Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Wanting Catholics To Do Better

Sometimes institutions we love and identify with do things we don't like.  I've had occasion to think about that this week, as we've dealt as a family with frustration at the way Franciscan University of Steubenville has declined to allow their county health department to offer a COVID vaccine clinic on campus, despite the county's offer to do so and the fact that the university now has an outbreak on campus which is rapidly spiraling out of control (and thus at risk of shutting down in person classes.)  This is an issue for us not just in a vague "with my alma mater would do better" sort of way, but quite directly because our eldest is a freshman at FUS this year.  Indeed, right around the time we found this out she got put into quarantine (for the second time this semester) after someone she's been in contact with (this time a roommate) tested positive for COVID.  (At the end of quarantine she tested negative again and was able to go back to normal.) 

I had assumed that the university (as many are doing) would have a vaccine clinic on campus in order to get their students vaccinated.  Although COVID is not terribly bad for most people student age, the fact that they can pass it around rapidly while living in close quarters makes them a problem for professors, staff, and people in town.  But not only did the university apparently turn the county down (one assumes because some key administrators adhere to the belief -- which the CDF has rejected -- that there are moral reasons Catholics should refuse to receive the vaccine) but they did not see fit to inform parents of this or provide transportation off campus for students to go get their own vaccines.  Once we found out what was going on, we had to set up an appointment for our daughter to get the shot at a Walgreens a mile away from campus and ask her to walk there since as a freshman doesn't have many friends with cars.

A number of friends have made comments along the lines of "that's why I'd never send a student there" or "I'll definitely never support that place".  I understand the impulse behind these sentiments.  It is certainly disappointing to see an institution which is so clear in its commitment to being "passionately Catholic" take an unreasonable and irresponsible action in the name of the faith.  I've heard similar sentiments expressed before whether it's in regard to the bishops, a parish, or some lay organization.

However, I don't want to cut ties with the university or cease to support them.  After all, the reason why I chose to go there, and why it attracted our daughter, is that the university fosters a culture in which being a faithful Catholic is so normal as to go nearly without saying, rather than being considered alien and freakish as it would be on many university campuses.  I want the university to succeed in being a place where both faculty and students are faithful Catholics while at the same time pursuing academic excellence.  

There's a pair of opposing errors that people often make as they deal with the mistakes of organizations they see as being on their side of the cultural divide in our country.  Either they excuse (or even praise) any mistakes made by institutions on their side in order to show that their side is right, or they suggest writing erring institutions off entirely.  Both of these approaches are mistaken.  

I think it's wrong to defend Steubenville when it errs just because they're generally speaking a good Catholic college, because to defend error along with truth is to give the impression that the error is in fact truth.  If the value of Steubenville is that they are "passionately Catholic" then we should not want to see that Catholicism melded onto error.  Steubenville is admirable in not trying to combine Catholicism with the many intellectual and moral errors that people rightly are concerned about in many secular colleges.  Many colleges have successfully made their Catholic identity meaningless by trying to combine Catholicism with the sexual revolution, moral relativism, scientific materialism, cultural consumerism, and the rest of the modern grab bag.  But it would be no comfort to see Steubenville escape this while at the same time grafting Catholicism onto another set of errors.  

At the same time, immediately suggesting that we abandon support for Steubenville and support secular colleges instead is also misguided.  Secular colleges come with their own whole host of errors about the nature and purpose of the human person, morality, etc.  It's easy to think of these errors as normal because they are so pervasive in our culture, but they are nonetheless errors and very destructive ones at that.  All in all, I'd still see a college which is right about Catholicism but wrong about COVID vaccines as better than a college which is right about COVID vaccines but wrong about the whole host of issues which form the modern progressive consensus.  And yet, what I want is not to excuse Steubenville for this error, but to see it be more right by being both Catholic and also prudent and informed when it comes to vaccines.  

This presents practical difficulties.  People often say that the only way to send a message to an organization is by refusing to support them at all, which with a college I would assume means not attending or donating.  I suppose the "shake the dust from your sandals" approach does send a clear message, but it's also a relationship ending move.  I'm less sure how to go about urging an organization to do better without presenting some consequences for failing to do so, but then that's the difficulty that we face in human relationships all the time: how to urge people we care about to do better without totally cutting them off even if they do not in fact choose to do better.


mandamum said...

Thank you for this.

When I read one of the articles about Steubenville, I felt badly for the professors caught in the middle, supposedly having masking and distancing requirements, but perhaps disciplined for trying to uphold them. Over the summer my oldest went to a program where we were told it would be like X, but then it...really wasn't, once everyday life started. I did not appreciate being essentially lied to by a Catholic college that wanted to eat its cake and have it.

Such a gem of a line: "It would be no comfort to see Steubenville escape this while at the same time grafting Catholicism onto another set of errors."

Hippopotamusdrome said...

"Although COVID is not terribly bad for most people student age"

Totally massive understatement, to say the least.

COVID-19 Deaths by Age
"15-24: 648"

But that is 10x the number killed by lightning strikes, so there is that.

Anonymous said...

Franciscan was proven right