posted on: Thursday February 13, 2014
By Andres Taborda ’15
Following the controversy last semester surrounding the postponement of John Corvino’s lecture, students found themselves at odds with the College this Tuesday when the philosophy department promoted its upcoming lecture, “Who Am I?”
An email sent by Dr. Matthew Cuddeback of the philosophy department invited the College community to a lecture to be given by Dr. Michelle Cretella, M.D. Cretella’s talk, according to the email, will “describe her journey to navigate the controversial issue of homosexuality as a physician and a Catholic.”
Some students around campus were concerned about Dr. Cretella’s credentials due to her position on the board of directors of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality. According to their website, NARTH supports forms of reparative therapy for homosexuality.
Some malcontent students took to social media to express their dissatisfaction with the philosophy department’s decision to bring a speaker with such beliefs given the current climate of the Providence College campus.
In an email to The Cowl, Dr. Michael O’Neill, chair of the philosophy department said, “It is important to understand that sponsorship by our department does not imply endorsement of any position held by any particular speaker.” He continued, “The only endorsement offered by our sponsorship is of the healthy and critical discourse that occurs within our academic space.”
O’Neill also noted that the philosophy department is a co-sponsor in the rescheduled visit of Corvino, who is set to deliver his lecture “The Meaning of (Gay) Marriage” later this spring.
Dr. Matthew Cuddeback, organizer of the event and assistant professor of philosophy, said, “As the flyer reads: Dr. Cretella ‘will describe her journey to navigate the controversial issue of homosexuality as a physician and a Catholic.’”
He continued, “This, and not ‘reparative therapy,’ is her topic. Dr. Cretella’s talk is an important contribution to our campus discussion about the important issue of homosexuality—a campus discussion encouraged by some faculty in the wake of the cancellation of Dr. [John] Corvino’s talk in September.”
But the sentiment does not seem to resonate with the faculty at Providence. Dr. Joseph Cammarano, associate professor of political science told The Cowl, “I have little to say about the decision by the philosophy department to sponsor an event unrelated to their field other than if there is a less compassionate department on campus I would be shocked.”
In light of recent academic freedom discussions, Cammarano also said, “I am also supportive of their unwise decision. They have the right to bring the speaker and I defend that right no matter how harmful it could be.”
Another member of the faculty, Dr. Carol Crafts, associate professor of biology, expressed her displeasure in an email she sent to all faculty members that eventually went viral on Facebook. She said, “If she is coming to speak on this topic, perhaps we should have a real scientist invited as a respondent.”
Crafts also said, “It is my belief that all views can be shared and discussed at the college, but a speaker’s position and credentials should be openly aired as well. Her arguments are philosophical, moral, [and] religious, not scientific.”
In what she describes as a “less generous” comment, she said, “I believe more accurate, she does a disservice to the scientific community pretending to be a member and misrepresents the biology of sexual orientation.”
Amanda Centrella ’14, president of SHEPARD and an openly queer woman, had several concerns. “While I welcome respectful dialogue as a pedagogical tool, I am left hurt and confused by PC’s choice to present a speaker whose work I feel only encourages the development of a harmful and alienating space on campus,” she said. She questioned why this lecture is held to different standards than Corvino’s.
“Why are we to celebrate, without opposition, Dr. Cretella’s admission that same sex attraction is ‘disordered’,” she asked.
Corvino’s lecture had the presentation of the opposite view by Dr. Dana Dillon, assistant professor of theology, something Cretella’s lecture does not have. According to the information shared on the lecture, the only person presenting at the event would be Cretella.
Kyle McCandless ’14, an openly gay student at Providence, said, “I have voiced my concerns over and over again, trying to make sure that I leave this campus a more educated, safer, and resourceful institution where I can look back and make sure that I did the best I could do by being myself.”
As for Cretella’s lecture taking place, he said, “I feel betrayed, yes, but I know there has to be some kind of explanation.”
In the Sept. 26 issue of The Cowl, Fr. Brian Shanley, O.P., president of the College, said that if the College “brings someone in to argue against the veracity of the church, there is an obligation to make sure it does not go unopposed.”
However, according to Dillon and to her knowledge, the Catholic Church has no official teaching on conversion therapy.
She said, “The Church is very clear on the dignity of every human person and also on the sinfulness of homosexual acts. The Catechism speaks of some people as having ‘deep-seated homosexual tendencies.’ This language seems to reflect a sense that such tendencies are prior to any choice on the part of the individual. Of course, the person remains free to choose how and whether to act on such tendencies.”
Dillon followed up her comments: “Although the language of ‘deep- seated’ is rather vague and makes no claims about the causes of these tendencies, I think it implies a certain skepticism about whether such tendencies can be effectively changed.”
The section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that she cites is paragraph #2358.
In a statement from the Bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops advises, in a pastoral message, to parents of homosexual children that it may be “appropriate and necessary” to seek professional help. The bishops advise that a therapist who has “appreciation of religious values” to be sought, but that they must also understand the “complex nature of sexuality.”
However, they also say, “It is essential for you to remain open to the possibility that your son or daughter is struggling to understand and accept a basic homosexual orientation.”
The executive board of Providence College’s 64th Student Congress had this to say about the lecture: “After talking to many members of Student Congress, we are disappointed and saddened by recent news that a member of the board of directors of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality would be invited to speak on our campus.”
The Board continued, “This year, students witnessed ‘sexual orientation and gender identity’ be added to the college’s anti-discrimination policy. This was a wonderful step forward.”
“However, there is still much room for growth in order to truly live up to the ideals of Providence College’s mission statement, which ‘encourages the deepest respect for the essential human dignity, freedom, and equality of every person.’”
While there was an overwhelming amount of opposition, students on social media platforms did ask those opposing to not jump to conclusions on the entire content of Cretella’s lecture.
The event has been postponed until further notice.