Phi Beta Cons

Another Dialogue Silenced

The College of the Holy Cross has decided to play host to an Alliance on Teen Pregnancy conference, sponsored by NARAL and Planned Parenthood. Not surprisingly, certain students and alumni are troubled by this decision. In a response to those upset by the decision, the College’s president, Michael McFarland, SJ issued the following letter:

Dear …,

Thank you for your message. I commend your concern for the unborn.
However, I cannot look at the Alliance on Teen Pregnancy as simplistically as you seem to do.
It is not and has never been the mainstream Catholic position, and certainly is not the Jesuit position, that we should run away from public discussions of issues that are important to us just because of the presence of those whose positions or activities we find to be wrong…I must point out that the strategy of some pro-life groups to shun Planned Parenthood and thus discredit them in the public eye, however justified in theory, has been a miserable failure in practice. To the extent that the Church has tried it, all it has done is marginalize its own voice, which is tragic.
By refusing to take part in broad-based efforts to help young girls and their children, we play into the hands of Planned Parenthood, who want to portray us as only caring for our own ideology and not for the welfare of women. I think that…a much sounder strategy of involving itself in important efforts to protect the welfare of children and young people in ways that we find morally acceptable. If successful, these efforts could lead to fewer abortions. In any event, given importance of the work done by the Alliance and the involvement of Catholic Charities and other Catholic groups, I don’t see that we are compelled to withdraw from the agreement to rent space to them.

Though much could be said about the egregious concepts of Catholic obligation, theological charity, and the ubiquitous Jesuit/Catholic distinction that McFarland insists upon, I’ll refrain, since this is neither the most serious, nor the most direct attack HC has launched on its own Catholicism.
But something is worth noting in what McFarland says. He claims that “by refusing to take part in broad-based efforts…we play into the hands of Planned Parenthood, who want to portray us as only caring for our own ideology and not for the welfare of women.”
Isn’t this a pretty clear case of silencing dialogue, not promoting it? In order to play host to this conference, McFarland claims that “we” as Catholics have to endorse the broad based efforts, efforts that are inherently problematic, even devastating, to what he refers to as our “ideology.” The implication is that in order to appease PP, we need to quell distinctions rather than have authentic dialogue about them.
Moreover, implicit in McFarland’s reasoning, we need to admit on some level that a Catholic understanding of women is inadequate, indeed inferior to PP’s understanding (thus the only way to show the world that we care about women is to participate in PP’s efforts).
McFarland wants to avoid “marginalizing” the Catholic perspective at the cost of maligning it, and authentic dialogue.

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