Thursday, September 11, 2003

"Healthy" Dissent?

Many of you, I'm sure, have already read about the upcoming Call to Action conference in Detroit this weekend. Apart from the problems with Call to Action itself, and the speakers (all notorious dissenters, some of whom have been subjected to discipline by the Holy See), another problem is that the University of Detroit-Mercy, an ostensibly Catholic university, is hosting it:
A Call to Action event: Sept. 13 - Women of Conscience: What Does Healthy Dissent in the Church Look Like? National Coalition of American Nuns daylong conference. Anita Caspary, Agnes Mansour, Margaret Susan Thompson, Christine Vladimiroff. Univ. of Detroit/Mercy, Detroit, Mich. 314 918-0621 or

Mark Shea and Greg Popcak (who first broke the story), have been urging a campaign to bring this into the light, hopefully to put a stop to it.

The part that bugs me is the phrase "healthy dissent". To ask the question "What does healthy dissent look like in the Church?" is inane. It is like asking "What does a healthy tumor look like in the brain?" There is no such thing as a "healthy" tumor, and there is no such thing as "healthy" dissent. Are there "healthy" questions? Yes. Is there "healthy" debate? Yes. But there is no "healthy dissent" because dissent takes a decided, settled position in opposition to the defined faith or discipline of the Church. (I urge you to read Greg Popcak's outstanding analysis on the unhealthy psychology of dissent.)

Catholic schools and colleges, as I've said before, exist to hand on the faith, to enliven and deepen the faith of the Church. Giving dissenters a forum in a Catholic college gives a witness contrary to the faith.

If you wish to protest this event, you can write:

Sr. Maureen Fay, University of Detroit-Mercy:
Ned McGrath, Director of Public Relations for the Archdiocese of Detroit:

Here's my letter:

Dear Sister Fay:

I am dismayed that the University of Detroit-Mercy is hosting the "Women of Conscience" Conference this Saturday, September 13.

I am sure that you are aware of and take seriously the obligation of Catholic institutions like the University of Detroit-Mercy to uphold Catholic teaching and witness to the truth and beauty of the Catholic Faith. So I am all the more perplexed at how the University could allow itself to appear as if it were giving support and a forum to individuals and organizations which actively oppose and work against Church teaching and discipline.

Call to Action has a lengthy track record of dissent from Church teaching, among other things for its call for the ordination of women and advocacy of the regularization of same-sex relationships within the Church. I would remind you that church teaching on these matters is "de fide", and therefore binding in good conscience upon Catholics. Furthermore, both Anita Caspary and Agnes Mansour have similarly lengthy resumes of advocating dissenting positions on matters of Catholic faith and morals. They and Ms. Vladimiroff have all been subject to discipline by the Holy See for their dissent and disobedience.

Can we as Catholics afford to give a divided witness in this time when there is such great confusion in the Church, and when the Faith is under attack from secular forces in our society? I think not. The members of Call to Action and the aforementioned speakers at the conference are certainly entitled to their opinions. But Catholic instutions are under no obligation to provide a forum for those who advocate an agenda contrary to Church teaching.

I urge you to cancel this event. By doing so you will send a clear message that the University of Detroit-Mercy stands with and for the Church.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. Robert Johansen

cc: His Eminence Adam Cardinal Maida
Mr. Ned McGrath