I’m a graduate of Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA. I often credit my work ethic, my writing, and my preparation for graduate school based on the rigor and richness of my academic experience there. I have many good memories of Saint Vincent inside and outside of the classroom, and I have kept in touch with many of my professors. I was deeply influenced by the spirituality of the Benedictines, even if I rebelled against it while trying to emphasize my Protestant identity as an undergraudate, and I credit the Benedictine tradition of having a fine library to my discovery of radical theology in the underground stacks in the center of campus. (I got locked into the library one night, and that night I discovered Altizer’s books.) Saint Vincent isn’t a place most people know about beyond it being the site of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ training camp, but it was a formative place for me and I have many fond memories.
This has been discussed on this blog before: the number of colleges requiring a faith statement or a particular denomination affiliation for hire. Catholic colleges have taken the lead with this, mostly as a result of Vatican statements on higher education from the turn of the century; however, there is something to be said legitimately about preserving the Catholic voice on the contemporary theological scene and Catholic colleges wishing to promote Catholic thought. The problem is, I think most of us would agree, that what gets defined as “Catholic” is often very narrow and ecclesiastical rather than upper-case “Catholic” in spirit.
But here’s another case. I’ve been following with some interest the case of Father Mark Gruber, O.S.B., a Benedictine priest and anthropology professor, who was, to make a long story short, framed by Saint Vincent College administrators for speaking out against numerous infractions of employment and academic freedom standards at the College. He was, I believe, the only tenured Benedictine professor to sign a faculty letter of dissent from the College president a couple of years ago. Here’s the latest on this issue from Inside Higher Education: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/09/07/stvincent .
It has now apparently become public that more than one individual had come forward and admitted to planting pornography on his work computer–pornography that would later cost Father Mark his job and standing as a priest. We should keep in mind that the now-resigned College president, James Towey, is a former Bush White House insider and is one of the primary voices behind the discussion of “death panels” in the coming health care reforms. (Towey resigned very suddenly, shortly before another lawsuit broke out that detailed his involvement with another couple’s divorce.)
What has baffled me about this situation is that Father Mark always came off to me as one of the most ecclesiastically loyal and dedicated priests I have ever met. I don’t know his politics, but I would also characterize him as theologically conservative as well, based on time I spent in his Introduction to Anthropology course. But yet here is a case of an Archabbot of the monestary, who is also the Chancellor of the College, and a College president, both extraordinarily conservative, hanging one of their own out to dry because of internal politics.
While this in and of itself is not too surprising, the way in which it was done takes on some deeply bitter theological tones. From the same people who claim that the media sensationalizes pedophilia in the priesthood, we have a highly respected priest accused of posessing child pornography by a Catholic opportunist with high connections within the Religious Right and the Republican mainstream.
The job market in academia is so bad right now that just about everyone looking for a job is kind of desparate for work. The reality is that this nonsense is what is going on at many religious colleges. I’m sure some of you noticed, for example, that Cedarville University in Ohio is searching for two religion professors at the moment; Cedarville was recently censured by the AAUP for violating academic freedom in their firing of the professor who most recently held one of those positions. Saint Vincent probably isn’t far behind in its censuring process; perhaps religious conservatives will take me more seriously if they know I went to this small college in Pennsylvania.