Pell secretary tells students to question teachers

Cardinal George Pell's private secretary has told Catholic students that they should stand up to lecturers whose views and course content is contrary to the teaching of the Church.

Dr Michael Casey, a sociologist and convenor of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Australia, said that students today "find that in many of their classes the views and opinions, or even the content of the course, is opposed to the teachings of the Church".

He made his remarks in an interview for the latest issue of Sentinel, the publication of the Australian Catholic Students Association.

"When a position is taken granted, as it often is in the academic world, it usually means it has not been deeply thought-out and considered," he said. "This gives people with dissenting views who are willing to think deeply and to reflect carefully an advantage."

But Dr Casey insisted that, as a matter of intellectual integrity, it is important for Catholics to take the views of other people seriously, especially when they disagree with them.

"This means that we should take strongest version of the argument in support of a position you disagree with, and marshall arguments not against soft targets but against the strongest point of defence," he said.

Dr Casey cautioned against emotive responses.

"You can have an intellectual and academic discussion but what may be really driving a person in this discussion is not the arguments or ideas, but personal burdens and emotions. Sensitivity is required here."

He pointed to the problem of academic assignments, with fears that students may be penalised for taking issue with what has been taught in class.

"It is unethical for academics to penalise students simply because they disagree with a well articulated and well thought-out moral position presented to them," he said.

However Dr Casey stressed that students have the right to follow their conscience.

"No one should be compelled to go against their conscience to fulfill academic requirements. There was an instance in Canada where an outstanding medical student was denied his degree because he was pro-life and refused to take part in a unit that would have violated his pro-life beliefs."

Interview: Dr. Michael Casey (Sentinel, Issue 2 2006)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Australian Catholic Students Association
Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Australia

22 Mar 2006