CAMPUS CHRONICLES: The Catholic University of America Rejects LGBTQ Student Group

December 14, 2012

429985_363436760354988_1880879171_n (2)The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. rejected a proposed LGBTQ student organization last week less than a day after the University of Notre Dame released its comprehensive pastoral plan to address student concerns over sexual orientation on campus.

CUAllies, the unofficial organization that received the denial in a private meeting with University President John Garvey, released a statement that read, in part:

“CUAllies aims to foster a safe, welcoming, and affirming outlet to students that identify as LGBTQ in the particular Catholic setting of the University. The proposal submitted a new vision, tone, and willingness to fully embrace Catholic identity, while supporting a marginalized community, and has hosted speakers, service projects, and prayer vigils in its unofficial position. The group undoubtedly brought those who identify as LGBT to a place where they could participate in the Catholic faith.”

Administrators cited fears  that CUAllies could instead become an “advocacy” organization contradicting Catholic teaching, surprising student leaders who conscientiously demonstrated the pastoral and personal nature of the organization since its inception in 2011.

Former Director of CUAllies, Ryan Fecteau was quoted in a National Catholic Reporter  story, describing the faith-oriented perspective that CUAllies members hold:

“If any university in the United States should understand and act to ensure that people participate in Catholicism and feel comfortable doing so, it should be The Catholic University of America. In essence, yesterday, Catholic University denied CUAllies and LGBT students communion. They said to us that we are not valued enough to participate in this community of faith…We have worked on this for nine long months…This denial is not only coming from the University that we love; it also comes from the Church that we cherish and contribute to.

“I am hopeful that students who identify as LGBT will feel not only feel welcomed as a students, but as a participants in God’s love through our Catholic Church. This means every facet at CUA must take a proactive approach towards fostering such a community…”

Student leadership of CUAllies expects to continue the pastoral dialogues, social events, service projects, and prayer opportunities in its continued unofficial capacity next semester. According to Fecteau,  Garvey said more discussion on LGBT issues on campus is needed. There is speculation that student government will host a campus-wide referendum over the matter as well.

New Ways Ministry staff member, Robert Shine, who is also a 2012 theology alumus from The Catholic University of America noted in the CUAllies press statement how the school’s decision diminishes not only LGBT students’ faith, but the life of the campus:

“In my daily experience supporting LGBT-positive efforts on Catholic campuses, I am inspired by the sacrificial love and integration of faith and sexuality that students express where campuses focus on inclusion. My alma mater’s persistent rejection of my friends and peers falls gravely short of Christ’s witness that abundant love always trumps doctrine. This decision rejects pastoral considerations for political gamesmanship, but more importantly the University and the Catholic Church lose out on the necessary and life-giving contributions made by LGBT students, faculty, staff, and administrators.”

Now, Friends of CUAllies, an organization formed to support LGBTQ efforts at CUA, is campaigning with a simple pledge to:

“Support LGBTQ students by fostering a safe and welcoming campus at The Catholic University of America, so that the dignity and goodness of each person as made in God’s image is unquestionably affirmed.”

If you want to nourish, support, and sustain this important student-driven mission, please sign the pledge here and visit Friends of CUAllies’ website here for further information and involvement

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

For New Ways Ministry’s listing of gay-friendly Catholic colleges and universities, visitnewwaysministry.org/gfc.

For further information on New Ways Ministry’s efforts in Catholic higher education and to get involved, contact youngadults@newwaysministry.org.


Movement Toward Equality on Two Catholic Campuses

May 4, 2012

Some movement occurred this week on getting gay-straight alliances recognized on two of the nation’s premier Catholic campuses: University of Notre Dame (UND) and Catholic University of America (CUA).

At UND in South Bend, Indiana, the campus administration announced that it would postpone a decision about official recognition for AllianceND until the fall semester.  According to an article in the student newspaper, The Observer :

“Director of Student Activities for Programming Peggy Hnatusko sent an email to the co-presidents of AllianceND, the gay-straight alliance that applied for club status, notifying them of the deferral.

“ ‘The University intends to review the breadth of structures and services currently provided to LGBTQ students and their allies by the University in the hopes of making the best decisions possible to support our students and the University community, all within the context of Catholic teaching,’  she stated in the email. ‘I will review AllianceND’s application in the course of those discussions.’

“In her 15 years as director, Hnatusko said this is the first year she has deferred a decision about a club’s status.

“ ‘I just wanted a little bit more time to look at the proposal, look at what the University offered,’ she said. ‘There has been a lot going on and I wanted to give everyone the fairest chance possible.’ “

Bondings 2.0 was able to get reaction to the deferral decision from Alex Coccia, a UND sophomore who is a co-president of AllianceND:

“I am encouraged because the dialogue surrounding the GSA and inclusion generally has become much more honest and open.  The commitment to a broader examination, I believe, reflects the student voices that have been expressed in the last week and over the whole semester.  All of the students must be very proud of the work that they have done.
“We have begun to collect personal testimonials that are reflections on personal experiences as well as reactions about the events of the past week.  We hope that this collection of testimonials, as well as the voices that have been expressed in the last week, will be the guiding influences for the ultimate decision regarding the GSA.  We also encourage that students start the conversation in their own hometowns with friends and alumni/ae.
“In the past two days, faculty and alumni have written in support, and over 2000 students have signed a commitment statement to inclusion.
“Students will certainly be involved in the conversation directly with Student Activities when the fall semester begins and throughout the summer. “
On CUA’s campus in Washington, DC, the campus community has been celebrating the school’s 125th anniversary.  Two leaders from CUAllies, the gay-straight alliance seeking official recognition, took the occasion to publicly reflect in the student newspaper on the campus’ approach to LGBT issues.
In op-ed piece entitled “Reaffirming CUA’s Mission at 125 Years,” students Robert Shine and Ryan Fecteau recount the many achievements the campus has witnessed, but also note a glaring omission:

“At present, this campus does not present a safe, welcoming, and affirming environment for LGBTQ students and their allies. There is hostility de jure in the policies (or lack thereof) of the University and de facto in the opinions and actions of many at this University concerning gay and lesbian community members.

“Now, members are seeking to change that in the finest of the Catholic tradition that celebrates dignity and justice. CUAllies, the unofficial LGBTQ/Ally student organization, has a proposal for official recognition in the Office of Campus Activities that has gone unanswered for months now.

“We must look forward as a University to the type of community we wish to establish for the future. In the tradition of Jesus’ table ministry, we must invite all members of The Catholic University of America community who wish to join the conversation and respond effectively.

“To quote a submission CUAllies received from a student on campus: ‘Love, simply love; above all else, love. That is what Christ instructed us to do…I cannot consciously tell someone that they have no place in the Church and have nothing to contribute to the community. If CUAllies were to be rejected as an organization, the University would essentially be doing just that. They would refuse to recognize a group of persons, with inherent dignity, to formally assemble as an organization and therefore effectively conclude that these people have nothing to contribute to the CUA community as an organization.’

“Reading the signs of our times, cognizant of the historical moment in which we participate in the University’s life, we now echo the voices of hundreds in calling for the recognition of CUAllies, by the administration.

“If we are to go forward in improving CUA, we must ensure that the community represents and values each person, according to his or her divinely granted dignity.”

The faith and persistence of these Catholic students on both campuses offers bright hope for the future of the acceptance of LGBT issues within Catholic institutions.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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