Catholic Free Press

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Albright calls for listening; opponents seek to be heard

Posted By January 24, 2013 | 1:20 pm | Lead Story #3
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By Tanya Connor

SHREWSBURY – Madeleine Albright spoke about dialoging with opponents at St. John’s High School Wednesday.
The former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and later Secretary of State addressed students, faculty, and guests as part of the Abdella Center for Ethics Lecture Series. Seven people who protested the school’s invitation to Mrs. Albright held a vigil in the cold outside the school.
An opponent of her talk requested further dialogue and school officials held amiable conversations with protesters.
“We tend to approach…questions with a bias,” Mrs. Albright, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and later Secretary of State, said in her talk. Many people are willing to die or kill for alleged truths based less on research than on hate. Children around the world are taught their leaders must never be criticized.
The search for reliable truth might begin with the Biblical injunction to “be swift to listen, slow to speak,” she said.
“We should use our opinions to start discussions, not end them,” she said.
She contrasted those who have the courage to listen with those who think they know it all and said that, as secretary of state, her responsibility was to defend U.S. positions, but also to listen.
She told students she was not asking them to put down their opinions, but to study the people who most upset them and befriend classmates different from them.
When she finished, she received a standing ovation, then selected students asked her questions.
Asked about respecting other countries’ sovereignty, Mrs. Albright said the United States is dedicated to sovereignty, but some countries do not take their sovereignty as responsibly “as we think we do,” and some are not protecting their people, or are even killing them. She acknowledged that the United States would not like other countries interfering with it and said the issue is complicated.
Before her talk, David Lizotte, dean of students, exchanged friendly conversation with Scott Schaeffer-Duffy, of the St. Francis and Therese Catholic Worker house in Worcester, and four others braving the cold by a school driveway in a vigil against Mrs. Albright’s appearance.
“We support what you do,” Mr. Lizotte said. “I do welcome you guys. I hope you stay warm here.”
Across  the driveway, Suzanne Belote Shanley, co-founder of the Agape Community in Ware, and  Worcester Catholic Philip Maurice held a banner which said, “We repent the sin of violence.”  She told The Catholic Free Press she had a friendly conversation with headmaster Michael W. Welch, and was to meet with him later.
Yesterday Mr. Welch told The Catholic Free Press his conversation with Mrs. Shanley was private.
Mrs. Shanley and other peace activists had written Mr. Welch letters, which were also sent to The Catholic Free Press, expressing concern about Mrs. Albright speaking at a Catholic school.
In her letter, Mrs. Shanley praised the school for its vision to sustain the values of a faith-based education. She said Mrs. Albright “presided over the U.S.-led United Nations sanctions against Iraq, resulting in what former Attorney General Ramsey Clark described as a ‘war crime,’” and hundreds of thousands of children died.
“Many Catholic peacemakers consider the war in Iraq…as did Pope John Paul II as ‘illegal, immoral and unjust,’” she wrote. “We would welcome the opportunity to participate in a dialogue with the Secretary. … Civil discourse and listening should not be a means of obfuscating tenets of Catholic Social Teaching … ”
She told The Catholic Free Press Mrs. Albright also took a “very out-there pro-choice, pro-abortion position,” and asked, “What was faith-based about the invitation?”
She said this was not an attack on St. John’s or Mrs. Albright, but that the students should hear both sides of an issue so they can think more critically.
In an email to The Catholic Free Press Mr. Welch said: “The Abdella Center for Ethics is sponsored by Saint John’s High School. Madeleine Albright spoke at this annual forum specifically and solely on the topic of ‘Courage to Listen … Maintaining civility in discourse, discussion and decision-making in the years ahead.’ Her message of the importance of listening and learning about others was well received by those in attendance.”
He said the center is one of many programs which focuses on morals and faith, and the school promotes Catholic social teaching.
“This talk did not promote or put forth policies from any political administration, but spoke directly to the topic,” he said.
Among protesters outside the talk was LaSalette Father John Sullivan, who said he came in from their shrine in Attleboro. Asked if the vigil accomplished what he wanted, he said vigilers were limited in not being able to get closer to the people going in.
“We did try to pray,” he said. “We did hold the sign about the evil of war, the sin of violence.”
He said he hoped Mrs. Shanley can speak to students; she and her husband, Brayton, have spoken at the shrine, are gifted speakers and are committed to non-violence.
Before Mrs. Albright’s talk, Mr. Welch told listeners that, as with all things at St. John’s, they began with prayer, which “reflects our utter dependence on God and our longing for peace.”