Another Speaker Disinvited; This Time It’s a Priest


In all the hubbub over the free speech rights of outside speakers on campus, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that efforts by students and administrations at colleges and universities to bar those they deem controversial are hardly limited to right-wing provocateurs like Milo Yiannopoulos, Ann Coulter, or Richard Spencer.  Today the Washington Post reports that the Theological College of Catholic University of America, located in the nation’s capital, has disinvited the Rev. James Martin, a popular priest who published a book earlier this year encouraging a bridge between the LGBTQ community and the Catholic Church, from giving an address.  The Theological College, a seminary, acted independently from the university, which hosted Martin last year.

The Rev. James Martin

Martin, who is editor at large at the Jesuit magazine America, was planning to speak about Jesus and not about LGBTQ-related issues.  He has, however, become the target of attacks from right-wing sites such as and, since his book Building a Bridge was published in June.  While Martin’s views may be controversial among some conservative Catholics, the book did gain the endorsement of two cardinals and three bishops, what the Post deems “the mark of more senior-level approval in the hierarchical church.”  Earlier this year, Pope Francis appointed Martin as an adviser to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications.

In a statement the College said it had received negative feedback on social-media sites and that its rector, the Rev. Gerald McBrearity, made the decision to rescind Martin’s invitation to speak in October.  “In no way does this decision signal approval or agreement with the comments or accusations that the various social media sites have made over the recent weeks,” the statement added.

Catholic University has been on the AAUP’s list of institutions censured for serious violations of academic freedom since 1989.  That case involved the Reverend Charles E.Curran, a progressive theologian who was “not dismissed from his position but who, with conditions imposed upon his teaching that he consider[ed] unacceptable, chose to take a leave of absence and teach elsewhere.” The AAUP’s investigation found that

1. In suspending Professor Charles E. Curran without consulting with the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure of the Academic Senate and without showing that his return to teaching posed a threat of immediate harm to himself or others, the administration of the Catholic University of America acted in disregard of the 1958 Statement on Procedural Standards in Faculty Dismissal Proceedings.
2. Except for the errors relating to suspension, the requirements of procedural due process in the consideration of Professor Curran’s canonical mission were meticulously observed.
3. By not permitting Professor Curran to teach Catholic theology in a non-ecclesiastical department of the university, the administration and the board of trustees for all practical purposes deprived him of his tenure without due process and without adequate cause.
4. In penalizing Professor Curran for reasons that had their basis in publications by him protected under the university’s stated policy on academic freedom and the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, the administration and the board of trustees violated Professor Curran’s academic freedom.
5. The administration, and particularly the board of trustees, failed in the case of Professor Curran to exercise their responsibility to protect the university’s autonomy and the academic freedom of the faculty.

Curran now teaches at Southern Methodist University.

In the case of Rev. Martin, Catholic University has apparently dissented from the decision of its seminary.  A statement from the university said the seminary’s disinvitation did not reflect advice from the university’s leadership. “We regret the implication that Catholic University supported yesterday’s decision,” the statement said.

“The campaigns by various groups to paint Fr. Martin’s talk as controversial reflect the same pressure being applied by the left for universities to withdraw speaker invitations,” said John Garvey, president of Catholic University. “Universities and their related entities should be places for the free, civil exchange of ideas. Our culture is increasingly hostile to this idea. It is problematic that individuals and groups within our Church demonstrate this same inability to make distinctions and to exercise charity.”

Yet apparently the disinvitation stands.

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