UPDATE Sept. 26 --
Providence College has released a message from the provost stating that, "The Administration’s decision to cancel the event had nothing to do with Dr. Corvino," and the event will be rescheduled until it can go "forward in the format in which it was originally proposed."
Corvino published a response on his blog reiterating that he remains willing to participate in a future event at Providence College. Pointing out the discrepancies in Providence College's official rhetoric, he said, "What I’m not happy to do is to aid the administration in the pretense that 'the September 26 event was merely being postponed, not cancelled, until we could be sure that it went forward in the format in which it was originally proposed,' as Provost Lena’s statement said yesterday."
Corvino has yet to receive an official apology. He wrote of his concern for Providence College students and how the issue is affecting them, saying "That’s where 'damage control' should be focused right now: the personal harm to LGBT Providence College students, not to mention faculty, staff, and alumni."
John Corvino, the chairman of Wayne State University's philosophy department, was abruptly uninvited to Providence College, a Catholic university, where he was due to give a lecture titled, "The Meaning of (Gay) Marriage" on Thursday, reports the New York Times.
College Provost Hugh Lena made the decision to cancel the event, explaining his decision in an email to faculty: "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)."
The decision surprised many students and faculty members, as in his letter Lena cited an unwritten college policy that "dictates that both sides of a controversial issue are to be presented fairly and equally when discussed in a forum such as this," given that Dr. Dana Dillon, a member of Providence College's theology department, was due to present directly after Corvino to explain the Catholic Church's stance on marriage.
Corvino is a supporter of gay marriage and often engages in friendly debates with religious opponents of same-sex marriage. He has spoken at over 10 Catholic colleges, and his Providence College lecture was co-sponsored by nine departments and programs. No stranger to debate, he co-authored a book with Maggie Gallagher, former head of the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage.
Students have organized to voice their displeasure, and are holding a forum to discuss the cancellation at the same time that Corvino's event would have taken place. The event, called "Fighting for Academic Freedom," will discuss academic freedom, which the student organizers feel has "clearly been violated by the administration." A group of faculty members from the nine departments that originally organized Corvino's visit will lead the dialogue, and a letter-writing campaign to Lena is also underway.
A student blog pointed out how the decision seems to be at odds with Providence College's earlier approach to controversial speakers. When Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who supports the legality of abortion, visited the campus last year, the president of Providence College reached out prior to his arrival. Father Brian Shanley emailed the entire community and said:
I do not believe that any reasonable person could argue that the opinion of a sitting senator on the state of Congress is not academically valuable.
Does this invitation violate the U.S. bishops’ request that Catholic institutions neither honor nor provide a platform for politicians holding views at odds with the Church? We are not giving Sen. Whitehouse an award. Nor are we giving him a platform to promote views at odds with the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Therefore I do not consider this inconsistent with the bishops’ wishes and I see no reason to seek to disinvite him from speaking.
Corvino told The Huffington Post that "I do hope to return someday, even in the context of a debate, which I'm more than happy to do. However, I don't think that controversial speakers always need to be presented in the form of a debate."
This incident is not the first time that Corvino has had a scheduled appearance cancelled, although the last time that it happened, the response from the university was markedly different. After his talk at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was cancelled, the president of the university personally called him to explain. In contrast, Corvino found out that he would not be speaking at Providence College only after the philosophy professor who had organized the event forwarded him Lena's email along with an apologetic message.
Corvino commented on the timing of the cancellation, which occurred shortly after Pope Francis' recent interview in which he said the Church was too 'obsessed' with gays and abortion. "It is very hard to square my abrupt disinvitation with the more welcoming tone of Pope Francis," he said. "Pope Francis says, 'You are our brothers and sisters, we love you and welcome you,' but this incident says something very different.
Read the responses from students and alums of Providence College here: