A rare sight, if you look outside of the Student Union right now, you’ll see Pro-Choice protesters rallying together on the Queens College campus.
Around two weeks ago, Jennifer Jarvis, Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management announced a celebration of the ‘Mass of the Holy Spirit’ in the Student Union building in conjunction with the Catholic Newman Center for Mass. Their guest, Robert J. Brennan, Bishop of Brooklyn, will be a prominent figure at the event.
As it was stated in Ms. Jarvis’ email, Bishop Brennan is currently on the Pro-Life Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). This announcement caused a stir among faculty, with Professor Steven Kruger from the English Department responding to Ms. Jarvis.
“Isn’t the College still a public, secular institution? I understand students’ desire for religious clubs on campus, and the appointment of chaplains makes sense to support those clubs and student needs. But when the College itself seems to sponsor such events, I think there’s a real problem,” Professor Kruger wrote in a letter that now has over 70 endorsements from faculty in departments such as the Graduate School of Library Sciences, European Languages and Literatures, Urban Studies, Earth & Environmental Studies, and many more.
Professor Kruger went on to discuss the USCCB’s controversial views about abortion. “I understand the College’s political desire to cultivate good relationships with the Diocese of Brooklyn and with Bishop Brennan,” Professor Kruger wrote. “But to announce his appearance on campus by noting his national prominence in the pro-life movement of the Church, as though this is just one more piece of a CV, seems to me — especially at this moment — a political provocation.”
The USCCB, of which Bishop Brennan is one of the members from the state of New York, has a few goals. On their website they claim to, “Unify, coordinate, encourage, promote and carry on Catholic activities in the United States; to organize and conduct religious, charitable and social welfare work at home and abroad; to aid in education; to care for immigrants; and generally to enter into and promote by education, publication and direction the objects of its being.”
However, it’s the USCCB’s stance on abortion where we dive into political waters. In an infographic found on their website, they claim that, “Abortion does not save women’s lives. Abortion is never medically necessary. It does not treat or solve any pregnancy-related complication[s],” among many other things.
This claim from the organization is the focal reason why Professor Kruger and many others are organizing the rally you see outside the Student Union today.
“As Jennifer Jarvis stated in her invitation, Bishop Brennan serves on the Pro-Life Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Thus he is coming to campus not just as a religious figure, but as the representative of an anti-abortion political movement,” Professor Briallen Hopper told The Knight News. “Abortion is essential healthcare, and the right to abortion has already been stripped away from millions of people in this country, largely thanks to the work of people like Bishop Brennan, who want the government to take this right away from all of us.”
While USCCB’s stance on abortion seems to be the dominating factor in the formation of the rally, it’s not the only one. Feeding off of what Professor Kruger wrote to Ms. Jarvis, Professor Veronica Schanoes told The Knight News, “Let’s be very clear: no matter what the Vice President writes in her email, a Catholic mass is not for ‘the entire Queens College community.’ A Catholic mass is specifically for practicing Catholics,” said Schanoes. “I have no problem with the college providing accommodations for students who practice a variety of religions. For the college to institutionally endorse or seem to endorse one over the others, however, or to claim that such a specific religion’s ceremony is universal, is a different matter.”
In response to Professor Kruger’s letter, on what Professor Schanoes laid out, Ms. Jarvis wrote:
“As part of our commitment to our campus ministries and student organizations, the College often submits information about programming for publicity in campus communications. Another example of an event about which the college has messaged the campus community is Hillel Shabbat services,” Ms. Jarvis wrote. “This does not indicate the college’s endorsement of any specific religion or viewpoint, rather it signifies its support for campus entities. As with every event, recipients of the communication about Bishop Brennan’s visit to Queens College are free to decide if this is an event they want to attend or not.”
While Ms. Jarvis provided examples of how QC does support and provide resources to various religions, she did not acknowledge the controversiality of the Pro-Life stance Bishop Brennan’s organization has.
Professor Schanoes went on to explain why she thinks inviting an openly Pro-Life figure to campus is a problem. “I think that inviting a prominent pro-forced-birth activist is controversial in and of itself. Abortion rights are at the center of a political storm this year, and for the message to the QC community to highlight the bishop’s activism in this area as if it’s just another item on a resume is disingenuous at best,” she said.