Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Composition, Place, and Intelligence

In my Natural Law and Natural Rights course, I rely on the repetitio of three points: that the human person is intelligent (intelligence); that the world and what it contains is intelligible (place); and that the combination of these two components enable the community of human persons to formulate norms by which they live their lives in common (composition). I have just come across an episode at Boston College which will be an illustration of the improper and proper appropriation of this repetitio.

Over the past several days some interesting developments addressing the elements of this repetitio have taken place at Boston College. On October 13, Lindsey Hennawi wrote about her unrecognized organization’s, the Boston College Students for Sexual Health (BCSSH), project of handing free condoms out to students on a sidewalk adjacent to the university in the student newspaper The Heights. [Here] In writing this essay, Ms. Hennawi argues that “We do not do these things in spite of our place at a Jesuit institution, but in keeping with it. It is expressly because we have the privilege of attending a University so dedicated to the development of the self—both the body and the soul—that we find it both appropriate and necessary to advocate for these sexual health issues that are an integral aspect of that process.” Ms. Hennawi further argues that the BCSSH “respects and works within the framework of BC’s Catholic tradition, but we refuse to accept that it must invariably bar us from pursuing an open dialogue and concrete action around this issue.” Well, there you have it: a new definition of what it means to be Catholic. I find this approach to developing norms for an institution that attempts to present an image of being Catholic as a pure exercise of the will that neglects the intellect and, therefore, intelligence and that which is intelligible surrounding the matter. The norms that BCSSH are pressuring BC to adopt are flawed in my opinion.

Ms. Hennawi continues by expressing disagreement with a colloquy she had with a Jesuit resident chaplain, Fr. Chris Collins. She indicates that she has “never before been accused of degrading students’ dignity, nor told I am less than human, I was taken aback by this attack on my freedom to educate students and my personal freedom in making informed decisions related to sexuality.” Well, I guess there is always a first time, and, given the context, the exchange was long overdue. She then asserts that “students turned down life-saving health materials because they were intimidated by a University figure employed to support and guide them. [italics by Araujo] Whether this was his intent, this Jesuit’s actions directly infringed not just upon students’ personal comfort, but also their very freedom to make decisions for themselves. In so doing, he jeopardized students’ health and safety.” While Hennawi took to task Collins’s intervention, she concluded her article by stating, “I am more than ever committed to the BCSSH mission... This Jesuit accused us of being ‘animals’ who ignore the consequences of our actions... Our health and safety are too important. Please consider this letter an open offer to the BC community to engage in conversation and meaningful dialogue. We hope that as a community we can respect students’ rights to pursue choices about their health in a judgment-free environment. Human dignity and respect for the self means nothing without respect for others.”

Fr. Collins offers a different take on the matter a few days later on October 17. [Here] He presents something not contained in the Hennawi account that the BCSSH students were in fact encouraging their fellow students to take the condoms and “have a safe weekend.” I would imagine that the students could also have a safe weekend by going to a sports event, visiting the Museum of Fine Arts, participating in Mass or attending other religious services, studying and writing papers, and abstaining from sex, but I digress. Fr. Collins continues his account by stating that he was seeking to engage the students to think, yes, think about what they were doing; as he says,


Lindsey says I tried to “take away her freedom to educate.” That’s simply not true.  Never did I say they should not be allowed to be there.  On the contrary, I tried to appeal to their ability to reason and be guided by their respective consciences. What I attempted was to urge them to think more deeply about the dignity of the human person, the gift of sexuality, and what is at stake when people engage in “safe sex.” Lindsey says that I called those students handing out the condoms “animals.” That is not true. What I did say to Lindsey and her friends is that by virtue of the fact that this initiative is undertaken on Friday afternoons, the obvious context is that students will soon be getting drunk and engaging in reckless sexual behavior. I told them I found this presumption offensive in that it is implicitly treating their fellow students as if they are animals, incapable of making rational, responsible, loving—and therefore human—choices. I pointed out that the presumption here is that college students are unable to control themselves and act rationally and responsibly, so they need artificial means to keep them from hurting themselves and those with whom they will have sex.  I find this a sad presumption and more than a little demeaning.


In his conclusion, Collins indicates that he cares “about these students and their futures.” I am certain that he does. He also asks for forgiveness if Ms. Hennawi and her colleagues thought he was “intimidating,” but he clearly states that “all of us, ... please think more deeply about what is at stake in all of this. Let’s think in terms of the well being not only of our bodies—certainly that—but also of our hearts.” And I would hasten to add our souls as well.

It seems to me that Fr. Collins did well and correctly to emphasize the intelligence of young people, their ability to apprehend the intelligible world that encompasses them, and to seek the moral norms that will guide them not only in the present moment but for the rest of their lives.

I would end here, but I must note that on October 20, the Executive Board of the BCSSH published in The Heights a ten point manifesto entitled “Ten Misconceptions about Sexual Health” in which the wise counsel of Fr. Collins is not in evidence. In point of fact, it is rejected. [Here] The Executive Board’s text encourages students to pursue promiscuity, and their emphasis is on latex rather than love. As a Jesuit, I find this misappropriation of the BCSSH Executive Board in their point number 6 disheartening: “Our understanding of the Jesuit tradition is men and women for others—including those who are sexually active.” Their understanding about the “Jesuit tradition” is deeply flawed. Furthermore, I find not intelligence in this statement, but I do find an aggressive will at work. That will is exemplified in the Executive Board’s concluding remark that, “Understanding sex and sexuality and making informed decisions about our health is important. So if it’s okay with you (and, frankly, even if it’s not), we’re going to keep doing what we do.”

I, for one, pray that Fr. Collins continues doing what he’s doing knowing that the BCSSH has a poor understanding of composition, place, and, sadly, intelligence. But with our additional prayers, this, too, can be remedied.


RJA sj



Araujo, Robert | Permalink

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