Campus Ministry Donation Sparks Controversy

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Campus Ministry Donation Sparks Controversy

Campus Ministry received letters of complaint about the Feb. 26 mass collections. (Photo by Kate Doheny/The Ram)

Campus Ministry received letters of complaint about the Feb. 26 mass collections. (Photo by Kate Doheny/The Ram)

Campus Ministry received letters of complaint about the Feb. 26 mass collections. (Photo by Kate Doheny/The Ram)

Campus Ministry received letters of complaint about the Feb. 26 mass collections. (Photo by Kate Doheny/The Ram)

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By CANTON WINER
ASSISTANT OPINIONS EDITOR

Campus Ministry received letters of complaint about the Feb. 26 mass collections. (Photo by Kate Doheny/The Ram)

Campus Ministry received letters of complaint about the Feb. 26 mass collections. (Photo by Kate Doheny/The Ram)

The world is a dangerous place for sheep. Though they may seem simple, dull animals, sheep continually face increasing danger in an ever more complex and scary world. Startle one of them and the whole herd will mindlessly stampede off a cliff, not realizing their fatal mistake until they crash at the bottom.

Unfortunately, Fordham has its own groups of startled sheep here on its rolling lawns, and they are hurtling dangerously close to the edge of the cliff.

On Sunday, Feb. 26, Campus Ministry collected donations at mass for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) which, as stated on its website, is “a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry.” Fordham University Respect for Life, the Fordham University College Republicans and several other individuals immediately sprang into action, complaining to Campus Ministry that the planned donation to the SPLC was inappropriate, for varying reasons that can best be summed up by describing the SPLC as “anti-Republican” and “pro-abortion.” Campus Ministry responded to the complaints by diverting the donated money instead to support immigration outreach in the local area.

This incident is unfortunate, not just because Campus Ministry was wrongfully attacked for its planned donation and was essentially bullied into diverting the funds, but also because the complaints made are completely invalid. The Southern Poverty Law Center is not a “pro-abortion” group, as Samuel Martin, president of the College Republicans alleges on the Fordham University Respect for Life page on Facebook. Penny Weaver, public affairs deputy director for the SPLC, states simply that the College Republicans are “misinformed” and that “abortion matters are not a part of our mission or agenda. We have no position on abortion and certainly don’t fund [abortions].” Not once is the word abortion mentioned in the SPLC’s 2010 Annual Report, which is easily available to all who wish to see it on their website.

Campus Ministry did its own research on the invented controversy, but found no evidence that the SPLC is a “pro-abortion” group.

“We’re researching the organization and we’re not finding fault,”  Fr. Philip Florio, director of Campus Ministry at Fordham University, said. “We’re not finding these claims—and I don’t want to say they’re baseless claims, they must have some base—but we can’t find the base for it.”

Lisandro Pena, coordinator of liturgy and resident minister at Fordham University, points out that even the Catholic Church itself has not published information supporting the complaints against the SPLC.

“This is an organization that has not been condemned not by their local bishop in Alabama; it has not been condemned or banned by the Bishops of the United States because this is an organization that is helping people,” Pena said.

In fact, according to Campus Ministry Administrative Assistant Gil Severiano, Campus Ministry “has collected for [SPLC] for many years. They’re one of the groups that we have collected for during black history month because they’re a well-known civil rights organization.”

Fr. Florio further explains that “[SPLC] works well and has a reputation for being leaders in civil rights promotion; we thought it was a perfect match.” Campus Ministry also found that, though coincidental, the donation to the SPLC—as a group that fights hate and bigotry—was especially timely given the recent incidents of hate speech and vandalism on Fordham’s campus.

Samuel Martin cited the SPLC’s so-called “furtherance of left wing politics,” as cause to divert Campus Ministry’s planned donation. The nature of this far-fetched claim is hardly even worth addressing. More disturbing than Martin’s opinion-masked-as-fact is the fact that he and the College Republicans feel compelled to bring politics into Campus Ministry. The College Republicans’ brazen politicization of Campus Ministry is reprehensible and dangerous. As far as Campus Ministry is concerned, it does not matter if charities such as the SPLC, or those within them, hold political beliefs with which some members of the Fordham community may disagree.

Joseph Campagna, GSB ’15, who posted a public letter online addressed to Florio, voiced similar concerns of the SPLC’s supposed “left wing” and “pro-abortion” tendencies. Again, the extreme mischaracterizations of the SPLC are misguided at best and outrageous at worst. What is most shameful about Campagna’s letter is that he presents himself “not only as a student, but [also] as a USG senator on the behalf of many fellow students.” Campagna’s perpetuation of the misrepresentation of the SPLC should be entirely on his own behalf, and his status as USG senator is irrelevant. In fact, the Executive Vice President of USG, Bryan Matis, GSB ’12, had this to say in an email to The Ram.

“The United Student Government Senate as a body has not taken a formal stance on the issue of collections at mass…It is the prerogative of any member of the Fordham community to express a personal opinion to the administration.”

Unfortunately, the sheep at Fordham have already broken out of the pen, and the damage has been done. For the sake of Campus Ministry, we can only hope that the complaining groups and individuals, and especially those with political concerns such as the College Republicans, will keep their opinions to themselves and do their research before espousing baseless “facts.” The objectors must realize that their thunderous roars (or bleats, rather) cannot serve as a substitute for legitimate and factual concerns. It is not too late to save the herd from running off the cliff.

Canton Winer, FCRH ’15, is an undeclared major from West Palm Beach, Fla. Connor Ryan contributed reporting.