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.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Peter Steinfels on “More than a Monologue”

This past March, both Robby George [HERE] and yours truly [HERE] weighed in on the Fordham-Fairfield-Union-Yale four part program “More than a Monologue” that is advertised to explore the range of Catholic views on “sexual diversity.”

The first component of this colloquium was held this past Friday, September 16, and Peter Steinfels was the moderator of this inaugural event hosted at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center Campus.

Both Robby and I previously expressed doubts about whether this program would, in fact, be more than a monologue. It is important to now take stock of what Mr. Steinfels has to say. His September 19 web log at dotCommonweal is HERE.

Let me offer a short summary. First of all, he states that he had misgivings when he was invited to moderate the September 16 colloquium, or, in his words, he accepted “with some serious reservations.” Nevertheless, he did the proper thing and discussed the invitation with the conveners. I did much the same when I was asked to present one of the key addresses at the same-sex marriage conference hosted by our friends at St. John’s University last November [HERE]. I am pretty sure that I represented the minority view at the conference, but I went, I presented, I discussed, I debated, I listened, I learned, I respected, and I was heard with equal respect. Any trepidation that I initially had about going was dispelled from the experience. To discuss and debate and disagree are not bad things. Mr. Steinfels had similar concerns even though he shares some of the views that were presented at the Fordham conference.

A little over a year before the St. John’s event, I was invited to another symposium that addressed same-sex marriage. I am not sure if I was in the majority side then, but I do know that the conveners invited a good number of speakers whose views differed with mine. They declined the invitations. It struck some of us attending and presenting at that conference that many of those who declined were not interested in a real and robust discussion and debate on the neuralgic issue of same-sex marriage. In short, dialogue is not always embraced by those who demand it in order to present their views.

Mr. Steinfels expresses similar concerns based on the Fordham experience. As he says in his “misgivings,” “Voices defending traditional teaching and practice were not apparent.” Moreover, he offers concern that he “wasn’t sure whether the series promised really to crack the stranglehold of monologue or to replicate it.” Another of his serious misgivings is that in looking over the schedule of speakers for the remaining colloquia, he sees something like a monologue developing—or, as he says, it appears to be “about as open to dialogue as Ann Coulter to liberalism or Rick Perry on social security.”

Mr. Steinfels does express some positive notes about some of the presentations he heard last Friday. However, as he says of Professor Paul Lakeland, one of the principal conveners, “I have no problem accepting [his] statement...that challenging church teaching is not the agenda (Steinfels italics) of the series.”

In making this observation, Mr. Steinfels leaves ample room for the objective reader to conclude that challenging the Church’s teachings on human sexuality is an item of the agenda, however.

Two other points made by Mr. Steinfuls need to be presented here.

The first is that he continues to have uncertainty about the future of this series and where it is going. As he suggests, the next event at Union Theological which is “already a small jab at Catholic identification” may “put the entire series at risk.” Still, he offers hope that the series may do some good, but there is “at least one minefield to cross before reaching its goal.”

The other point is this: he acknowledges that if the surrounding culture is rapidly altering people’s attitudes toward homosexuality, what is to become of those who retain traditional views? He opines concern of what may happen to these folks who may find themselves in “risky” situations in “many social and workplace settings (starting with the academy).”


RJA sj



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