Thursday, May 25, 2006

Response from U of St. Thomas

Here's a response from Father Dease to my letter, which appears in a post below:

I want to thank you for writing to me about remarks made by graduating senior Benjamin Kessler at the undergraduate commencement exercises May 20 at the University of St. Thomas and his subsequent apology.

I was present at the graduation ceremony and heard Mr. Kessler's speech. I do not believe it was appropriate for him to use our Commencement event as a venue for his comments. There is no question that he was speaking sincerely and upholding Church teaching, and there were certainly many ways that Mr. Kessler might have dealt with the subject of “selfishness” from a Catholic perspective that could have been edifying. However, to berate his classmates on what was to have been a joyous occasion of celebration and congratulation was not appropriate and was hurtful to many of our students and their families.

After reflecting on the matter Mr. Kessler has apologized. As you know, he issued a statement on Monday (May 22). I included the statement in a column that I wrote the same day for Bulletin Update, which was distributed via e-mail to all St. Thomas students, faculty and staff as well as many parents and alumni who are on the Bulletin distribution list. A copy of my column follows below, and I hope you will read it in its entirety.

A number of people have asked if any administrator screened Mr. Kessler's speech in advance. We did not. Past graduation speeches by Tommie Award winners at spring commencement and by senior class representatives at winter commencement have been non-confrontational. Consequently, we felt no reason to take any steps this spring in reading an advance text of Mr. Kessler's speech. We will carefully review our procedures in this area before our next commencement exercise.

Again, I want to thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.

Sincerely,

Reverend Dennis Dease
President
University of St. Thomas

21 comments:

Fr. Larry Gearhart said...

So, let me get this straight. Are we talking about an issue of "spin" here? Would Mr. Kessler's comments have been deemed appropriate if he had said, "I challenge you to live the whole of Catholic faith. Here's what you need to do to fill in what's missing in your lives." Did he take a slightly negative tone, suggesting, "You haven't been doing all you can to live the whole Gospel." Did he call them names? What would have satisfied his fellow students that he had their best interests at heart?

Rich Leonardi said...

However, to berate his classmates on what was to have been a joyous occasion of celebration and congratulation was not appropriate and was hurtful to many of our students and their families.

First, he included himself in that berating. And what, precisely, was hurtful about what Fr. Dease acknowledges to be an articulation of Church teaching? Would it have been hurtful had he stuck to the usual routine and mouthed platitudes about safe topics?

Fr. Larry Gearhart said...

More to the point, would it have been too difficult for Rev. Dease to get to the point of what was, in fact, inappropriate in Mr. Kessler's remarks, what was, to use his terms, "disedifying?"

Do administrators take a course in how to avoid specifics? Do they learn how to obscure issues with an appeal to platitudes, or is this something that just comes naturally, with those showing greatest talent being advanced to the greatest positions of "responsibility?"

After having reviewed the video on YouTube.com, it's obvious Rev. Dease has no case.

Father Martin Fox said...

Fr Larry, you're my hero!

Father Martin Fox said...

"We will carefully review our procedures in this area before our next commencement exercise."

Yeah, we wouldn't want any uncontrolled outbursts of Catholicism . . .

Christine said...

thank you Fr. Fox for posting that up. see, as a student it really worries and scares me when the priests ( The ones that God called to be fishermen of men) the ones that are suppose to be leading us ( youth ) into holiness cannot quite tell what is right or wrong anymore. when they are so deceived by 'happiness', that they will renounce the Gospel just so one person can be 'happy'. I guess the student's "happiness and congratulations" was more important for Him rather than the state of their souls. Since when did it start becoming about 'convenience' anyways?"However, to berate his classmates on what was to have been a joyous occasion of celebration and congratulation was not appropriate and was hurtful to many of our students and their families." so are we suppose to sugar coat Truth? i'm sorry, but that really sucks! for a Priest to sugar coat the Truth, just so his students can be Happy? since when did it start becoming about 'us'. maybe he needs a reminder again that "God did not call us to be successful, God called us to be faithful"

And actually listening to Mr. Kessler's speech, (from a student's point of view) he brings up good points that are actually helpful for those students later on in life. They graduated already! They're out in the "real world" and Mr. Kessler was just suggesting ways how to survive and to be truly happy and successful, once they're out in the "real world". To be selfless and not to be selfish, wouldn't that the kind of thing a parent would say to their kids? sorry for my ramblings...it was just truly appaling. thank you for your time though.GodBless

Father Martin Fox said...

Christine:

I think, even if Mr. Kessler might have been imprudent to give the speech -- one could make the argument -- that once it was given, the president of the university should have supported him, for these reasons:

1. Because the worst offense was he was provocative -- big deal.

2. Far more outrageous was the behavior of the "delicate flowers" in the audience who couldn't bear his words, and sought either to stifle them, or flee them.

3. The young man was courageous; such courage deserves support.

4. He advanced Church teaching; one does not distance oneself from that.

I note that while Mr. Kessler was pressured to apologize, the university has not been as successful in gaining apologies from the boors in the audience; the university doesn't seem very interested in that.

El Padre said...

Is Mr. Kessler available as a public speaker? I would love to have him speak to a confirmation class.

Anonymous said...

The good Fr. must have wanted him to tell the students what they wanted to hear so they could feel good and be happy. hmmm I think this speech was great since the idea here is to challenge the graduates to succeed. It could have been better worded, but none the less a good speech. When I watched the video it reminded me of John 6 where the truth is too hard to take and many left.

Zach Brissett said...

I, too, sent an email to Fr. Dease, and I received back the exact same email message (word-for-word). It seems he's having his secretary send a form letter to all who complain. What a guy!

Michael Austen said...

Well,

If we aren't going to make the President, work, we can at least make his secretary work.

Can someone post his email address so that more people can email him.

If the secretary has to send out 100 form letter responses an hour, at least she might think twice about the sad situation.

Terry said...

"There is no question that he was speaking sincerely and upholding Church teaching, and there were certainly many ways that Mr. Kessler might have dealt with the subject of 'selfishness' from a Catholic perspective that could have been edifying."

I interpret this as meaning "stick with the social justice."

Gerald Augustinus said...

Awwww I guess they are used to be celebrated, honored and cherished in an inclusive, diverse manner, so their feeeeeelings got hurt. Maybe they can break into small groups , share how they felt and validate their experiences in a nurturing way.

Father Barry said...

The fact that Ben Kessler was almost cetainly pressured to apologize for his remarks saddens me greatly. (Though I take some small comfort in the fact that his apology is only for the offense he may have caused, not for what he actually said.)

I suspect that Fr. Dease reacted the same way to Kessler's speech that most of the audience reacted: he tuned out the actual content after the opening paragraphs, and imposed his own impression of what Kessler was saying onto the speech itself.

Although perhaps not as eloquent as it could have been, Kessler's speech was an excellent example of how to organize one's thoughts. Here is what Kessler actually did:

1. Recount the event that first made him think seriously about this "selfish vs. selfless" opposition.

2. Recount a high-profile event on campus that would probably have been familiar to many of the audience that also highlighted this opposition.

3. Tie it in to one of the most profound "selfish vs. selfless" actions possible: contraception.

4. Label himself as selfish.

I think Fr. Dease (and the audience) only got as far as 3. But since they never got to 4, they missed the real power of Kessler's talk. Rather than being the one "without sin that cast the first stone," Kessler was freely and publicly admitting that he himself has failed to be selfless. And he was calling on his classmates to "do as he said, not as he did;" to follow Christ rather than frail humanity.

But Dease and Co. shut him out before he could get to that point, which is very, very sad.

What I really want is Kessler's e-mail address. I'm confident that Fr. Dease is getting an earful. (And also confident that he seems to be ignoring it, just like he ignored Kessler's speech.) But I think the young man himself could really do with some encouragement.

Terry said...

Father Barry,

It's bckessler@stthomas.edu. Mary Alexander has a great post regarding the issue at Against All Heresies. I didn't realize he's also a seminarian and former All-American football player.

Father Barry said...

Thanks, Terry! I hope the university is still letting him get to his e-mail. (Yikes! I'm starting to become a bit cynical on this one.)

Let's make sure Ben hears both sides of this debate, instead of just the Fr. Dease-sponsored side.

ashamed St. Thomas grad said...

Anyone know if any of those who yelled filthy comments from the audience has apologized yet?

I didn't think so.

Anonymous said...

Well, it was a lackluster speech in itself. Choosing to say what he said to his fellow graduates, regardless of the fact that he included himself in an effort to blunt the rudeness of his remarks, shows poor judgment. I would question is qualifications for ministry. His rector should insist that he have several more classes and practica in pastoral ministry. God help us if this is the future of the priesthood.

Philip said...

God help us if this is NOT the future of our priesthood. We NEED men like this to enter.

Thanks Ben!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous,

I guess what you're looking for in our future priests are those who never talk about sin, and tells his flock that it's ok to use contraception. That about right?

David B

sexy11 said...
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