A Dominican Voice in the “New Public Square”
By Br. Joseph Graziano, O.P.
Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., is starting his second term as Dean of the Pontifical Faculty. Though his primary job of keeping the school running is no easy task, his reach is far beyond the four walls of his office. While performing the complex role of dean, essentially combining the work of a provost, vice president of administration, chair of the department, and academic advisor to each student of the PFIC – not to mention polishing his dissertation into his newly published book, Aquinas and the Theology of the Body: The Thomistic Foundations of John Paul II’s Anthropology – Fr. Petri also has an extensive media presence. “In some ways, it happened accidentally; I didn’t go out looking for this,” he says.
Fr. Petri appears on various radio and news programs as the “nice but frank conservative to speak for the Church.” He jokes, “They call me in as a talking head and ask ‘What does the Church say?’” Fr. Petri then has to dispel the commonly held notion that the Church has a position on everything: “The Church doesn’t say anything on this. How do you live your Faith? That’s the most important part.” Behind the scenes, Fr. Petri is also interviewed as a background source for reporters writing articles about the Church. “It seems to me to be a great blessing,” Fr. Petri says, “It is a chance for those of us in the Catholic sphere and in the Dominican Order to be present to the world and to the Catholic world.”
Once, in a question and answer panel, a woman struggling with whether God would forgive her for an abortion she had asked a question. “I don’t remember frankly what I said, but when I got back to the office, there was an email waiting for me, saying she just needed a priest to say she was forgiven. She was liberated in that moment through some random thing that some random priest said at some random conference.”
Among his media appearances are the National Catholic Register, where he’s been interviewed several times by well-respected reporter Edward Pentin; the public radio show Interfaith Voices, where he debated Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson on euthanasia; and EWTN’s Morning Glory radio show, where he often appears as the program’s “Godly counsel” (the hosts’ term for the in-studio priest du jour). He’s also been on PBS’ Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, written an opinion article for the Washington Post, commented on EWTN News Nightly, and appeared on the Fox Business Channel and NewsMax’s The Hardline.
Beyond the mainstream media, Fr. Petri is a prolific tweeter (@PetriOP) with well over 5000 followers. He acknowledges that Twitter can have its challenges: “The problem with Twitter is that it takes twenty tweets to make all the right distinctions.” He insists, however, that priests must be on social media, saying that it is the new public square. “It is clearly being used as a way to exchange ideas, exchange thoughts, to engage in conversation, and the priest should be there because people are there.”