‘This university has lost the understanding of what it means to be Catholic,’ student leader says
Gonzaga University, a Jesuit Catholic institution, refused to allow a pro-life event by the campus Zags for Life group.
Zags for Life wanted to host Catholic pro-life speaker Liz Wheeler with assistance from Young America’s Foundation, but the campus ministry office denied the request.
Grant Habersetzer, a student and board member of Gonzaga’s pro-life club Zags for Life, told The College Fix that he was notified the event was canceled by an email from Director of Mission and Ministry Luke Lavin. The ministry director said he was “unaware” that the group was working with YAF on the event, according to an email reviewed by The Fix.
Habersetzer already had received approval from the Center for Student Involvement, which typically oversees clubs on campus. However, the campus ministry office has claimed oversight of the pro-life group.
“I sent multiple e-mails with no response,” Habersetzer told The Fix. “I tried to visit [Lavin’s] office, but was not given a meeting. It got to the point that I was calling his office every hour to try to get a response, but with no answer.”
Lavin eventually told the group that he was canceling the event due to “some of the ambiguity around the requests around advisor change and club status.”
Since the club is determined by the university to be a religious club, it falls under the scope of Mission and Ministry at Gonzaga. As a result, this office can withhold funds that the pro-life club had fundraised, Habersetzer told The Fix.
Exactly who was in charge of funding was made clear in Lavin’s email: “I am not comfortable approving this request…for funding.”
This is not the first time Zags for Life has been shut down or prevented from hosting pro-life events by the administration.
Since last year, the administration has continuously shut down Zags for Life tabling events — sometimes even canceling without notifying the club, according to Habersetzer.
Campus ministry canceled the club’s tabling events because they did “not want to rattle students and let students feeling unsettled during the long weekend given the nature of the topic,” the Zags for Life leader told The Fix.
As a result of previous push back from the university, Habersetzer was not surprised that the university canceled the event, but was surprised at “the political gymnastics they had to perform to justify canceling the event.”
Young America’s Foundation said it was not surprised by the news.
“Young America’s Foundation is disappointed but not surprised that Gonzaga University administrators are doing everything they can to prevent a pro-life campus lecture from happening,” spokesman Nick Baker told The Fix.
While YAF said Gonzaga has the legal power to cancel club events, “they should make clear to students during the admissions process that the university values neither diversity of thought nor the teachings of the Catholic Church,” Baker said.
Habersetzer also agreed that Gonzaga has the power to cancel club events, but only if the event is not aligned with the mission of the university.
Rather than support pro-life events that follow the Catholic mission of the university, Gonzaga has supported Planned Parenthood and supplied contraception.
“They promote the LGBTQ+ agenda in Masses, and…in fall of 2020 they hosted a ‘paranormal investigator’ who hosted a demonstration of a ‘Spirit Box’ to communicate with spirits, which is an occult practice, and clearly opposed to the Catholic mission,” Habersetzer told The College Fix.
The event drew condemnation and a call to prayer from the Diocese of Spokane seminary located on Gonzaga’s campus.
The club leadership has decided to break from campus ministry and create a new secular club.
Even though Zags for Life “will no longer have access to thousands of dollars that the club has fundraised over the last few years.”
“At this point we feel it is better to start from scratch with the club, because as it stands now even with the funds that we have, our events are being suppressed by the university,” Habersetzer said.
“It has been made clear to me at this point that the university and by extension the mission and ministry office is more concerned with pushing leftist ideology that they are with spreading the truth of the Gospel, or even Catholic social teaching,” Habersetzer said. “This university has lost the understanding of what it means to be Catholic.”
The Fix emailed the mission and ministry office as well as Gonzaga’s media team for comment twice in the past week but did not receive a response. The Fix asked why the event was canceled and if Zags for Life can host pro-life events in the future.