CAMPUS CHRONICLES: LGBTQ Resources Expand at University of Notre Dame & Elsewhere

September 14, 2013

Classes are underway at over two hundred Catholic colleges and universities in the US, and with the new academic year comes expanded awareness of and resources for LGBT students at these schools, including celebrated developments at the University of Notre Dame.

Already, leading Catholic schools like Georgetown University, DePaul University, and Loyola Marymount University host LGBT resources and programming led by full-time staff, reports USA Today. Many others allow gay-straight alliances and other supportive student-run initiatives, especially colleges rooted in the Jesuit tradition. New Ways Ministry lists more than half of the US’ Catholic colleges and universities on their Gay-Friendly listing, and Catholic campuses become better on LGBT issues every year.

Staff members point out that merely allowing a resource center or student group is not an end though, given the Catholic context they work within, and tensions remain that require greater resolution. Several staff people spoke with USA Today on this matter, saying:

“Although Georgetown’s center has the largest endowment of any LGBTQ resource center in the country, director Sivagami Subbaraman says the programming’s legitimacy in a Catholic university is constantly questioned…

“Since moving into her new position, Maureen Doyle is still determining what her role will be as Notre Dame’s first assistant director of LGBTQ concerns. She plans to improve perceived tensions between Catholic teachings and sexual orientation through campus education.

” ‘I think a lot of it comes in with a misunderstanding of what the Catholic Church’s teachings are…What we’re doing actually doesn’t counter or go against any of the Catholic Church’s teachings. ‘

“Georgetown’s center aims to meet students where they are, rather than take theological positions or attempt to change Catholic teachings, Subbaraman says.”

At Notre Dame last week, over 140 students celebrated the launch of a new student group, PrismND, that was the culminating product of two decades of campus advocacy regarding a group for LGBTQ students. This fall will be a formative time for the group, and is a first step in implementing the University’s pastoral plan released in December 2012. Students and staff spoke with the campus newspaper, The Observer, about the group’s name and launch:

“Student body president Alex Coccia [who led the 4 to 5 Movement for an LGBTQ group] said…

“The fact that [the name] reflects quite a spectrum and a range of interests and passions and identities, I think is something that people will identify with and appreciate when the group gets off the ground’…

“Sophomore Connor Hayes, who helped to launch PrismND, said the name is intended to be all-inclusive, instead of specific to people who identify as LGBTQ.

“ ‘I think relating to the Catholic identity of [Notre Dame] and backgrounds of people coming from religious environments, [some] people don’t really want to identify as gay or lesbian, so … we were just going for a name that was very inclusive…We wanted this name to be one that can last and kind of become a brand.’ “

Christine Caron Gebhardt who heads up the University’s Gender Relations Center told The Observer:

“We realize this is about who we are as a community, and [PrismND is] one facet in which students can feel welcomed and loved and supported on this campus and that we will all work together to try to create the community that Notre Dame can be and I hope will be…“We want the student organization … to emerge from the ideas and the interests and the hopes and dreams of the students in collaboration with all of us across campus.’ “

Elsewhere this summer, members of the University of San Francisco’s LGBTQ Caucus joined in San Franciso’s Pride festivities with t-shirts sponsored by several campus departments (USF is a Jesuit school). In a piece discussing Christian higher education in Pennsylvania, that state’s Catholic colleges such as Villanova University, St. Joseph’s University, and Chestnut Hill College were depicted as  LGBT-friendly Christian campuses for not specifically targeting same-gender relationships in their student handbooks. Benedictine College in Kansas welcomed an openly gay student who was a star athlete, as well.

All of these moments are signs that Catholic higher education increasingly welcomes all students for who they are as God created them. However, challenges remain within Catholic higher education for LGBT students and their allies who will spend another semester this fall meeting with administrators, organizing students, and support one another on more hostile Catholic campuses. As the new academic year begins, it is a fitting moment to offer thanksgiving for advances made, prayers for those still needed, and a renewal by every Catholic to impact Catholic higher education in LGBT-positive ways.

For more information on PrismND, you can view their website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed.

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholics Leave Over LGBT Issues, As Bishops Redouble Anti-Equality Work

July 2, 2013

Archbishop Charles Chaput denies Communion to parish activists

A new poll conducted at a Philadelphia-area parish by Villanova University’s Center for the Study of Church Management reveals that LGBT issues are rising in prominence as a reason Catholics leave the Church. Yet, at the same time, members of the hierarchy double-down on their efforts to oppose equality for sexual minorities.

The survey asked 189 non-practicing and former Catholics about their reasons for leaving, producing instructive results for Catholic bishops and clergy struggling to retain parishioners. Scandals around sexual abuse and mishandling of cases was the primary reason, at about seventeen percent of respondents, but this does not reveal current trends. NewsWorks interviewed the poll’s director, Charles Zech of Villanova University, who said:

” ‘People who are going to leave the church over the scandal and the church’s handling of it have already left. So people leaving the church today are leaving for other reasons…A growing reason we found out was the church’s attitude toward homosexuals and gay marriage. A lot of younger people object to the church’s teaching on that.’ “

Catholic support of LGBT rights, especially for equal marriage, is well-documented, but there is little hard data on what the practical implications of this split between Catholics in the pews and their anti-gay leaders. This study suggests not only are the bishops’ policies against marriage equality and LGBT rights harming the directly affected communities, but have wider implications which undermine parish communities. Most leaving do not quit organized religion, but transfer to Protestant communities.

As this new polling is released, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference is preparing anew to oppose anti-discrimination legislation that would include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. Pennsylvania is the sole northeast state without LGBT protections written into law on such things as employment and housing, and equality advocates are hoping to change this legislation. NewsWorks reports that representatives of the Conference base their objections in a fear that the Catholic Church would be forced to contradict its beliefs in social services, hospitals, and other institutions.

The Villanova parish study, which will not be made public, names both local issues as well as problems with the Vatican and US bishops as reasons for leaving the Catholic church. Polling director Zech believes local changes, like improved liturgies, could stem the losses. Many troubles are occurring in Philadelphia over parish-based issues, like closures and clustering, that even lead to protests at an immigration Mass recently–and saw Archbishop Charles Chaput deny Communion to three people.

Philadelphia Catholic leadership could withdraw their opposition to simple anti-discrimination legislation that protects the rights of LGBT people to their jobs, homes, and public services. Protecting the dignity of every person, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, is well-rooted in the Catholic tradition and it is why so many Catholics support equality. It is time to focus on creating welcoming communities and building up strong parishes, instead of opposing anti-discrimination laws and denying Communion.   The new polling data show that the bishops’ current course on LGBT issues is a losing proposition.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Why Aren’t the Bishops More Persuasive?

November 29, 2012

Commonweal magazine’s November 23, 2012 issue has an excellent article entitled “Morbid Symptoms–The Catholic Right’s False Nostalgia,” by Eugene McCarraher, an associate professor of humanities at Villanova University.

In the article, McCarraher reviews four books by conservative Catholics and analyzes their ideology.  It’s an excellent survey of the faults in conservative Catholic thinking, and I recommend reading it in its entirety.

One passage caught my eye in particular.  In the section of the article devoted to reviewing Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s book, A People of Hope:  Archbishop Timothy Dolan in Conversation with John L. Allen, Jr. , McCarraher makes the following observation:

“The galling truth is that many American Catholics—perhaps a majority—do not fully share the bishops’ view of what constitutes the fulfillment of human nature. They do not believe that same-sex intercourse and the use of contraceptives are “unnatural,” and therefore do not see gay marriage or contraceptive coverage as threats to religious liberty.

“Of course many laity are dissenting from the magisterium, and doing so in part because the bishops’ credibility has been so drastically diminished. We all know why; there’s no need to belabor the sexual-abuse scandal with its record of episcopal obfuscation and self-pity, or before that the damage done by Humanae vitae. Although Dolan acknowledges the disenchantment in the pews, he’s clearly impatient with the subject. Bishops, he tells John L. Allen Jr., have to ‘get over this sense of being gun-shy’ in the wake of all the revelations. Conceding that he and his colleagues must speak with ‘graciousness, and a sense of contrition,’ he adds that ‘we have to mean it.’ But do they really mean it? The impression of many attentive Catholics is that they’d rather pound the crosier on the floor. Dolan himself insists on ‘the uniquely normative value of the magisterium of the bishops,’ as though that ‘value’ remains self-evident.

There are excellent reasons to find the bishops’ recent dudgeon unconvincing. Over the past decade, we’ve witnessed plenty of outrages to human dignity in this country: the official legitimation of torture and assassination; the prosecution of a war condemned by not one but two popes; the growing attacks on governmental support and compassion for the destitute, often under cover of ‘subsidiarity.’ The bishops’ responses to these outrages have been muted at best. Why so little prophetic ardor to battle these iniquities? Why no ‘fortnights for dignity’ to rally the faithful against state-sponsored violence abroad? Or haven’t the bishops noticed that the United States has been at war for the better part of the past twenty years?

McCarraher’s analysis is spot on.  To extend it to the realm of LGBT issues, I would add that if the bishops spoke up more about some of the real world issues concerning LGBT people–bullying, discrimination, violence, alienation from religious institutions–they would be more respected and persuasive.

For example, they have been shamefully silent on the issue of the anti-homosexual bill which has been discussed in Uganda’s parliament for several years now, and which could be passed into law as early as next week.  This bill would impose the death penalty for certain lesbian and gay people, and harsh penalties for even the slightest acknowledgement of one’s homosexuality.  Why don’t the bishops see this as a pro-life issue and speak as forcefully against this bill as they do about abortion?

Cardinal Dolan’s advice to bishops to just entrench themselves more firmly in bunkers of isolation from the real world is a dead end.

The bishops’ insistence on such a narrow agenda of items and their unwillingness to speak out when LGBT human rights are trampled upon will continue to make them non-credible authorities long after the sex abuse crisis is a dim memory.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


QUOTE TO NOTE: Marriage Equality is a Pro-Life Issue; Censorship

February 21, 2012

Sometimes the relevant part of a news story is simply a single quotation or two.  When that’s the case, we will share those quotes with you through this feature, “QUOTE TO NOTE.”

MARRIAGE EQUALITY IS A PRO-LIFE ISSUE

A Washington Post article entitled “Maryland House almost didn’t pass gay marriage bill” recounts the story of how the challenges the bill faced as it came down to the final vote.  A quote from one of the Republican Delegates who voted for the bill shows that support came from many different political perspectives:

“Friday’s tally would have fallen short without at least one Republican vote as well. After weeks of outreach, O’Malley got two: Robert A. Costa of Anne Arundel County and A. Wade Kach of Baltimore County.

“Kach told his colleagues that in January he had been certain he would vote against the bill. It wasn’t until a hearing a week before the vote that he changed his mind, after testimony from gay couples with children.

“ ‘As a pro-life Republican, I believe it’s my responsibility to make sure children are taken care of,’ he said. ‘I left that hearing a changed person.’ ”

CENSORSHIP

A Philadelphia Inquirer article, “Curtains at Villanova for gay performance artist,” reports that Villanova University, an Augustinian school, has cancelled a week-long workshop by renowned performance artist, Tim Miller. In response, Miller lamented the restraints on freedom of expression:

“While the cancellation was not ‘unimaginable’, he noted that Villanova once staged Angels in America, the groundbreaking, Pulitzer Prize-winning play about the AIDS epidemic.

” ‘Times have changed,’ he said. ‘We’re in a much more coercive, censorious time.’ “

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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