OPINION: A garment ripping at its seams: a response to Father John Donato’s Palm Sunday email

By Amelia Christensen | March 25, 2024 12:00pm

Photo courtesy of Amelia Christensen.

Editor’s Note: The following piece is in response to an email sent by Fr. John Donato, Vice President for Student Affairs, on Sunday, March 24, to all UP students. The email encourages students to attend a presentation by Executive Director of Secular Pro-Life Monica Snyder titled “Deconstructing 3 Pro-Choice Myths” hosted by the Campus Ministry student club, Voice for Life. 

Last year I took PHL 321, Logic. Within the first two months of the course, students are introduced to basic and complex fallacies. I want to be clear that the teaching on this subject is nothing short of robust. We are taught how to identify fallacies in arguments, media, and in ordinary language.

And, the unfortunate fact is that fallacies are everywhere. We live in an era where we ought to be cautious in the arguments we listen to and the arguments that we make ourselves. Thoughtful professors have demonstrated to me how to challenge these fallacies. One might think that comes as no surprise in an educational institution where we are supposed to be taught how to think critically.

What did come as a surprise, however, was the way in which fallacious arguments were accepted and underpinned by political motivations in Father John Donato’s email on Palm Sunday.

Our mission statement describes us as a “a diverse community of scholars dedicated to excellence and innovation.” But can we truly say with full intellectual honesty that our mission is being upheld in that regard? We are taught to think critically and challenge our beliefs but I fear that there is a fault line in the application of those values among our broader administration.

Therein lies the extreme discomfort with this email. Sent out to the entire community, the email was distributed with little regard for its greater ramifications. Any student holding the beliefs propagated in the email were empowered by it, while every other student was left feeling further isolated and detached from the University. The notion of a diverse community of scholars is left fractured and fragmented.

In his email, Father Donato continued by explaining that “in a spirit of [Voice for Life’s] openness to fresh and other perspectives, the club has invited Monica Snyder, the Executive Director of Secular Pro-Life.” I’m troubled by this messaging. It creates a facade of diversity of opinion when all they have truly done is invite someone with the same exact conclusion as them; that conclusion is simply grounded on different premises. It is not an openness to fresh and other perspectives — it is just further entrenching what they already believe.

What is considerably frustrating as a student is that fallacious and philosophically unsound arguments are being actively promoted by the University. Snyder’s “Pro-Choice Myths” presents a myriad of factual extrapolations and non sequiturs. To say that we are an academic community “in which we honor faith and reason as a way of knowing,” but then neglect reason, misses the point entirely.

Our world is imperfect and it becomes a harsh, unwelcoming world when we are unwilling to challenge our echo chambers and epistemic bubbles. It is social and intellectual cowardice. The email on its own is problematic, but it is also a reflection of a much greater issue occurring here. Father Donato couched a political belief, one that is oftentimes deeply personal, in a statement about the start of Holy Week. While it could have been a venue to remind people it is Palm Sunday, Father Donato used it to spread a divisive message without ever indicating a willingness to engage in beliefs that would challenge his own.

The University took the past four years to teach me how to identify a problematic argument, so it is upsetting to see them so overtly propagate one themselves. This is not specifically a commentary on the beliefs held by Father Donato or the University, but rather, a sincere concern with the way they were chosen to be voiced in the first place.

Amelia Christensen is a senior at the University of Portland. She can be reached at christea24@up.edu.

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