PROVIDENCE, R.I., September 24, 2013 ( – Providence College, a Roman Catholic school in Rhode Island, has canceled a discussion panel on same-sex marriage after deciding its own professors were unprepared to debate the openly homosexual advocate for same-sex “marriage” the school had originally invited to speak.

John Corvino, a gay activist who chairs the philosophy department at Wayne State University in Detroit, had initially been scheduled to give a talk on same-sex “marriage” sponsored by several departments at the college, in violation of school policy requiring both sides of any controversial issue to be presented “fairly and equally.”  

When the school expressed concern that Corvino’s views would be presented without challenge, Corvino – who has participated in debates at a number of Catholic colleges – readily agreed to a format change giving one of the college’s professors an opportunity to offer a rebuttal and clarification of Catholic teachings on marriage following his remarks.  But Corvino was disinvited Saturday after the college decided its chosen representative, theology professor Dana Dillon, lacked sufficient time to prepare.

In an e-mail announcing the cancellation, college provost Hugh Lena seemed to imply that inviting Corvino to speak in the first place had been a mistake.


Citing a document issued by the U.S. bishops, Lena wrote, “While academic freedom is at the heart of teaching in a Catholic university, the United States bishops maintain that in accord with Ex corde ecclesiae: ‘the Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions’ (Catholics in Political Life, USCCB, 2004).”

Lena also said the philosophy professor who organized the event had not followed school policy in doing so.  “College policy … dictates that both sides of a controversial issue are to be presented fairly and equally when discussed in a forum such as this.  That was not the case with this proposed event,” wrote Lena. 

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“The notice sent out yesterday mentioned that there would be a response to Dr. Corvino by Dr. Dana Dillon of the Providence College Theology Department.  However, it has come to my attention that Dr. Dillon was asked just yesterday afternoon to provide that response.  While I applaud Dr. Dillon for her willingness to present on such a complex and controversial topic, it is simply not fair to her to give her less than one week of preparation opposite someone who has been lecturing on this issue across the United States for years.”

Corvino responded to the cancellation on his blog Monday, saying that while it would have been better if the event had been scheduled as a debate from the start, a week should have been more than enough time for a professional Catholic philosopher or theologian to prepare a coherent response to his remarks.

“As a fellow scholar I am offended on Dr. Dillon’s behalf,” Corvino wrote. “If she felt unprepared to respond, she could easily have declined. For her provost to declare her unprepared, however, is an affront to scholarly autonomy and academic freedom.”

“It also does not speak well of Provost Lena’s confidence in his philosophy and theology departments that he believes that no one there can persuasively articulate the Catholic position on marriage with a week’s notice,” Corvino added.

“The provost seems to want to have it both ways,” wrote Corvino, “the appearance of a commitment to vigorous academic dialogue, combined with an isolationist approach to disfavored views.” 

But Dr. Edward Peters, a canon lawyer and professor at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, said that when it comes to the definition of marriage, there is nothing for Catholics to debate.

“What exactly was to be debated at the Providence ‘gay marriage’ debate in the first place?” Peters wrote Tuesday.  “Considering her age (+2,000 years), her membership (+1,000,000,000), and her range of concerns (eternal salvation and human civilization), the Catholic Church has a remarkably short list of non-negotiable assertions.”

“[A]mong the assertions made by the Church with infallible certainty,” wrote Peters, “is this one: God made marriage to exist between one man and one woman. Catholics could debate, say, whether this assertion is a dogma to be believed or a doctrine to be held, or whether the assertion is knowable by reason alone or requires the gift of faith. Catholics could even debate whether civil unions of one sort or another between two persons of the same sex are good for society or bad. But Catholics cannot, I suggest, argue whether true marriage exists only between one man and one woman.”

“To debate whether marriage can exist between two persons of the same sex,” Peters added, “is to imply that some Catholic non-negotiables can be negotiated by Catholics.”

Peters said that the reasons the college gave for the cancellation – the U.S. Bishops’ statement and the lack of time for preparation – both miss the mark.

Wrote Peters, “Neither of those considerations gets at the heart of the matter: Catholics cannot hold marriage to be other than the union of one man and one woman.”