Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Catholic University abruptly canceled an 11-part lecture series, “Building Catholic Communities,” on Monday, after the Southern Poverty Law Center complained that two of the scheduled lecturers are anti-Semites.

The university released a statement yesterday saying the lecturers “appear to espouse views that are contrary to the mission and values of Catholic University. In light of this development, the dean of the school decided to cancel the lecture series,” referring to Randall Ott, dean of Catholic’s school of architecture.

Mark Potok, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, called the school to complain about the participation of E. Michael Jones, editor of the South Bend, Ind.-based Culture Wars magazine, and John Sharpe, founder of the Norfolk-based IHS Press and the Legion of St. Louis, an Internet-based forum.

“We were surprised that Catholic University was allowing two raging anti-Semites on their campus,” said Mr. Potok. “A simple Google search will show you the frightening ideology of these men.”

“These are not the Latin Mass traditionalists,” Mr. Potok said. “These are the people who reject Vatican II reforms. They are out of [actor Mel Gibson’s father] Hutton Gibson’s world, in saying that the Jews are destroying the world.”

Mr. Jones, who was to speak today on the nature of community, called the cancellation “outrageous.”

“We were Catholics talking to other Catholics about community. The SPLC has veto power over what Catholics say to each other, all because of the cowards at Catholic University. Don’t you think they owed me the courtesy of at least calling me up? Wasn’t there any due process here?”

Mr. Jones also denied the SPLC’s accusations against him.

“Everything I have said is totally consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church,” he said. “There is nothing anti-Semitic about anything I have ever said. And I reject racism.”

Mr. Sharpe, who was scheduled to speak in April, declined to comment.

In March last year, Mr. Sharpe, a lieutenant commander in the Navy, was reassigned from his job as public affairs officer for the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson on the grounds he was participating in “supremist causes,” according to the U.S. Fleet Forces Command.

Tim Ehlen, a technical writer who organized the lecture series, said he was dumbstruck by how quickly Catholic University canceled the entire series, which was to have run through April 30.

“We are Catholics talking about a Catholic topic on the campus of a Catholic college,” he said. “I am disappointed that Dean Ott so quickly dropped this without any due diligence.”

The SPLC contacted the university at about 3:30 p.m., he said, right in the middle of the first lecture of the series, featuring Alan C. Carlson, president of the Howard Center in Rockford, Ill. By 5 p.m., the series was canceled.

When he raised the issue of academic freedom to Mr. Ott, “he said if this had been part of a course, it would have been different,” Mr. Ehlen recalled. “But as a lecture series, it fell outside this realm.”

The lecture series, described at www.building, covered topics such as Catholic doctrine and co-housing, a form of clustered housing that originated several decades ago in Sweden. Mr. Jones was to speak today on the nature of community; Mr. Sharpe was scheduled to speak April 23 on property ownership.

The university’s sudden cancellation Monday afternoon left organizers scrambling yesterday for a venue. Today’s lecture will take place at 5:30 p.m. at the Catholic Information Center, downtown at 1501 K St. NW.

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