Andrew Kaethler, academic dean and and assistant professor of theology at Catholic Pacific College, says it’s important to introduce students “to a tradition in which there is a recognition that there is a good, there is a truth, that there is truth to reality.” Photo courtesy Catholic Pacific College

Catholic colleges and cancel culture

By  Terry O’Neill, Canadian Catholic News
  • February 18, 2022

In his annual “state of the world” address to the Vatican diplomatic corps, Pope Francis expressed his deep concern over a phenomenon he believes poses an escalating threat: “cancel culture,” the increasingly prevalent practice of silencing individuals, institutions and even, in the Pope’s estimation, entire cultures that are deemed to hold incorrect or inconvenient views or values.

The term “cancel culture” is widely understood to mean the increasingly successful attempt to censor views — and to shame and shun those who utter them — that do not conform to the “politically correct” tenets of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and its closely associated cultural manifestation, “woke-ism.” An integral part of the agenda is “diversity, equity and inclusion” mandates that critics say end up discriminating against members of groups that have not been identified as oppressed or under-represented.

Canadian academic and author Jordan Peterson wrote in a National Post column last month that these mandates comprise an “appalling ideology,” and constituted the primary reason why he had resigned as a tenured professor at the University of Toronto. As well, Frances Widdowson was fired from her job as a Mount Royal University (Calgary) political-science professor late last year after being a persistent critic of equity mandates and of the contention that Canada’s former treatment of its aboriginal residents represented an attempted cultural genocide. And as columnist Mark Milke observed in the National Review, “Widdowson and Peterson are only the most high-profile academic casualties of the woke mania in Canada. It is unlikely that they will be the last.”

The Pope joins the growing numbers who fear that cancel culture’s relativistic and amoral philosophical underpinnings are the antithesis of Catholic teaching. The Pope contends that Catholic schools and universities are a key battleground in which the war against cancel culture must be fought and won if Christianity is to thrive.

It’s a struggle to which leaders at Catholic colleges in the Vancouver area — Catholic Pacific College in Langley and Corpus Christi-St. Mark’s College in Vancouver — say they are deeply committed.

Andrew Kaethler, academic dean and assistant professor of Theology at Catholic Pacific College, said one important way he carries out this important responsibility is to introduce his students “to a tradition in which there is a recognition that there is a good, there is a truth, that there is truth to reality, that we can encounter it and that the logos (universal divine reason) that undergirds all reality — that of our own individual logos and everyone’s — interconnects with The Logos, and therefore see reality for what it is.”

Kaethler does not mean he wants the college’s graduates to go out into the world “wagging their fingers, and saying, ‘wrong, wrong, wrong.’ ” There is a time and place for naysaying, he said.

“But our students are better off if they are equipped to respond by offering a counter story, the story of the true, the good and the beautiful — that is, Gospel.”

On the specific issue of CRT, “We want to teach our students to relate to the truths that are within Critical Race Theory — the desire to combat racism and to have empathy with those who are struggling — but then to provide a far more beautiful response than CRT, a response that, unlike CRT, does not perpetuate the problem that it seeks to overcome,” he said.

Corpus Christi-St. Mark’s new president and principal, Dr. Gerry Turcotte, agreed that the pursuit of truth is central to a Catholic college’s mission. Turcotte, a Register columnist and currently president of St. Mary’s University in Calgary, said “the cause of truth is one that allows and encourages, specifically in Catholic universities, the asking of questions about all the most difficult issues.” However, this does not mean dissenting or differing voices should not be heard.

“We need to create a space of dialogue, where we can meet and encounter truth,” Turcotte explains. “It’s arguably the hardest thing to do. And I think it was always the mission of Catholic universities to pursue this.

“This was why the Catholic Church created the very first universities in the first place, to create a space where difficult questions could be asked, and it’s always going to be uncomfortable, because of the wide range of issues, and it’s something that you have to negotiate in the university system.”

Turcotte said he is dedicated to improving the community and to social justice.

“And I believe strongly that Catholic education can heal a lot of the wounds that our planet is experiencing right now,” he said.

Pope Francis has, in several past addresses, used the term “ideological colonization” to describe the Western world’s trampling of Indigenous cultures and institutions. He referred to that phenomenon again in his January address to diplomats representing 183 countries, but also widened his critique to include cancel culture.

Pope Francis warned that political, legal and cultural “agendas are increasingly dictated by a mindset that rejects the natural foundations of humanity and the cultural roots that constitute the identity of many peoples.”

Retired St. Thomas Aquinas Regional Secondary teacher Peter Nation is the founder of Catholic Voices Canada. He believes the intent of woke ideology and cancel culture “is to bring down the Judeo-Christian tradition, including specifically the family and the moral law, and so it is a threat to Western civilization as a whole.”

As an antidote, Catholic Voices launched its “Awake from Woke” education series last April. The virtual sessions show that woke ideology is based on beliefs and assumptions that are the antithesis of the Catholic faith. Catholic Voices has held 14 such sessions so far.

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