October 22, 2017

Playing Devil’s Advocate

by Hannah Langely ’21

News Staff

Photo of Dominican priest speaking in a room with students

Brianna Colletti ’21/The Cowl

Have you ever wanted to ask the friars at Providence College a question concerning the Catholic faith or Catholic beliefs, but something stopped you? Maybe you were scared or too embarrassed; maybe you figured you already knew their answer, so it would be pointless to ask. This is the exact reason why Father Dominic Verner, O.P., and Father Bonaventure Chapman, O.P. ,began a discussion group called Devil’s Advocate.

This program, which only began several weeks ago, allows students to ask questions anonymously by placing their questions in a mailbox or sending them through email. It was originally started by Fr. Dominic as an addition to a discussion group he began last year called “Why Catholic?” He wanted to start a discussion group in which he and another friar could discuss and debate questions, but could not find the right opportunity.

While he enjoyed “Why Catholic?” he wanted, he said, “something a little more interactive.” He believes it is “very helpful to understand an argument if you can see it objected to and hear the replies and see the give and take of a debate,” which is exactly what Devil’s Advocate accomplishes. Fr. Dominic saw a chance for his idea to come to fruition with the arrival of Fr. Bonaventure at Providence College this year, and the idea of Devil’s Advocate came to life.

Devil’s Advocate is unique from other discussion groups as it allows one of the friars to answer commonly asked questions about the Catholic Church while the other friar acts as the “devil’s advocate” and refutes the claims given. These questions range from all sorts of topics, including God’s existence, evils in the world, achieving perfect happiness, and if the Jesus’ death on the cross was the best way for God to save us. As part of the Dominican tradition, Fr. Dominic and Fr. Bonaventure are open to discussing any question students may have, for, as Fr. Bonaventure so eloquently stated, “any statement we have is deep down an answer to a question.”

The week before the meeting on Sept. 25, the priests received many questions regarding the hurricanes and natural disasters that have recently devastated people all over the world. This became the main topic of their debate, answering the question, “How do we handle natural evils with the existence of God’s providence?”

The fathers flipped a coin to decide who would be the devil’s advocate, and the coin toss went to Fr. Dominic. For 10 minutes, Fr. Bonaventure debated on the behalf of Catholic belief, while Fr. Dominic argued against his reasoning. Afterwards, the two discussed the question with the group of students to get their insights on what they thought and answered any questions they might have had about the debate.

The discussion lasted about an hour, but it seemed the students who attended obtained a better awareness about God’s role in nature, and they enjoyed the debate. Brian McIntyre ’21 said the discussion was a good chance to talk to the friars, and he liked having the opportunity to have an open discussion with them about the Catholic faith.

Trevor Wakefield ’21 commented, “I like how it’s not just them lecturing about their beliefs, it’s getting their beliefs challenged and responding to them.” While this was only the second week of the program, Fr. Bonaventure and Fr. Dominic aspire for this discussion program to be, as Fr. Dominic stated, “a place [students] can come and bring their honest questions and objections to tenets of the Catholic faith.”

Devil’s Advocate takes place every Monday night at 8:15 p.m. in Slavin Center LL01. Mailboxes for the submission of questions can be found in Slavin outside the Campus Ministry meeting room (near McPhail’s) or in Campus Ministry, which can be found in the basement of St. Dominic Chapel.

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