“It’s really hard to understand why you can have people putting up posters that actually contradict the teaching of the Church and no one says anything,” but Smalanskas gets ridiculed and targeted for his Catholic poster. “There doesn’t seem to be a freedom of thought or expression when it comes to what the Church actually teaches as true about God, about marriage, and about love.”
“If think if we have threats of sexual assault, the administration in the past has been very good about condemning ‘hate speech’ on the campus,” the priest continued. The cartoon showing Smalanskas being raped “is a form of hate speech. I fully anticipate they will condemn it eventually.”
Another Dominican priest commented that Providence College is “pretty much like a lunatic asylum” at this point.
“President Shanley’s message to the Providence College community (March 19) leaves Michael Smalanskas exposed,” Dr. Matthew Cuddeback, an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Providence, told LifeSiteNews. “The President does not defend the bulletin board. He seems to imply that expressions of Catholic teaching on marriage should be confined largely to the classroom and the pulpit. And he leaves Michael exposed to the charge that the bulletin board is, in fact, ‘uncharitable.’”
Michael Smalanskas still committed to ‘witnessing’ for the truth about marriage
Smalanskas said the hardest part of this ordeal is that his, fiancée, also a Providence student, has “been punished for it” and mistreated for her affiliation with him.
“We’ve lost friends. Our co-workers treat us terribly,” he said.
Smalanskas said ultimately, his persecution, despite being “uncomfortable and unpleasant,” has strengthened his faith and is just a witness for the truth about marriage.
“My final act at Providence College will be our wedding” in the campus chapel this summer, he said. “That will be our final witness to marriage for the school after all this is said and done.”