But Sheridan has also faced a different sort of criticism from some faculty members and internet-based groups and blogs, who have questioned his commitment to ensuring a faithfully Catholic approach to university education.
Much of the criticism stems from an incident in January, in which a professor used a text with inflammatory passages – termed blasphemous and obscene by critics – for an advanced reading course. At the time, Sheridan said that while the text was “scandalous and extremely offensive” he did not believe the professor who assigned it had any “malicious” intent, though he did replace him as the head of the English department.
In a letter apologizing to those disturbed by the text’s use, Sheridan highlighted the importance of forming students “to do battle against the blasphemy and heresy rife in our culture today.”
“Is anyone here perfect?” Sheridan later asked in a Jan. 14 homily. “No. Do people here make mistakes? Yes. But our particular Franciscan charism is rooted in ongoing conversion. That we resolve to continue to do better every day.”
Sheridan, a theologian and canon lawyer, is a published expert on Ex corde ecclesiae, the 1990 apostolic constitution of St. John Paul II on Catholic universities. Under Sheridan, Franciscan University hosted a series of symposia to mark the constitution’s twenty-fifth anniversary.
A friend of Sheridan told CNA that the aggressive and personal vitriol leveled against him by some blogs had taken a toll.
“Fr. Sean decided he needed a change in the light of all the criticism of him and the university,” he said. “He found the coverage to be pretty distasteful, and it was clearly taking a toll on him personally, and on the university community.”
One professor at Franciscan told CNA that the communion among the university’s faculty had suffered under the sustained criticism.
“Fr. Sheridan really couldn’t be a better example of humble leadership, devoted to the faith and the community here.”
“I wonder if this decision isn’t a final example of that humility,” the faculty member said, while describing it as a “devastating decision” nonetheless.
The professor praised Sheridan’s commitment to strengthening the Catholic identity and academic rigor of the university.
(Story continues below)
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Friends of Sheridan also note that in 2018 Franciscan University enrolled its largest ever freshman class, and registered a balanced annual budget – both stated aims of the university administration.
“It takes mature, creative teamwork to achieve that kind of success, and that is what will be hard to replace,” one close friend of Sheridan said.
The same friend noted that Sheridan’s religious community will be holding elections in July.
“Fr. Sean is a young man who can teach, preach, and lead with holiness and humility – that’s a rare combination. I am sure that an order with world-wide reach will soon find a new role for him.”
Sheridan himself said he feels “called to continue my service to the Catholic Church in another capacity to be determined in consultation with our TOR minister provincial.”
“The sincerity and seriousness Franciscan students have for the faith will continue to inspire me, and I am especially thankful for the ministry and witness of the friars. In my years in higher education, as student, faculty member, and researcher of Ex corde Ecclesiae and the Code of Canon Law, I have not encountered members of a university community so committed to pursuing their beliefs.”