STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (ChurchMilitant.com) - Alumni of the Franciscan University of Steubenville have launched an attack against conservative professors at the Catholic school, but inside sources claim a fired professor is behind the move.
An open letter published by "alumni and friends" of the university accuses Professors Anne Hendershott and Stephen Krason, among others, of being "strongly ideologically aligned with the far right of American politics." As proof, the letter cites articles authored by Hendershott and Krason calling out liberal Catholic schools, leftist protests, Obama policies and feminism.
"We question whether it is appropriate for the university, as an institution dedicated to upholding Catholic orthodoxy and academic rigor, to continue to provide an official venue for these writings," the letter states.
The alumni also attack the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life, whose mission is to promote "natural moral law, illuminated by the light of faith, in order to defend both human freedom and dignity in the public square." Both Hendershott and Krason are affiliated with the Veritas Center.
"We feel that, at least publicly, Franciscan has conflated orthodoxy with American right-wing partisanship," the letter claims. "As it stands, the Veritas Institute does not provide a venue for this debate but rather an echo-chamber for the ideological right."
The letter is signed by Claire Gilligan, Annie Marie (Sohler) Snoddy and Theresa (Bey) Williams, all graduates of Franciscan University of Steubenville (FUS) — and all friends with Rebecca Bratten Weiss, a former adjunct professor at FUS fired last year after her controversial positions on feminism and abortion were exposed.
Inside sources claim Bratten Weiss is behind the attack on Krason and Hendershott, who called out Bratten Weiss in an August 2017 Human Life Review symposium — right around the time of her firing. Bratten Weiss, who founded the New Pro-Life Movement (NPLM) with friend Matthew Tyson (who proudly admits to voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016), supports what's called the "whole-life movement," which critics claim does little more than push Democratic talking points.
"While many of those affiliated with the whole-life movement have accused traditional prolifers of politicizing the unborn through their support for candidates running on the Republican Party's pro-life platform," Hendershott wrote, "the truth is that many whole-life movement leaders ... are committed to convincing Catholic voters that pro-choice Democratic nominees for public office actually will do more than Republicans to reduce abortion."
Citing the hundreds of pro-life laws that have passed through "the selfless efforts of the traditional pro-life community," and the fact that abortion rates have fallen to their lowest numbers in 40 years, Hendershott urges Catholics to "ignore" Bratten Weiss and others in her movement.
Bratten Weiss' ideology is set forth in the NPLM manifesto, which adopts a seamless-garment approach to social justice: A "true pro-life ideology focuses on more than just abortion." Toward this end, NPLM rejects attempts to overturn Roe v. Wade, claiming it's more effective to fight for "greater access to healthcare, pre and post-natal care, mandatory paid leave, job protection, equal wages, sexual education, and stronger comprehensive support systems."
Bratten Weiss herself goes so far as to say that sometimes not aborting one's child is worse than choosing life: "It's true that abortion can be physically and psychologically harmful to a woman. But what the pro-life movement fails to note is that in many cases, NOT choosing abortion will hurt women more." She goes on to list a litany of sufferings women will face, including losing their homes, their jobs or their friends, and accruing debt.
Lacking is any acknowledgment of the eternal, spiritual consequences of aborting one's child: The Catholic Church teaches that deliberately killing the innocent is an intrinsic evil that can never be justified for any reason, a mortal sin that kills the soul and results — if done with knowledge — in automatic excommunication.
"A woman's right to choose may not be boundless, but it is real," Bratten Weiss insists. "It is wrong to treat women as though we have no claims on our own bodies."
NPLM has distinguished itself by criticizing the traditional pro-life movement for allegedly aligning with Trump and failing to support stricter gun control, women's equality, universal healthcare and environmentalist initiatives, among other things.
"If you aren't willing to support all of their positions — including universal healthcare and preventing climate change — then you aren't really pro-life," reads a critique of NPLM. "This is perhaps the most hypocritical slant of the 'new' movement. There's room for an 'ethical pro-choicer' — whatever that is — to sit at the table. But if you are already pro-life, suddenly the standard flies skyward."
"There is no middle ground on gun control, or healthcare, or the environment — issues on which pro-lifers have always held varying opinions with no trouble," the critique continues.
Says Austin Ruse of NPLM: "Read their overheated rhetoric and you will see their real interest is in destroying the pro-life movement that has brought us closer and closer to ending abortion in America."
Bratten Weiss herself has spoken more frankly about the traditional pro-life movement. On the March for Life, she characterizes it largely as "a platform for old white Republican male politicians to say their pieces."
"'This has nothing to do with life or justice' is pretty much my feeling about the entire mainstream pro-life movement, including the March, now," she adds.
NPLM members support the use of contraception in some cases. MT Dávila explains:
Other important avenues for abortion prevention that we pursue include support for crisis pregnancy centers, and, for some of us, allowing the use of certain kinds of contraception to avoid crisis pregnancies. This last point has garnered criticism against a number of us. But we consciously wanted the NPLM to reflect a more expansive vision of what could be considered a pro-life stance.
Co-founder Matthew Tyson explained to Church Militant in an email that "our movement is open to those who are not practicing Catholics, and to those from many religious and humanist backgrounds who have no problem with contraception."
The movement also seems to allow a loophole for abortifacient contraceptives. Among NPLM's "11 Pillars" is the statement that it opposes "any action that *directly* and purposefully ends the life of a child in the womb." The emphasis on the word "directly" implies that indirect killing of the unborn — as occurs in abortifacient contraceptives — may be morally permissible.
Bratten Weiss herself has evaded answering direct questions on contraception. In an October 2017 Twitter exchange (which Bratten Weiss has since deleted), Church Militant repeatedly asked, "Do you believe, as the Church teaches, that the use of artificial birth control to prevent birth is intrinsically evil in all circumstances?"
Bratten Weiss refused to give a direct answer, offering instead a general response that she "assents to the deposit of faith," in spite of multiple requests that she simply give a "yes" or "no" answer. She went on to accuse Church Militant of being "anti-Christ faux Catholics," "schismatics" and "loonies."
Bratten Weiss has also publicly demonstrated hostility towards Krason. Commenting beneath Krason's guest column in the Herald-Star, where he criticized the newspaper's promotion of same-sex marriage, Bratten Weiss accused him and FUS of promoting "homophobia" and "hateful ideology." She went on to praise Fr. James Martin, SJ, as "a better example of what the Catholic tradition should be."
Father Martin is best known for promoting the normalization of homosexuality in the Church, and rejects the idea that chastity applies to homosexuals. He also supports transgenderism in children, and has defended speakers who call Christ "queer." Martin has been chastised by leading prelates in the Church, including Cdl. Robert Sarah, for deliberately leaving out mention of Catholic teaching on chastity in his book Building a Bridge.
Although Bratten Weiss is aware of Martin's stances, she continues to publicly promote him on social media and laud him as an example for Catholics. She has also praised self-proclaimed "queer" and "gender dysphoric" Catholic writer Melinda Selmys, citing her multiple times on her blog.
Church Militant reached out to Hendershott for comment, but was told the university administration has forbidden her from offering public comment to the press. Church Militant contacted Bratten Weiss, who did not respond to our query. Annie Snoddy, one of the authors of the letter, claimed in a tweet that Bratten Weiss "was not involved" in the crafting of the letter. Her words contradict that of inside sources, who claim Bratten Weiss was an influence on the authors.
*4/20/2018: This article was updated to include Snoddy's response