Statement from President Carol Ann Mooney
November 5, 2015
Before fall break, the Saint Mary’s College student pro-life group, Belles for Life, invited the nationwide Students For Life Planned Parenthood Project to campus with the aim of bringing to light facts about Planned Parenthood that are contrary to the consistent life ethic taught by the Catholic Church. In addition, the Belles for Life held many events during the month of October, including a vigil for life; parties with a nursing home, with a center for unwed mothers and with an autism center; a traveling rosary; and a presentation by Campus Ministry on chastity and virginity.
Another student group, Feminists United, wanted to respond to the Planned Parenthood Project event by having an event at which they would display flags representing the non-abortion services provided by Planned Parenthood. The Student Affairs Office rightly took the position that a Saint Mary’s student group cannot advocate for Planned Parenthood because Planned Parenthood acts contrary to Church teaching.
After extended discussion by the Saint Mary’s Student Affairs Office with the students, the students were granted permission to set up a display of unmarked flags standing for the number of non-abortion services done last year by Planned Parenthood. Student Affairs insisted that not only were the flags to be unmarked but there was to be no sign indicating that the flags had anything to do with Planned Parenthood. These constraints were placed on this student organization because recognized student groups at Saint Mary’s are not permitted to advocate for positions contrary to Catholic Church teaching.
A small group of faculty members decided to distribute a fact sheet concerning the number of STI/STD tests and treatments, cancer screenings, contraceptive services, pregnancy tests, and prenatal services provided by Planned Parenthood last year. The Academic administration told the faculty members that the fact sheet could be only that, a fact sheet, and not an advocacy piece.
The distribution of the information by the faculty members was, understandably and unfortunately, seen as being part of the students’ display and the whole was perceived as support for Planned Parenthood.
The difference between what the student group wanted to do but was not permitted to do, and what the group of faculty did, may not be readily apparent; but there is a difference. The student group wanted to stage an openly pro-Planned Parenthood event; they wanted to advocate for an organization that operates, in a number of ways, in contravention of Church teaching. The faculty distributed information about what Planned Parenthood does. The critical thinking skills that we teach all of our students allow them to confront information in the context of all the rest of their knowledge and beliefs and prepares them to maturely evaluate what is presented.
While one might believe that the lines drawn by Student Affairs and/or Academic Affairs could have been more artfully drawn, both acted in good faith and consistent with the dual roles Saint Mary’s plays in education (which at the post-secondary level traditionally involves free access to information) and in the formation of young people in the Catholic tradition (which prohibits Saint Mary’s student groups from taking advocacy positions inconsistent with Church teaching).
In conclusion, Saint Mary’s College remains faithful to our mission as a Catholic College. The Catholic intellectual tradition upholds reverence for the dignity of each human being, from conception to death, as one created in the image of God. I am proud of the work we do here to educate women who leave us ready to make a difference in the world.