NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) — Reaction to a Dominican sister’s presentation on human sexuality at a North Carolina school has prompted “speculation from many sides,” but few among those commenting about it “were actually present to hear the talk,” said an April 4 statement from Aquinas College in Nashville, where she is an associate professor.
The college was referring to a March 21 presentation by Dominican Sister Jane Dominic Laurel at a Charlotte Catholic High School student assembly. Titled “Masculinity and Femininity: Difference and Gift,” it drew the ire of many students and parents and sparked an online petition with more than 3,000 names.
About 900 people packed the school gym the evening of April 2 to criticize the assembly and the school leaders who arranged it.
School and diocesan leaders arranged the meeting to hear from concerned parents and explain the intended purpose of the assembly. There were comments from parents who supported the school and the presentation, but most of the comments were critical. Two observers called the meeting’s climate “disrespectful” and “hate-filled.”
In its statement, Aquinas College said, “The events and discussions that have transpired over the last two weeks reflect that there is something in this that surpasses an ordinary high school assembly.”
The college said it was “saddened by this extreme outcome and wishes to reiterate that this is not something the college condones or desires to create. There is division where there should be unity.”
Some parents at the Charlotte meeting said they felt betrayed by school administrators for not being told about the all-school assembly beforehand. Other parents objected to some of the material Sister Jane presented about the alleged causes of same-sex attraction and the way she presented it.
Aquinas College said: “We believe it is our privilege to bring the best aspects of our faith tradition to bear on the moral and cultural questions of the present age. In her presentation, Sister Jane Dominic spoke clearly on matters of faith and morals.”
However, “her deviation into realms of sociology and anthropology was beyond the scope of her expertise,” it said, adding that Sister Jane has cancelled her speaking engagements “and, at her request, is preparing to begin a sabbatical from teaching at Aquinas College.”
According to officials at Charlotte Catholic High School, Sister Jane spent about half of her hourlong talk in March on homosexuality, including attributing a correlation between the decline of fatherhood in America and the rise in homosexuality.
“Sister is a trained theologian from a pontifical university and has the credentials to contribute to scholarly bodies of work. This she has done in the past with distinction,” Aquinas College said. “The unfortunate events at Charlotte Catholic High School are not representative of the quality of Sister’s academic contributions or the positive influence that she has had on her students.”
It added, “The students at Charlotte Catholic were unprepared, as were their parents, for the topic that Sister was asked to deliver. The consequence was a complete misrepresentation of the school’s intention to bring a message that would enlighten and bring freedom and peace.”
Sister Jane has a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. She is a member of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation, which founded and runs Aquinas College.
Her presentation was based on a series of instructional videos she created for Aquinas College.
According to the website www.newmanconnection.com, where Sister Jane’s videos are posted, her presentations focus on the differences between the genders, the role of the family in nurturing each child’s unique gifts, the importance of real friendships and emotional intimacy, and the impacts of contemporary culture and the media on our concepts of sexuality.
About a week after her presentation, Sister Jane told the Catholic News Herald, Charlotte’s diocesan newspaper, she has given similar talks more than 80 times in 25 states.
Aquinas College said it firmly believes “all men and women are created in God’s image and likeness and are made with a capacity to love and be loved. The college supports the Catholic Church’s teachings which are open to the diverse needs and desires of all, which must be considered in light of eternal truths.”
“We support and affirm that every man and woman, regardless of his or her state in life, deserve respect, and that the health of any culture is gauged according to the capacity of its members to uphold their own beliefs while respecting the beliefs of others,” the statement said. “The college’s patron, St. Thomas Aquinas, was known for his ability to thoughtfully consider all things and retain what is true, regardless of the source of that truth.”
The college said it hoped the Charlotte high school community “will soon begin a process of healing and renewal.”