Monday, April 7, 2014

Stumbling Steps Forward

Thank you to Letha Dawson Scanzoni for letting EEWC-CFT members know about a tempest in a teapot in Charlotte, North Carolina, in March.

The teapot was Charlotte Catholic High School in North Carolina.
Sr.Jane Dominic Laurel

The tempest began with a lecture by Sr. Jane Dominic Laurel, an assistant professor of theology at Aquinas College in Nashville, on March 21.

Sr. Jane holds a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, one of the top universities in the world for a Roman Catholic, firmly under the Vatican's control and primarily a place for the training of priests.

There's also a strong gay contingent there, however, as a colleague at CSUN informed me.  He earned a degree there but chose to marry instead of entering the priesthood.

The title of Sr. Jane Dominic's talk was "Masculinity and Femininity: Difference & Gift."  Eight of her lectures on this subject are available online:

Aquinas College began as a "normal school" for the training of young nuns of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in 1928.  Because the central mission of Dominicans has always been education, young nuns needed education to become teachers.  In 1961 it became Aquinas Junior College; it 1971 it gained accreditation to offer A.A. degrees.

In 1994 it gained accreditation for the BA degree with only one major: Teacher Education.  Today it has 576 students with majors in liberal arts, philosophy, theology, history, English, nursing, and business.

There are eight courses in theology being offered this spring, four by Sr. Jane Dominic and four by Richard Bulzacchelli, S.T.D.  That's Doctorate in Sacred Theology, not what you were thinking.

Sr. Jane Dominic is now on leave, so heaven knows who's teaching her courses.

Richard's bio on the Aquinas website includes this interesting note:  "Dr. Bulzacchelli also holds the Mandatum, and has willingly offered a public profession of faith."

In other words, he's complying with Ex corde ecclesiae, the apostolic constitution issued by Pope John Paul II in 1990, designed to keep (American) Catholic colleges and universities in line with Rome's teachings on theology and on social issues.

Ex corde is why I left a tenured position at a Catholic college in 1999, the year American bishops submitted to Rome a plan for implementation of Ex corde that actually got Vatican approval.

Ex corde "requires all teachers of theology in Catholic colleges and universities to have the mandate of the local ecclesiastical authority (normally the local bishop)," as Wikipedia sums it up.  See the full text on the Vatican website:

In order to get a mandatum, or permission to continue teaching, professors of theology and religious studies need to submit a request to their local bishop or archbishop.

In Los Angeles, that person in 1999 would have been Archbishop Roger Mahony, now under forced retirement from public speaking because of his mishandling of priests accused of sexual abuse of children.

Ex corde also requires presidents of colleges and universities to submit a personal profession of faith to their local bishop.  If the statement is okay, they get to continue as president.  If not, presumably, some sort of medieval war betweem the bishops and the college would ensue.

Richard Bulzacchelli didn't have to submit a statement of faith because he's not the president of Aquinas.  He just volunteered to do it anyway.  He went above and beyond in complying with Ex corde ecclesiae.

I, on the other hand, didn't like the smell of universities ruled by the local bishops.  It reminded me of medieval times, when bishops tried to control local universities and the academics fought back.  (I'm a medievalist.)

As a feminist, I couldn't go along with my friends in the theology department (even those tenured for thirty years), having to submit a request to Archibishop Mahony for permission to continue teaching.

I knew that my friends Marie Egan and Alexis Navarro couldn't publish papers on subjects such as whether priestly ordination should be opened to women, whether  priests should be allowed to marry, whether Catholic women should be allowed to use birth control, whether abortion should be legal, et cetera.

Catholics and especially Catholic theologians are not allowed to speak publicly or write on these issues.

Being a good Protestant, I submitted my resignation in November, 1999.  My Catholic friends, however, advised me to hang in there, using the saying (lema) popular in 17th C. Mexico:´lejos de Roma y cerca de Dios´ ( "Far from Rome but close to God").

Back to Sr. Jane Dominic:  I don't want to judge her.  She knows only what her training in the Roman Catholic Church has allowed her to learn.  I can't find her undergraduate university online because Aquinas has removed her from its website.  I don't know where she grew up.

She hasn't had the chance to have friends like Letha Dawson Scanzoni, Arlynne Ostlund, Jeanne Hanson or  Virginia Ramey Mollenkott.  She probably doesn't even know that books like Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? exist.

Perhaps she knows that some Christian churches ordain persons in same-sex marriages.

Has she read recent scholarship on sexuality?  Probably not, if she's teaching that masturbation causes people to become gay or lesbian.  She's a good Catholic.  She believes what she has been taught.

The good news in all this:

  1. Sr. Jane Dominic now has some time off to reflect, pray, read.  Let's pray for her, and pray that kind lesbians will become her friends, listen to her, talk with her. 
  2. She had given talks on sexuality "more than 80 times in 25 states," as she told the Catholic News Herald., but she probably won't be giving too many of them in the future.  She will be sticking to theology, not sociology.
  3. Her university president regrets allowing her to speak on subjects other than theology and is speaking in a tolerant way to LGBTQ people and their supporters.  

Letha says it all:  "The whole incident shows that attitudes are changing in a way not foreseen even a few years ago."

Response of Sr. Mary Sarah Galbraith, O.P., president of Aquinas College:

In her presentation, Sister Jane Dominic spoke clearly on matters of faith and morals. Her deviation into realms of sociology and anthropology was beyond the scope of her expertise. Sister is a trained theologian from a Pontifical University and has the credentials to contribute to scholarly bodies of work. This she has done in the past with distinction. The unfortunate events at Charlotte Catholic High School are not representative of the quality of Sister’s academic contributions or the positive influence that she has had on her students. The students at Charlotte Catholic were unprepared, as were their parents, for the topic that Sister was asked to deliver. The consequence was a complete misrepresentation of the school’s intention to bring a message that would enlighten and bring freedom and peace.
There are no words that are able to reverse the harm that has been caused by these comments. The community of Aquinas College is saddened by this extreme outcome and wishes to reiterate that this is not something the College condones or desires to create.
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