President of Franciscan University of Steubenville Resigns

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by Christine Niles, M.St. (Oxon.), J.D.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  April 8, 2019   

Fr. Sean Sheridan steps down after months of public controversy

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STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (ChurchMilitant.com) - The embattled president of Franciscan University of Steubenville is resigning.

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Fr. Sean Sheridan

In an email to students sent Monday morning, Fr. Sean Sheridan announced that the university has accepted his resignation, which he submitted "[n]ot too long ago."

"As you can imagine, this was a difficult letter for me to write and deliver to you as I have great affection for the entire Franciscan Family," Sheridan wrote.

Sheridan came under fire after Church Militant reported the university's initial support for Dr. Stephen Lewis, who assigned a blasphemous and pornographic book in a graduate course during spring 2018.

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Dr. Stephen Lewis

In response to Church Militant's queries, the university initially defended Lewis' assignment, claiming among other things that such literature helps prepare students to grapple with the Faith by considering multiple sides of an issue. 

The report on Lewis led to a flood of complaints from parents, alumni and donors, resulting in Lewis' removal as chair of the English faculty. Sheridan also issued a public apology within 24 hours of Church Militant's report.

But inside sources say Lewis remains in power, still an active professor of English, still editor of Franciscan University Press, and still very much supported by Sheridan and by the chief operating officer, William Gorman. Lewis has never apologized for assigning the book, instead publishing an article in First Things defending its use.

In addition to the pornographic and blasphemous reading assignment, Lewis controversially championed the cause of Rebecca Bratten Weiss, former adjunct professor of English, who supports radical feminism and witchcraft, and who, as editor of the Patheos Catholic blog, gives a willing platform to Melinda Selmys, a self-identified "queer" who promotes transgenderism, rejects the Catholic faith and admits to being sexually involved with a man who is not her husband. Bratten Weiss also rejects pro-lifers' attempts to overturn Roe v. Wade or proposals to enact laws to directly restrict abortion.

After embarrassing media exposure, Franciscan failed to renew the contract for Bratten Weiss, although she continues her close relationship with Lewis and his wife, who works with Bratten Weiss to set up conferences and speaking events.

Remaining faculty also claim Sheridan shows favoritism and bias toward Lewis, while failing to respect or defend more conservative faculty.

Sheridan was criticized for cracking down on faculty in an attempt to silence them.

More recently, Sheridan was criticized for cracking down on faculty in an attempt to silence them, hoping to avoid any future media firestorms. New guidelines on academic freedom sent to faculty in March warned, "Anonymous communication of facts or opinions about the University to media outlets or other external organizations is unprofessional and unethical, and may be grounds for disciplinary action."

The document failed to clarify what was entailed by "disciplinary action." 

The full press release announcing Sheridan's resignation follows:

Franciscan University Announces Search for Seventh President

STEUBENVILLE, OH – Father Sean O. Sheridan, TOR, president of Franciscan University of Steubenville since 2013, submitted his resignation to the Board of Trustees on April 5 "after a great deal of prayer." The Board of Trustees accepted his resignation and announced it will begin the search for its seventh president immediately.  

"We are thankful for Father Sheridan's years of leadership and dedication throughout which he continued the Franciscan University tradition of exceptional education grounded in a passionately Catholic faith that enables our alumni to evangelize and transform the culture," said Father Malachi Van Tassell, TOR, chairman of the Board of Trustees.

Father Sheridan will remain at Franciscan University until the end of the current academic year and then receive a new assignment from the Franciscan TOR Province.

During his six-year tenure at the University, Father Sheridan welcomed the largest incoming class in the history of the University in fall 2018, launched the Catechetical Institute, which reaches over 100 dioceses in the United States, as well as dioceses in Africa and Eastern Europe, and hosted three symposia celebrating the 25th anniversary of St. John Paul II's visionary document on Catholic universities, Ex corde Ecclesiae. 

"I feel called to continue my service to the Catholic Church in another capacity to be determined in consultation with our TOR minister provincial. I will miss my brother friars, the extended Franciscan University family and the great community surrounding it, but this is an appropriate time for the board to initiate a search for a new president who will be available to welcome the incoming class this fall," said Father Sheridan.

"Franciscan University is a special and immensely spiritual place, and it was a blessing to serve in our mission to educate, evangelize, and send forth joyful disciples of Jesus Christ. This is and always will be a University dedicated to providing an education that is rigorous and demanding, vibrant and truly orthodox with an unwavering commitment to Catholic faith and tradition," Father Sheridan continued.

"The sincerity and seriousness Franciscan students have for the faith will continue to inspire me, and I am especially thankful for the ministry and witness of the friars.  In my years in higher education, as student, faculty member, and researcher of Ex corde Ecclesiae and the Code of Canon Law, I have not encountered members of a university community so committed to pursuing their beliefs. I leave Franciscan a better teacher and catechist and appreciative of the time to grow in this area of my ministry."

"Any university president would readily admit that all the days are long; many are great days, and some are difficult. Being a Franciscan Friar has taught me to recognize that all those long days—the great days, and even the difficult days — are blessed days and all the more so when I am among my Franciscan Family," said Father Sheridan.

The University expects a new president will be in place by the beginning of the fall semester.

 

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