One of the approximately 500 outside events taking place in rented space in the Hogan Campus Center in the past year was the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy—a consortium of social service agencies, school-based health centers and local pregnancy prevention and teen parenting coalitions.
The weeks leading up to the Alliance’s Oct. 23 annual meeting were marked by a controversy fueled by organized e-mail and letter-writing campaigns. The College, the Diocese of Worcester, and the Jesuit Province of New England were flooded with phone calls and e-mails—including many from Holy Cross alumni and parents—although the vast majority of callers were not affiliated with the College. The protests focused on the fact that, among the dozens of workshop presenters were representatives of Planned Parenthood and NARAL. In the wake of calls, letters and e-mails, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston, a member of the Alliance, was forced to withdraw from the conference. The Most Rev. Robert J. McManus, Bishop of Worcester, called upon Holy Cross to disassociate itself from the groups involved and revoke its contract with the Alliance.
“As president of a Catholic college in the Diocese of Worcester, I wholly respect the duty of Bishop McManus to uphold the teachings of the Church—most especially the sanctity of life and opposition to abortion,” said Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J., president of Holy Cross, in a statement issued the week before the conference and sent to the Holy Cross online community by e-mail. “However, it is the College’s position that providing rented meeting space to a conference of professionals from a variety of Massachusetts organizations discussing the safety and care of at-risk teenagers does not represent a disregard of Catholic teaching.”
The College’s decision to honor its contractual organization with the Alliance raised both vigorous support and passionate protest—and generated discussion among students, faculty, staff and alumni.
U.S. Jesuit colleges have been criticized in recent years for inviting controversial speakers to campus—but, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities is aware of no other protest focused on a program presented by an outside group in rented facilities.
The day of the conference—which was attended by 150 social workers, nurses, educators and other professionals—about a dozen protesters were on campus. On the lawn outside Hogan, the Holy Cross chapter of Students for Life installed 360 white crosses, representing the number of abortions performed every day. Students on both sides of the issue held signs and engaged in conversation with each other and with passers-by.
While some alumni wrote that allowing the conference on campus jeopardized their relationship with Holy Cross, the majority contacting the College—including alumni across all classes and age groups—expressed support. A member of the Class of 1997 wrote, “Over the long term, the College’s value is enhanced by policies that promote—not prevent—the exchange of ideas.” And a member of the Class of 1963 wrote: “I see nothing incompatible with our Catholic faith in examining this critical issue dispassionately and in informing people.”
Students weighed in, as well. A first-year student wrote: “As a devout pro-life Catholic, and a woman I am insulted that you would allow such an organization within our gates”—echoing the position of others that it was wrong for the College to have any association with groups like Planned Parenthood which take positions that are against the teaching of the Catholic Church.
Allowing the Alliance to rent space on campus for its conference was in keeping with the College’s institutional mission and responsibilities, Fr. McFarland remarked, following the conference.
“Hogan Campus Center is available as a community service to organizations and individuals to rent for conferences, meetings, private events and other functions,” he said. “Teen pregnancy and teen parenting is a complex social problem that often requires difficult discussions. We rented our campus facilities to adult professionals so they could further their work in helping those most in need.”