Alumnae Respond to Recent Confusion over Open Letter to FUS

Alumnae Respond to Recent Confusion over Open Letter to FUS May 1, 2018
Source: The “Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life” at Franciscan University of Steubenville: Expression of Concern

 

I’ve been recently privileged to grow close to Franciscan University alumna Theresa Williams. She wrote a stunning guest contribution for The Shoeless Banshee a few weeks ago, and we have bonded over our mutual love of our Faith and of writing. A few days ago, Theresa informed me that she and her co-authors of the “Concerned Alumnae Letter regarding the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life” (which I signed and endorsed) were writing a statement to clarify recent controversy over the aims and intentions behind their letter, and I told her I’d be more than happy to host their statement here.

-Marie Kopp

 

On April 18, 2018, we authored an open letter voicing our concern as alumnae with some of the writings coming out of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

 

This letter was intended to highlight some of the works by Profs. Anne Hendershott and Stephen M. Krason which we find problematic (for different reasons, as will be discussed below), as well as to draw attention to overt rejection of Vatican II teaching by another associate of the Veritas Center, Prof. Timothy J. Williams, on social media . Since the circulation of this letter, there has been confusion over what exactly we find problematic in the cited materials by Hendershott and Krason. It seems that some nuance in meaning has been lost since the initial reaction. There is concern that we are condemning the full scholarly bodies of works by these authors, or even accusing them of willfully contradicting explicit portions of Church teaching. This is not the case.

 

We are concerned with specific attitudes that they present and the environment that the University is fostering by officially hosting these writings.

 

Profs. Hendershott and Krason do make legitimate points in each of the cited articles. Profs. Kason’s and Hendershott’s advocacy for due process for the accused is laudable, and some of their concerns (notably that Title IX, as written, is lacking in protections for these individuals) are legitimate and need to be discussed in the wider academic community. In “Progressive Politicians Two-Faced Over Due Process,” Prof. Hendershott also rightly highlights the hypocrisy from some individuals on the extreme ideological left in the implementation of sexual misconduct procedures. We readily recognize that, in much of the popular discourse around #metoo, nuance is flattened, snap judgments are treated as evidence-based convictions, and little to no space is given for genuine inquiries.

 

However, this is a two-way street, and there are problematic themes interlaced with these professors’ valid arguments, most notably, that when alleged perpetrators are defended without careful attention simultaneously paid to alleged victims, it is the far more vulnerable party, the alleged victims (who already risk so much to speak up), who are beaten down.

 

Professor Krason’s work shows an inconsistency with Church teaching on upholding the dignity of the human person. To succinctly demonstrate this, we would like to quote alumnus Paul Druce (with permission), from a public thread in the Frannies Talk to Each Other Facebook group discussing Prof. Krason’s article “What Sexual Harassment Crisis?”:

 

Krason refers to female victims with: ‘Were their careers more important to them than sexual virtue? Can’t they truly be viewed, at least to some degree, as cooperators with wrongdoing?’ However, ‘Rape can be committed by the use of physical or moral force (grave fear, including reverential fear, fraud and deceit); likewise by a sin committed with a woman who has not the use of reason (one who is insane or intoxicated)’ (Moral Theology, Jone and Adelman, 1953, §226).”

 

Any sort of mental or emotional coercion used to solicit sexual favors decreases the culpability of the victim in her/his sexual abuse/harassment to nil. Prof. Krason appears to deny this reality, and that denial does violate Catholic teaching.

 

Druce expands on another of Krason’s works (emphasis added):

 

“In ‘Street Harassment: Another Misdirected Cause?’, Krason does his level best to minimize, obfuscate, and ignore the problem of women being subjected to sexual harassment in public (which is a violation of their dignity), going so far as to accuse women, collectively and individually, of being responsible for their objectification and denigration by men… Now, the objectification and denigration as expressed by catcalls and other crude comments or forms of public harassment is an offense against the dignity of the woman in question; to sympathize with and normalize it is, as the letter notes, to ‘avow attitudes which are contrary to upholding the Church’s teachings on the innate dignity of the human person.’”

 

Any action in which the person is looked upon, acted upon, or used as an object rather than a subject obfuscates the dignity of each person, and this is in direct opposition to Catholic teaching.  

 

A second, albeit less troubling, aspect of Prof. Krason’s writings has to do with its scholarly quality. Although his peer-reviewed academic work attests to a career of excellent scholarship, his writings in Crisis Magazine which are cited in our open letter lack cohesive arguments and contain a plethora of logical fallacies (see Emily C.A. Synder’s response to “What Sexual Harassment Crisis?”). The arguments contained in these are neither thoughtful nor well reasoned, and their presence on the Veritas website is not a flattering example of what Franciscan University has to offer students in terms of training in critical thinking.

 

Similarly, another nuance of our critique of the Veritas writings by Prof. Hendershott is our concern that they may feed the current atmosphere, becoming increasingly prominent in American Catholic circles, which conflates amoral or morally ambiguous issues which are culturally controversial (e.g., the removal of Confederate monuments) with issues of Catholic orthodoxy.

 

This is particularly apparent in “First they Came for the Confederacy,” in which Prof. Hendershott draws a rather bizarre parallel between the removal of Confederate monuments and the secularization of Catholic Universities. The legacy of the Confederacy is not only extremely contentious but is also a painful reminder for many African Americans of the historical racist practices within this nation, some of which continue to this day. Additionally, many of the Confederate monuments now being removed were erected in retaliation to desegregation in the mid-20th century and have little in the way of genuine ties to Southern U.S. heritage.

 

Disregard for this understanding reflects not a genuine conservative viewpoint but a continued silencing of the perspective of the marginalized within this country. To be clear, we are not saying that Hendershott herself is advocating white supremacist positions, merely that persons already subject to that dangerous ideology could very easily read her writings and find their racism affirmed.

 

As discussed above, the professional bodies of work of Profs. Krason, Hendershott, and Williams are wide and not entirely problematic. Former students of Prof. Krason attest to the fact that he is a meticulous and thoughtful man and scholar—it is exactly for this reason that we are concerned by his recent writings and attitudes towards women (in and out of his classroom—see the syllabus excerpt in Jenn Morson’s article), sexual assault, and the complicity of victims in their attacks. It is for these reasons that we are concerned with the current leadership of the Veritas Center.

 

We are not calling for the dismissal of Profs. Hendershott, Krason, or Williams, or even the dissolution of their organization.

 

Rather, we ask for charity, growth, and closer complicity with Catholic teaching rather than political ideologies, either right or left. We would like Franciscan University of Steubenville to carefully consider their association with the writings of the Veritas Center, so that there will be no further confusion on either the apolitical nature of Catholic Social Teaching or the University’s stance toward victims of sexual misconduct.

 

We emailed the letter with 300 signatures (3/4 alumni or current students) to University president Fr. Sean Sheridan, the board of trustees, and the advisory board on Thursday, April 26, with a hard copy following to Fr. Sheridan himself. We patiently and prayerfully await a public response from our beloved alma mater.

 

Sincerely,

Claire Gilligan (08)

Anne Marie (Sohler) Snoddy (09)

Theresa (Bey) Williams (07)


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  • Vincent Brandolini

    I have recently spent considerable time defending the doctrinal orthodoxy of Pope Francis’ “Amoris Laetitia”. Often his detractors make the error that substantial mental or emotional coercion cannot significantly reduce culpability for grave matter, at least to the point where something is not mortal sin.

    Unfortunately, in this article, it seems that the exact opposite error is made: that the any such coercion totally eliminates this culpability. I wonder if the author has really thought this suggestion through.

    After my 18-year-old daughter read it she asked: What if satan mentally or emotionally coerces me? Does that mean that I have no responsibility for my sin? I, in turn ask: Does this apply only to sexual favors, or to other sins as well? After all, in Catholic thought there is not so much distinction among those sins involving “grave matter”, or between those committed by males and females.

    If one reviews the sections of the CCC that refer to this effect (e. g. 1860, 1862, 2352), one sees that while culpability is very much decreased, there is little justification for suggesting that “any sort” of coercion reduces culpability to “nil”.

  • Laura Pittenger

    Satan’s coercion is a different discussion. These authors seem to be talking about the actions of specifically men on and off campus at one particular school, and the denial (purposeful or otherwise) of administrators who are seeking to lessen or negate those actions, sometimes to the point of refusing to admit that such violations have taken place. You cannot expect the FUS administration to levy Title IX violations against Satan, but you can reasonably expect that they will do so at student aggressors, as required under the law and by virtue of the money they take from the federal government. It is essential that men take responsibility for their actions as sexual aggressors when they have acted in such a manner. Let’s stay on topic.

  • Vincent Brandolini

    According to the original “Letter of Concern”, the topic is NOT “that men take responsibility for their actions…”. The subject is the quality (and appropriateness) of certain articles written by certain faculty members. Prominent among those concerns is the conformity of these works with Catholic teaching, especially concerning Prof. Krason.

    In this piece the author explicitly declares that Prof. Krason denies the same Catholic teaching is has promised to uphold. This is an extremely grave accusation to make (especially for an FUS faculty member), thus and must only be made with reasonable certainty and very credible substantiation.

    I heartily applaud ANY effort to root out and correct any misrepresentation of Catholic doctrine. But before any such effort can stand, the teaching or principle that is allegedly violated must be understood and rightly articulated. If the principle by which Ms Kopp is judging Prof. Krason’s orthodoxy is wrong, her conclusion on this matter is likely to be of little value. Worse, she would be making an unjust accusation, even if unintentionally so.

    The statement of the Catholic teaching presented in this article is so badly flawed as to constitute an outright distortion. Apparently the words themselves are not Ms. Kopp’s directly, but given that she presents them here to prove her allegation makes her accountable for their content.

    Regardless of the gravity of the wrong that one believes one is addressing, the ends do not justify the means. If it is important that Catholic teaching be upheld and rightly presented, it is important that it be done so by all.

  • Laura Pittenger

    I think they have that substantiation, whether you choose to see it that way or not. It’s worth reading all of Krason’s work before making that assessment, and based on their citations I believe that they have read a great deal of it. It’s not about doctrine; it’s about the spirit of the law, and it is in fact very grave for a school to fail to live up to its obligations to its students who have been abused and who are hurting. It would seem that this blase attitude toward Title IX and the dignity of the female body is endemic to the school in both the Title IX handlings and in the writings of their very own faculty. There is no reason for these women to have written this letter without the grave concern that can only stem from a great love for their school. It is worth respecting that effort.

  • Theresa Williams

    The context of the statement of culpability being reduced to nil is important here. I was specifically referring to cases where one person uses coercion to force another person to perform or give in to sexual favors against her (or his) will. Satan has nothing to do with this context (except for the fact that one must have some degree of evil in his or her heart to even think about doing this to another person, let alone carry it out).

  • Vincent Brandolini

    Since this statement is being used to condemn Prof. Krason’s remark, it is Mr. Krason’s words which sets the context.

    That context is: those in “the worlds of politics, entertainment, and the media” who “tolerated the harassment or agreed to provide sexual favors for fear that their careers would not otherwise advance”. Mr. Druce’s response, in turn, is that “any sort of mental or emotional coercion decreases the culpability… to nil”

    Mr. Krason is not referring to a woman who is being raped at gunpoint, but to those who will suffer less dire consequences (a sluggish career as opposed to death) if they go along.

    In fact, a great many people have also been pressured to do other wrongs as well (lying, falsifying records, etc) by their superiors, with similar implied or explicit consequences. The same principle applies to those cases as well: culpability may be reduced, but it is not completely removed.

    The fact that so many women – and others – are so pressured and refuse to go along demonstrates conclusively that cooperation still retains some character of a free choice.

    While Catholic Teaching states that a great many factors do play into culpability for these cases, there is no principle by which suggests that “any sort” of coercion categorically reduces it to nothing as Mr. Druce states, even in these situations.

    Note that if Mr. Druce has stated something like “Coercion can certainly reduce culpability significantly in many of these cases” he would have been entirely correct. But if he had said that, Mr. Krason’s original suggestion would not be found to be so unreasonable.

    If you ask any competent Catholic moral theologian, they will tell you the same thing.

    None of this even remotely excuses the conduct of those who use the coercion to begin with, who bear complete culpability for their own actions. And even if someone else is also to a lesser extent culpable in the wrongdoing, the original perpetrator’s guilt is not therefore diminished in the least.

    Thus, there can be no question of passing the perpetrator’s blame onto the victim.

  • Vincent Brandolini

    I did read the entire work, as well as the original “Letter of Concern” and this article.

    You say it is not about doctrine, but Ms. Kopp, Theresa Williams, Paul Druce, and the signers of the letter insist that this is indeed a significant part of it: e. g “Professor Krason’s work shows an inconsistency with Church teaching”, “…that denial does violate Catholic teaching”.

    Again: regarding a faculty member at FUS such an allegation is extremely serious. If such statements as these had not been made, I would not have responded as I did.

    Also: please note that we ARE talking about the “spirit of the law”‘; that is, the root principle involved rather than an explicit disciplinary practice to be followed.

    The “spirit” of the law in this case is a person’s free will and thus their ability and responsibility to resist evil; that is, the virtue of fortitude. When the evil minded pressures another person to cooperate with evil the other person has a responsibility to say “no”. If they have that ability and if do not so respond, there is some culpability.

    The extent of that culpability is another matter entirely, but to rule it out completely is a mistake.

  • Laura Pittenger

    Vincent, I think we’re all talking past each other. Nobody is calling Krason a heretic. He is an academic. This is what academics do – they present ideas, and those ideas are then critiqued in public, and if they are good, they will stand up. Annie, one of the letter writers, is an academic too, that’s why there are so many citations! The fact that it all happens to be about consent and rape and Christianity doesn’t change that. Krason is not infallible. These women are merely pointing that out. I think you’re making a fundamental error in how you are equating rape to falsifying records. It may help if you read accounts of women who have been raped and the emotions that go into that situation. I also recommend very much reading this article that came out today.

    https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/rape-sin

  • Vincent Brandolini

    Let us keep in mind Krason’s original words, the ones which allegedly deny Catholic teaching:

    “…it’s noteworthy that some of the accusers of
    recent months—from the worlds of politics, entertainment, and media—say
    that they tolerated the harassment or agreed to provide sexual favors
    for fear that their careers would otherwise not advance. Were their
    careers more important to them than sexual virtue? Can’t they truly be viewed, at least to some degree, as cooperators with wrongdoing?”

    I know women – and children (both male and female) – who have been raped, usually by relatives (especially fathers). I put Krason’s context and question to her, and she was unequivocal in her answer: Absolutely. She then noted that individual circumstances – e. g. desperate need – might significantly reduce culpability. This is Catholic teaching, and nothing Krason says denies this. In fact, he is merely upholding it.

    It is true that Krason is not being accused of heresy – that is, denying dogma. But he IS explicitly accused of denying Catholic TEACHING (that is, doctrine)… and to the faithful Catholic, this is still a sickening allegation.

    And again, it is THIS article that gets Catholic teaching wrong, for the reasons and by the references I first gave. If you believe this to be in error, then I ask that you show me anything authoritative that demonstrates otherwise.

    (Yes, I already saw that Commonweal article. It bears false witness against the authors it criticizes, in that it grossly misrepresents what they wrote)