Each session of our biannual Lecture Series touches on current trends in thought, scholarship, culture, art, and politics. This spring’s series, however, happened to occur at a time where the eyes of the nation seemed to be looking to the Catholic Church for perspective on certain political and social developments.
The series commenced in February with the Office of Catechetics’ presentation of three screenings of Father Robert Barron’s epic new series Catholicism. The series, which was filmed at over 50 locations in sixteen different countries over the course of two years, shows the majesty of Catholicism through her history and timeless teaching. Father Barron, who’s Word on Fire Catholic Ministries serves the New Evangelization through multimedia, also includes a comprehensive study program that has been adopted by catechetical programs throughout the country.
On March 7, Aquinas hosted former Secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education and current Archbishop of Vancouver J. Michael Miller, C.S.B. for a lecture about Catholic education. In attendance were groups from the Dominican Campus, diocesan schools, other local schools, and parents. The archbishop, who wrote a highly circulated short book the Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools, spoke of some troublesome trends in Catholic primary, secondary, and higher education and stressed the importance of reinforcing Catholic identity and faithfulness to Catholic teaching.
Later in March, Father Nicanor Austriaco, O.P., professor of Biology at Providence College and Dominican friar of the Province of St. Joseph, lectured on what scholarship in human genetics can teach us about Adam and Eve. Father Nicanor holds several advanced degrees, including biology and Sacred Theology, both of which he teaches at Providence. To a packed room, he was able to illustrate complex genetic theories and to show how Adam and Eve could fit into the theory of evolution.
The most buzz worthy date in the Lecture Series came at the end of February with the panel on religious liberty. The panel consisted of three attorneys from the American Center for Law and Justice— Francis J. Manion, David French, and Geoffrey Surtees—and Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and frequent commentator on local and national media.
The panel had been scheduled several months in advance but happened to occur within an extremely active time of national interest in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) controversial mandate that all employers cover sterilization and contraceptives, including those which cause abortion. The issue has been a source of great concern for Aquinas, The Dominican Campus, and the Dominican Sisters as a whole since the August announcement of the mandate. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, under the leadership of now-Cardinal Timothy Dolan, motivated the nation’s Catholics and was confident of conscience protections from President Obama. On January 20, however, the HHS reiterated the mandate with no changes. Earlier in February, the President proposed what he termed an “accommodation” where the financial burden for the objectionable medications and services would be transferred to the insurance companies.
These issues were the main topic of discussion at the evening’s event, which was attended by nearly 200 people. The panel represented the broad range of support for the position of the Catholic Church and illustrated how such a mandate that forces groups and individuals to violate their consciences threatens one of the United States’ founding principles, religious freedom.
Dr. Richard Land observed that, “the government is violating both clauses of the First Amendment: both the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise clause,” in issuing this mandate.