The Catholic Thing
The Passive-Aggressive Tyranny Trick Print E-mail
By Francis J. Beckwith   
Friday, 12 April 2013

Years ago I coined the phrase “passive aggressive tyranny trick” (or PATT), in order to point to a phenomenon that occurs in the public square, though most frequently on college campuses. The trick is this: those who claim to be open and tolerant to differing points of view seem hell bent on using the levers of power to exclude any contrary perspectives within their communities.

In virtually every case, the trick occurs when the proponent of exclusion uses the language of passivity by claiming to be offering a celebration of “diversity” while at the same putting forth an aggressively narrow agenda and implying that those who disagree are not only harmful, but committing injustice.

A recent incident at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington is almost a textbook case of PATT.  Administrators did not allow a group of its students to create an official Gonzaga-affiliated chapter of the Knights of Columbus because it limits its membership to male Catholics.

According to Gonzaga’s vice president for student life, Sue Weitz, this decision is justified because the Knights’ membership criteria “are inconsistent with the policy and practice of student organization recognition at Gonzaga University, as well as the University’s commitment to non-discrimination based on certain characteristics, one of which is religion.”

She also stated that to “embrace the diversity [of Gonzaga’s student body, which includes many non-Catholics] and yet endorse a group based on faith exclusivity is a challenge that cannot be reconciled at this time. . . .It is a decision about social justice, equity, and the desire of the University to create and maintain an environment in which none are excluded.”

Before we see how this defense of the university’s policy is an example of the bait-and-switch inherent in every case of PATT, we need to look at a few attendant points that show, in the words of Rebecca Hamilton, the “dog-bites-self” quality of this case.

First, Gonzaga University was founded by an order of priests known as the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits.  Although Gonzaga’s bylaws were temporarily suspended, but not amended, to allow the hiring of the university’s first lay president, the Jesuits remain an officially recognized campus group with its own residence aptly named “Jesuit House.”

Nevertheless, the Society of Jesus requires its members not only be male and Catholic, but celibate as well. Oddly, then, if Gonzaga cannot “yet endorse a group based on faith exclusivity,” the school’s Jesuit community has failed to win the endorsement of the school it founded.

Second, Gonzaga’s University Ministry “provides a wealth of opportunities for students to participate in retreats, liturgies and events that illustrate the connections between faith and life. . .in support of Gonzaga University's mission as a humanistic, Catholic and Jesuit institution of education. . .” These opportunities include the celebration of Catholic Mass on campus. The Catholic Mass, however, requires that those receiving the Eucharist be in full communion with the Catholic Church, which means that both non-Catholics and lapsed Catholics are forbidden from participating in the Lord’s Supper.

        A statue of the eponymous Jesuit saint at Gonzaga University

Thus, if Gonzaga is committed to “non-discrimination based on certain characteristics, one of which is religion,” its own University Ministry, since it offers Catholic Masses on campus, is dissenting from the school’s commitment.

Whatever these two points reveal about the deep fissures in Gonzaga’s self-understanding, they do not disclose the most egregious problem with the university’s policy as applied to the Knights of Columbus: it is an instance of the passive aggressive tyranny trick. 

As with any college campus, Gonzaga includes among its students serious religious believers, including Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Because they take their faith seriously – that is, they believe that their faith is not only true but its communities and practices essential to moral and spiritual formation – they desire fellowship with others within their tradition and strive to become better examples of authentic faith. 

Because of the nature of the religious faith embraced by these students – and the differences between men and women that most of these faith traditions rightfully acknowledge and celebrate – certain types of spiritual and moral formation simply cannot be accomplished in settings that are ecumenical and/or in mixed company.

By not offering these students an opportunity to organize groups that accomplish these ends, Gonzaga effectively marginalizes these students, suggesting to the wider public that their religious interests are illegitimate, not worthy of being part of the Gonzaga community and its conversation about the good, the true, and the beautiful.

Consequently, although one of its vice presidents states that the university desires “to create and maintain an environment in which none are excluded,” it in fact excludes, and it does so by implying that those who are excluded harbor antipathy toward social justice and equity.

This is the passive-aggressive tyranny trick in all its glory.

Francis J. Beckwith is Professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies at Baylor University, where he is also a Resident Fellow in the Institute for Studies of Religion. He is the author of Return to Rome: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic and one of four primary contributors to Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Anglicanism.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (16)Add Comment
written by Jacob, April 12, 2013
This is Catholics reaping what they sow.

For decades they've ignored and condesceded people who want to be new Catholics and bent over backwards to suck up to government leftists. Now they've taken over our own schools and threaten to exclude the very people who founded them.
written by Jacob, April 12, 2013
I'm curious, do the "adults" really think that the best option is to yet again sell out the orthodox to try and impress leftists?

Do we really think Christ has given us a Pope of the Leftists in order to anger and alienate the orthodox?
Is this our path forward? To alienate our most committed and devout members in order, yet again, to try and impress the people who want our Church destroyed?

Fifty million children have been murdered due in large part to your teaming up with godless, zombie leftists who want to murder everything that threatens them in any way. Do you really believe it will work out better this time? (I'll remind you that insanity is doing the exact same thing and expecting different results.)

The very Catholics who converted me put a sign for that High Priest of the Unborn Holocaust on their front lawn and they want to try to lecture me about wisdom.. HA!

Enjoy your fantasies.. I'm sure there were a fair number of "religious" hypocrites in Sodom before God made known his judgement of that place..
written by Chris, April 12, 2013
Not catholic in any sense, yet I am appalled with the catholic community by this obvious preferential treatment of those who are not "like" the leaders of "diversity" . . .
written by Titus, April 12, 2013
Surely that androgynous lump is not intended to be St. Aloysius.
written by DeGaulle, April 12, 2013
This can cut both ways. Women's sports could easily be destroyed as a spectacle, for example, if men sued for not being allowed to enter-why should women be allowed to discriminate, merely on the basis of gender? Why should my Johnny not be allowed in the girls' race? Of course, this madness is already leading to unisex toilets, and the rest, and the increased incidence of sexual assault must be accepted as the inevitable consequence of 'equality'. Jacob, I understand your anger, and it is well justified. Our religious leaders have rolled over at every turn, not for the sake of peace, but simply because it is easier to follow the path of least resistance.
written by Louise, April 12, 2013
Jacob, what do you mean by your statement, "For decades they've ignored and condesceded people who want to be new Catholics..."? When did you enter the Church? it always amazes me when people find their way to the fullness of truth despite our considerable human failings that mar the Face of Christ today.

Francis, since they are a mess anyway at this point, I'm amost glad they did this to the KoC. These guys don't take this kind of stuff lightly. Perhaps it will be a defining moment for reform. One of my first thoughts on hearing the new pope was a Jesuit who had remained faithful, I've been filled with hope that he will know how to clean things up in that unfortunate order.
written by kristinajohannes, April 12, 2013
Francis, I wonder how universities owned by religious will get reformed?

I once wrote to a bishop with concerns about a university in his diocese that was operated by religious. He responded with this:
...while Dr. "N" does teach at "N" University, I believe you have been misinformed by others that she works under my direction. She does not. "N" University is owned and served by the "N". As a religious order, they enjoy a high degree of canoncial autonomy. As such, none of the faculty needs canonical missions from me as the local Ordinary. Their ultimate accountability lies with the Congregation for Education in Rome."

I did follow up with the Congregation but received no response and looking at the college website nothing has changed in the six years since I wrote of my concerns.
written by Benjamin Kirk, April 12, 2013
Thanks for the article on PATT! It helps me understand what goes on in the liberal brain a little bit better. I learned in high school (Catholic) and college (secular) that tolerance and diversity mean acceptance of anything and everything as long as it isn't Christianity. In this "open-minded" view, Christianity has had its day, its chance to speak, and so it can be excluded from the current discussion.
written by Jonathan, April 12, 2013
Per Sue Wietz's linked in resume she received her PHD at Gonzaga and has been employed there for thirty two years --- is it possible she was unaware of the school and its history and mission statement ? Is it possible she is unaware of the history of the KOC which was founded because of catholic discrimination ??? Is it possible her office is in the back of the campus hidden away from all forms of modern communication ???
written by MaryS, April 12, 2013
PATT needs a wikipedia entry, so we can use it and others can find its meaning. Spreading the use of this term will help open people's minds to the silliness that currently confounds them.

Francis, please authos such an entry on wikipedia!!!
written by Proteios1, April 12, 2013
I took an oath of loyalty to the state and fed when I accepted my job as faculty at a state university. I would expect a Catholic, Lutheran or whatever university to have their faculty do a loyalty oath to their religion. I see no difference. If I were teaching at a Catholic university, I would be a fool to think they would NOT be faithful to the Catholic Church. The fact they don't seem concerned at some of these universities is jut odd. Seems like they shouldn't use the name Catholic if they aren't consistent with Catholicism. I don't call myself Hindu. Why? I'm not, nor do I know anything abut it.
written by Gary Simmons, April 12, 2013
ἐπήλωσας. You nailed it.
written by TPS12, April 15, 2013
Just wondering do they have separate sports for men and women? If so sounds exclusionary to me.
written by Michael, April 15, 2013
Many right-leaning Catholics are making way too much of this news story (many right-leaning Catholics are anti-Jesuit because of the Jesuits' perceived left-leaning theology).
While I find it sad that we live in a day when Catholic universities are bound by legalistic and politically correct guidelines...unfortunately, we do. And the irony is that most on the right, rather than arguing for a freedom from constraints, are simply arguing that their own constraints be enforced rather than those from the left.
First off, a salient fact: This was a decision by the a Gonzaga department that oversees STUDENT GROUPS. So wild-eyed comparisons to sports teams or the Jesuit community or to campus ministry are irrelevant and unhelpful. The department (in our legalistic, literalist, 'equality'-obsessed times) must adopt guidelines that APPLY TO ALL STUDENT GROUPS EQUALLY. It cannot do otherwise or else it is opening itself to a flood of lawsuits and complaints. many groups want to limit their membership to one gender or race or religious faith? Few if any. It makes perfect sense that the department would therefore require all groups to be open to all. Anything else would be a headache and asking for trouble. What if a feminist group wanted to limit its membership to women? Black Student groups to only blacks (and how do you define who is 'black enough'). Can Muslim groups expel non-Muslims? Where would it end?
So I have no problem that their solution is to not recognize student groups that have membership requirements.
Does this create a problem with Catholic groups? Generally, no. But it does with the K of C, since it is a male-only group that requires its members to be practicing Catholics.
Quite a pickle for a Catholic university (who obviously has no problem with men or Catholics, since it was founded by an order of Catholic men!).
The solution is easy...and is used by many Catholic universities...the Knights council is organized not as a student group, but under the umbrella of Campus Ministry, which operates under different rules.
So let's stop this inter-Catholic bickering and making political hay where there should be none.
Vivat Jesu!
written by Louise, April 16, 2013
Michael says, "many right-leaning Catholics are anti-Jesuit because of the Jesuits' perceived left-leaning theology."

Uh, no. Left and right are political terms. Theology either participates in the fullness of the truth or it doesn't. Sorry to say that too many supposedly Catholic colleges have abandoned the Cathlic faith and substituted some other version, some under Jesuit oversight. This is merely a factual statement.

I for one am not anti-Jesuit. I just want them to be authentically Jesuit. This is the order that makes a fourth vow of obedience to the pope!

Michael says, "And the irony is that most on the right, rather than arguing for a freedom from constraints, are simply arguing that their own constraints be enforced rather than those from the left."

Again, leave the political analysis for political topics. Freedom from constraints? Anything goes? That's not exactly a Catholic policy either.

Any policy that outlaws a legitimate Catholic student group is wrongheaded. As you point out, it's formulation has nothing to do with the mission of a Catholic university.

written by Jim H, July 03, 2014
I was raised Catholic, by Jesuits, in fact, but I left the Church at 17, but of course I feel the need to kibbitz from the outside. You use a clinical term to explain what seems a logical argument that will arise from time to time. And I support the idea that Catholics, among many others, have the perfect right to run their schools. This is the freedom of religion in the First Amendment. What the First Amendment should not grant is the Establishment of Religion. As for instance, Judge Alito's approach to the Hobby Lobby case, which was horrendously decided by a kind of passive aggressive approach to the federal government doing its job. The Church's position on abortion is crystal clear, and you are welcome to recruit women to follow this creed. The idea that a major, for-profit business can withhold any kind of medical care based on a strictly theological definition of the "moment" of conception? No, not that. In this transaction, the business owner is expected to pay for his employee's medical care. It is part of his salary. This is the law, and it has major tax implications for every business. The scandal is a judge said that a CEO at the end of a for-profit company is not subject to paying for something which his "conscience" makes impossible. There is only one person in this equation who matters: the potential patient, who has her own religious views. If she thinks its morally acceptable to use an IUD or Plan B, then that is what the insurance pays for. Nobody else gets an exemption from their taxes for "moral superirity," but anybody who owns a "closely-held business" can limit the coverage of the woman to what they deem to be theologically acceptable. Now, THAT'S not-so-passive agreession on the rights of others.

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