It appears that Providence College President Fr. Brian Shanley does know what’s going on at the school he is responsible for after all. He just needed to be shamed into issuing a statement.
Here’s the backstory, in case you missed it:
Providence College senior Michael Smalanskas is a Resident Advisor in his dorm. As one of the requirements of his job, Smalanskas has to keep a bulletin board updated with informational items of his choosing. After seeing a bulletin board with a pro-lesbian marriage message up in another dorm, this Catholic theology student at a Catholic school that advertises its Catholic identity put up a bulletin board expressing the Catholic teaching on marriage supplemented by Catholic quotes.
In response, he received harassing text messages, had people congregate outside his room and bulletin board, had his board vandalized, and finally received an anonymous drawing depicting him being anally raped by another man in retribution for his promotion of Catholic teaching. He had to be moved to a different location by campus security for his own safety.
Smalanskas found a faculty advisor in Dr. James Keating, who attempted to help the young man bring the issue to the attention of the Catholic priest — Fr. Brian Shanley — who runs this Catholic college. They also reached out to other ranking members of the administration. They asked for a policy to prevent it from happening again. The asked for the college’s mission to be re-affirmed.
They could get no response.
No meeting. No nothing. Smalanskas’s parents tried to arrange a meeting. Nothing. Dr. Keating tried to get some sort of a statement condemning the behavior. Nothing. Meanwhile, Smalanskas continued to be subjected to unfair treatment, despite having been subjected to the threat of a bodily crime — a Title IX issue of the kind that is usually a legal nightmare for colleges. When he brought it to the attention of the administration that a female Resident Advisor let herself into his all-male dorm after visiting hours in violation of school policy to vandalize his board, they made excuses for her. Smalanskas was also called to a meeting with 75 other people, most of them fellow Resident Advisors along with some administrators, where they attempted to confiscate all the cell phones in the room so that he could not record the discussion about the incident. His faculty advisor was not allowed to join him, and Smalanskas was forced to leave for his own protection. Vice President for Student Affairs Kristine Goodwin actually sent an email to students encouraging them to join a pro-LGBT march that was being organized in response to the Smalanskas’ bulletin board
If you want to hear the whole story, I interviewed Smalanskas and Keating on Episode 46 of the podcast. It’s pretty incredible. It’s pretty outrageous.
Michael Smalanskas tried to live his Catholic faith at his Catholic school and spent weeks on the receiving end of retribution for his efforts with no support from the administration whatsoever.
So Michael, like any intelligent young man in his position, went to the Catholic media for support.
Story after story began to appear. Phone calls and emails started pouring in to the President’s Office at Providence College. More than 2,500 people signed a petition demanding that Fr. Shanley condemn what was going on.The Bishop of Providence, Thomas J. Tobin, wrote a letter saying that Providence College was “at a crossroads” and that it now had to “make a conscious decision about which road to travel. Will it maintain, proudly, unapologetically and unambiguously, its Catholic heritage by preaching, teaching and living the Catholic Faith in all its beauty and richness? Or, like so many other institutions today, will it succumb to modernist trends and become just one more progressive, secular bastion of political correctness?”
And suddenly, the next thing you know, Fr. Shanley had something to say after all.
When my colleague and friend Stephen Herreid from CatholicVote notified me of this story yesterday, I was working on another report, so I put it off until I could give it my full attention. Today, I sat down to find the statement from Fr. Shanley.
Only it wasn’t there.
I went to the Providence College website homepage. Nope, not there. Then I went to the “Media” page. Nothing. “News”? Nope. I tried the “Press Releases” section. Nada. In desperation, I clicked over the “Parents” page. Zilch. In frustration, I went back to Google.
And there, in the LifeSiteNews article from Claire Chretien, I found the key phrase: “On the morning of March 26, Fr. Shanley sent an email to all of campus complaining that ‘the College has been the subject of much discussion and negative publicity, mostly on conservative social media sites.'”
An email to all of campus???
What about to Michael’s parents? What about to the public? What about to Bishop Tobin?
And he was — excuse me — complaining about the fact that “conservative social media sites” were giving the college negative publicity after the administration failed to address a threat of rape against one of their students? A threat that came in retribution for his public support of Catholic teaching?
This has got to be one of the most pathetic, most unmanly, most unbecoming things I’ve ever had to report about a Catholic priest apart of actual criminal or homosexual behavior.
After he finishes whining about the backlash, Shanley then half-heartedly defends the teachings of the Church (while still shoehorning in a message of inclusion for the “LGBTQ+ community”!), and only then, in the third paragraph, actually condemns what Michael was put through. I’ll post the whole thing below, but I just need to zero in on that paragraph for a hot minute.
“I am distressed by the way Michael Smalanskas has been vilified and ostracized by many of his peers.”
Are you? Are you really? Then where have you been up until you couldn’t take the public pressure, Fr. Shanley? Where was your distress before it was forced out of you?
“While some might not agree with how he tried to express Church teaching, he is entitled to the same respect, charity, and protection that is due any student.”
Some might not agree?? Why is the first thing out of your mouth a concession to the anti-Catholics on your Catholic campus, Fr. Shanley?
“There can be no place on our campus for bullying, harassment, or intimidation.”
Weird. There was certainly a place for it on campus for the past month. You couldn’t even be bothered to say anything to condemn it. Did something change?
Oh, that’s right. Those nasty “conservative social media sites” hurt your feelings.
“The drawing of him that was posted in the St. Joseph Hall men’s room was odious and reprehensible. The Providence Police were notified, and the Office of Public Safety is attempting to determine who was responsible. If you have any information about this, I would encourage you to contact Public Safety.”
Yes, it was odious, reprehensible, and almost certainly illegal. And yet it was Michael Smalanskas who had to get the police involved after the college administration did nothing. Not you. You don’t get to hide behind that little flourish of passive voice or your long overdue call for information on the incident in the hopes of receiving credit.
I am physically nauseated by this completely apology-free display of pusillanimity. It is morally repugnant.
Bishop Tobin asked, “Will it continue to be P.C. – the Providence College we’ve come to know and love; or simply be p.c. – politically correct, the pathetic, ephemeral fashion that has, in recent years, taken such an ironclad grip on our culture?”
The answer is astonishingly clear. That grip has already strangled the life out of Providence College.
Read the full letter below.
Dear Members of the Providence College Community:
I am writing to follow up on my communication of March 19 and to address again the controversy that is currently roiling our campus. Since I wrote my first message, the College has been the subject of much discussion and negative publicity, mostly on conservative social media sites. Much of what has been reported is not accurate. My office has been barraged with phone calls and e-mails that have been angry, accusatory, and ironically uncharitable. Many suggest that Providence College has abandoned its Catholic identity and fidelity to Church teachings, particularly with regard to the sanctity of Marriage, and has succumbed to “political correctness.” In order to address several of the issues that have surfaced, I would like to make the following points:
1. The College always has, and always will, remain faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church. We will do everything in our power to proclaim and explain these teachings to our students from the pulpit, in the classroom, and in the day-to day life of our campus. We will, however, do this in a spirit of Christ-like charity and compassion. This is especially important and challenging in difficult matters related to human sexuality. For those who do not accept the premises of the Church’s teaching on marriage and human sexuality, the doctrine can appear to be hard to accept or even harsh. Our challenge is to dialogue respectfully with those who disagree with the Church. This is especially a challenge for those on our campus who are members of the LGBTQ+ community. What I hear from members of that community is not that they expect us to disavow the Church’s teaching, but rather to find a way to help them feel included in the light of our Catholic identity and in a way that recognizes their inherent dignity as created in the image and likeness of God. Our collective challenge is to find a way to be faithful to our Catholic identity and to be inclusive.
2. I am distressed by the way Michael Smalanskas has been vilified and ostracized by many of his peers. While some might not agree with how he tried to express Church teaching, he is entitled to the same respect, charity, and protection that is due any student. There can be no place on our campus for bullying, harassment, or intimidation. The drawing of him that was posted in the St. Joseph Hall men’s room was odious and reprehensible. The Providence Police were notified, and the Office of Public Safety is attempting to determine who was responsible. If you have any information about this, I would encourage you to contact Public Safety.
Let me conclude by saying that I believe that the challenge to be faithful to our Catholic and Dominican identity and to be inclusive appears daunting. It is a challenge on every Catholic campus and in the Church as a whole. We are not alone. I take heart in the belief that God’s providence will guide us through our challenges as a community. It is my hope and prayer for our community that as we enter into the Church’s holiest time of the year, we will find the gift of a Resurrection that brings healing, reconciliation, and peace.
Fr. Brian Shanley
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.