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SMC debates current events in Catholicism

Nicole Zook | Wednesday, November 5, 2003

In light of recent issues affecting the Catholic Church such as priest scandals and the Sept. 29 papal appointment of 31 new cardinals, the question is raised to what degree such issues should spark discussion within the Saint Mary’s community.

Special interest is given to the amount of discussion these events receive within the curriculum given that the College is a Catholic institution.

Joe Incandela, a professor in the religious studies department, said that he believes that religious studies courses offered at Saint Mary’s address current events in the Catholic Church but added that the courses do not focus solely on such events. Instead, he feels that because a large percentage of the Saint Mary’s population is Catholic, conversations are placed in the context of a 2,000 year-old tradition.

“A large part of what a tradition is, is an argument across the years about what to value, retain or jettison as time passes,” Incandela said.

In terms of the sexual assault charges within the Church, Incandela feels it continue to be discussed in context within the department.

“I imagine that the priest scandals are spoken about in some classes, and I remember a lecture by Margaret O’Brien Steinfels for the Center for Spirituality noontime series last year,” Incandela said.

O’Brien Steinfels visited the campus last March to discuss the scandal that rocked the Church. Her lecture was the first in the Center’s annual Lenten Lecture Series.

Currently the College’s Center for Spirituality, under the direction of Sister Kathleen Dolphin, continues to present issues to the campus in appropriate settings.

“Most frequently, what we have been doing is using the Catholic Common Ground conversations,” said Sister Rose-Anne Schultz, the College’s vice president for mission. “That’s one of the main ways we have been getting the campus into discussion together.” Saint Mary’s and the Catholic Common Ground Initiative began a partnership in 2001, focusing on the promotion of small group dialogue. Since then, about 10 major issues have been discussed in these conversations.

However, the College realizes that not everyone in the Saint Mary’s community is Catholic, officials said. As such, it strives to inform on issues rather than push them into mainstream academia.

Incandela believes that Saint Mary’s does not overstep these boundaries. In his opinion, pushing Catholicism occurs only if Catholic-only views are presented in courses and lectures with no avenue for dissenting views or if students are rewarded in grades for expressing Catholic views in class but penalized for other views.

“I am confident that neither of these conditions [exists] at Saint Mary’s,” Incandela said.

Freshman Angie Ellison agrees. “I don’t really think that major Catholic issues are discussed a lot,” she said. “In a situation where Catholicism is brought up, though, I think pushing Catholicism rather than just informing people about the issues occurs when the Catholic won’t hear any other view and/or says that it’s wrong. I’m not seeing any boundaries overstepped here at all.”

The Center for Spirituality and other campus groups continue to bring speakers to campus that will focus on important issues. They said they hope to encourage discussion among and between the students and faculty of Saint Mary’s.

Incandela also continues to urge his students to study the issues themselves and to actively engage in such conversations.

“My view is that important issues cannot be discussed enough.”