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Catholic College Group Stages Display in Support of Planned Parenthood

Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 11/13/15

From The Observer, the student newspaper at St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Indiana:

Last Thursday [October 29], 1,852 flags were displayed on Library Green at Saint Mary’s as a visual representation of the health services offered by Planned Parenthood. The exhibit was Feminists United’s response to a campus visit from the Planned Parenthood Project on Oct. 15, religious studies professor Stacy Davis said. The Planned Parenthood Project is run by Students for Life of America, a national organization with the goal of abolishing abortion, according to its website. “[The Planned Parenthood Project] focused exclusively on abortion, one service that Planned Parenthood provides,” Davis said. “Feminists United wanted to present information about Planned Parenthood’s other services, including HIV tests, pregnancy tests and cancer screenings.” Each flag represented ten services provided by Planned Parenthood that are not related to abortions or contraceptive services, Stephanie Szymas, vice president of Feminists United, said. Collective Conscience sponsored the flags and the display, she said. The Saint Mary’s Feminist United Student Group supports the education of people on all sides of an issue in order to better understand complex topics, Szymas said. “Respectful disagreement helps students grow in their own personal understanding of difficult political and social topics,” Szymas said. “We believe empathy is a crucial part of the human experience, therefore, the Saint Mary’s Feminist United Club and our supporters celebrate the services Planned Parenthood provides for all women, especially women who may not have access to health insurance.”

The college defended the display:

Saint Mary’s President Carol Ann Mooney said while it might not have been “readily apparent,” there was a difference between what students and faculty who wanted to emphasize Planned Parenthood offerings had originally wanted to do on campus and what they were ultimately allowed to do. “The student group wanted to stage an openly pro-Planned Parenthood event; they wanted to advocate for an organization that operates, in a number of ways, in contravention of Church teaching,” Mooney said in an email to students last Thursday. “The faculty distributed information about what Planned Parenthood does.”

Students, meantime, launched a petition asking the college to reaffirm its Catholic identity:

“This petition is simply asking the administration to stick to the mission and guidelines it is supposed to honor in the first place,” [senior Mary Robin] said in an email. “This petition is asking Saint Mary’s to reaffirm its loyalty to the Catholic faith and clearly declare its dedication to the pro-life, pro-women movement that Planned Parenthood so obviously works against.” She said the petition has received support from Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese, as well as alumnae and families of students. “The comments on the petition page have varied from joyous gratitude to everyone signing for this reaffirmation of Saint Mary’s Catholic identity, to sheer sadness and disappointment in this public display of support for an abortion business, all the way to downright frustration — families promising to withdraw financial and public support for Saint Mary’s until a positive, pro-life statement is made by the school,” Robin said.

The controversy finally prompted this official response from Bishop Kevin Rhoades on the diocesan website:

I was very saddened to learn that this show of support for an organization that is the largest abortion provider in our country occurred at a Catholic college in our diocese. At the same time, I have been heartened by those students, faculty and alumnae of St. Mary’s College who are committed to the cause of life and the authentic good of women and have expressed their opposition to Planned Parenthood and any positive portrayal of this organization. The actions taken by the students and faculty in support of Planned Parenthood illustrate that even at a Catholic college, there are those who cling to the conviction that Planned Parenthood is an organization dedicated to the well-being of women. While I do not doubt the sincerity of those who hold this view, I do challenge them to seriously re-examine for what this organization stands in light of our common humanity and our Catholic faith…. …The Gospel of Life is a seamless garment covering many issues involving human life and dignity. Respect for human life from the moment of conception is an integral part of the message of salvation and the mission of the Church, and the first principle of its social teaching upon which every other human right is founded. Catholic institutions, including Catholic colleges and universities, must not look the other way or remain silent in the face of attacks against the most vulnerable human beings among us, those as yet unborn. According to the apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae, “Catholic ideals, attitudes and principles penetrate and inform university activities” in all aspects of campus life at a Catholic college or university. Catholic identity is not only about what we stand for; it is also about what we will not stand for. Just as we would be rightly scandalized to see a public display portraying a racist organization like the Ku Klux Klan in a positive light, so too, we expect Catholic colleges to refuse to lend any kind of respectability to organizations like Planned Parenthood that play such a significant role in the culture of death. Authentic freedom, academic or otherwise, is always linked to the service of truth and love. It is also ordered to the formation of the human person in truth and love, formation in which Catholic colleges and universities play a critical role. Saint John Paul II summoned us to do better by the young adults with whose formation we have been entrusted in this beautiful but difficult area of life: “It is an illusion to think that we can build a true culture of human life if we do not help the young to accept and experience sexuality and love and the whole of life according to their true meaning and in their close interconnection. … Only a true love is able to protect life.”

Read his full statement.

Photo: Stephanie Szymas / The Observer

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