Colby College Reacts to Sr. Jeannine Gramick’s Visit

Sister Jeannine Gramick
Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sr. Jeannine Gramick’s visit to Colby College in Waterville, Maine, last week, prompted criticism from the school’s Catholic chaplain and a larger conversation on LGBT justice for the campus.

According to the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, Sr. Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry and a longtime Catholic advocate for LGBT peopel, was keynoting a weeklong Pride celebration on campus by talking about “Signs of Hope for LGBT Ministry” in an event co-sponsored by student organizations, interfaith groups, and the Religious Studies department. Yet, Colby’s Newman Center chaplain had a negative reaction to the visit. Julianna Haubner, co-editor of campus’ newspaper The Colby Echo,  reported what happened when she attended Easter Sunday Mass  at the Newman Center:

“It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon. Until, that is, the last three minutes of the service, when the campus minster and priest announced that this week was Pride Week, and that Sister Jeannine Gramick, a controversial figure, was slated to be the Keynote speaker. They reminded us that Sister Gramick did not speak for the Church, and that if we wanted to hear about the Catholic perspective on ‘same-sex attraction,’ we could meet in the Pugh Center for an event with the Newman Council; I find it only mildly ironic that this was said immediately after another announcement that thanked students for coming, and informed them that the campus ministry was always available for support and guidance in our individual spiritual journeys and relationships with God. A couple of students looked around with discomfort. Another walked out. All I could think was: you were so close. So close to having one Mass that didn’t get political. But, there it was, and here I am.”

In the campus newspaper essay, Haubner, who identifies as an active Catholic, believes the campus minister’s negative comments will alienate students, an experience she herself had:

“I was not taught to discriminate, neither by my parents nor by the people in my congregation…I have a really hard time believing that someone who went up on a cross for three days to suffer and die for us would be okay with someone standing in his name, denouncing others who may have come to pay tribute to that sacrifice. But that’s just me…

“For a split second this Sunday, I thought that even after an hour of praying, singing and receiving communion, I didn’t belong in that chapel because I didn’t agree with one statement that lasted less than a minute. And when I got home, what did I tell my roommates—and later my parents? Not about the nice feeling of being back in church, of having a friend come with me, or of finally feeling connected again to the faith I’ve been raised in; I bitched for 10 minutes about how they had been so close, and blew it.”

Haubner is also concerned that Colby community members are being given a false impression of most Catholics as anti-gay. She cites anti-Catholic Church comments on the campus’  electronic discussion board as evidence of this impression. Haubner asked Colby students to separate how they view other Catholics, or even the Church, from ther comments of campus minister Joshua Houde and chaplain Fr. Paul Marquis.

Haubner was not the only voice joining an emerging conversation at Colby after Sr. Gramick’s visit. In a letter included in the campus’ daily opinion email digest, one student wrote about merging Catholic and gay identities:

“Ever since coming out, I have had a lot of trouble being part of a religion that has spent so much time and money lobbying against my right to love. Despite such internal conflict, I decided to attend Easter Day service at the chapel…before the end of service, both of you, Joshua Houde and Fr. Paul Marquis, decided to take some time to tell everyone not to go to the upcoming pride week keynote speaker, Sister Jeannine Gramick.

“I wish I could repeat exactly what was said, but I was filled with such rage and profound hurt that I could barely control myself while walking out…Fr. Marquis reminding us that the church has ‘forbidden’ Sister Jeannine from speaking publicly regarding Catholicism. Forbidden. Silenced. Censored. Simply because she is talking about something the church lectures on weekly: love…I am struggling to understand why you use your positions of power to openly tell an audience of students, professors, and community members not to attend a lecture simply because it conflicts with your own perception of our religion. Acceptance and inclusion are core values of the church, and the longer you hold out against accepting this, the harder it will be for me and many others to regain respect for our church.”
In an email to Sr. Gramick, Sonya Hagemeier and Emily Schusterbauer, the two students who organized her visit, told her that they are trying “to create an open forum to discuss this issue” at Colby College and are excited by the emerging conversations. Instead of following the priest’s advice to avoid Sr. Gramick and a discussion of LGBT issues, these college students are seeking to create good from a negative moment. That is a hopeful sign for the Church.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

On Restrictive Employment Policies: ‘Catholics have to stand up to this.’

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s controversial new loyalty oath for Catholic school teachers which requires that they do not express “public support for a homosexual lifestyle,” among other things, has been receiving opposition recently, and has been the subject of scrutiny of several labor and education professionals.

Some of the Cincinnati protesters.

Over 100 Catholic protesters took to the street in front of the archdiocese’s chancery when they delivered 24,000 signatures on a petition which called on Archbishop Dennis Schnurr to re-write the teachers’ contract without the objectionable clauses.

Parents, teachers, and parishioners were among the protestors.  WCPO-TV quoted one teacher who is also a parent of a gay man:

“Molly Shumate says she has been a teacher at a Catholic elementary school in Hamilton County for 14 years. She has a gay son and refused to sign a contract that says she’s can’t publicly support a homosexual lifestyle.

” ‘I would never initial next to a statement saying that I will not support my son who in my eyes my God made perfectly. I will not do that,’ Shumate said.”

WLWT-TV further quoted Shumate about her decision not to sign the contract:

“The main reason I will not sign this contract is my son is gay, and the day he came out to me, the world was lifted off of his shoulder as well as mine, and it was at that moment that I said to myself I will never hide who he is, be embarrassed of who he is and at that point I said I’m going to use this opportunity to make a difference.”

The Human Rights Campaign joined in the protest by sending a letter to Archbishop Schnurr, from which WKRC-TV quoted the following:

“Dozens of LGBT teachers, who have committed their life’s work to their Catholic faith, have already lost their jobs in schools across the country.  HRC calls on Archbishop Schnurr to remove this anti-LGBT police from Cincinnati Catholic schools and ensure that LGBT Catholics no longer have to choose between who they are, who they love and what they believe.”

The Diocese of Honolulu, Hawaii, has recently instituted a similar policy to that of Cincinnati.

The National Catholic Reporter’s Joshua McElwee has reported on the growing trend in U.S. Catholic dioceses of making teaching contracts more explicit about what types of ideas teachers can support.  One expert quoted notes that the new, stricter policies “are effectively an end-run around legislation protecting employees from discrimination in the workplace.”   Leslie Griffin, the William S. Boyd Professor of Law at the University of  Nevada, Las Vegas, stated:

“It’s about churches trying to do everything they can to avoid the anti-discrimination laws, because they don’t want to be held to gender equality, sexual orientation equality, racial equality or equal pay. . . . They want to do their best to get outside all of these laws.”

Rita Schwartz

Rita Schwartz, president of the National Association of Catholic School Teachers, a labor union for Catholic educators, worries too about other implications of these new policies which seem to try to solidify the ministerial role of a teacher:

“When dioceses start to call their employees ministers, I look at that as a way for a diocese to tell an employee, ‘Well, you’re a minister, you can’t unionize.’

“If that’s what they’re aiming to do, I have serious issue with that.”

Though diocesan officials state that teaching is a ministerial activity, Schwartz doesn’t disagree totally with that notion.  Where she differs is in the detailed, explicit listing of all the things that a teacher cannot support.  For instance, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati morality section expanded from two pages to six.  McElwee reported on her position:

“While she said she understood the need for a morality clause in Catholic teachers’ contracts –‘I don’t think you can be a Catholic school teacher without one,’ she said — the organizer called the Cincinnati contract ‘six pages of “thou shalt not.” “

” ‘There’s no reason for that,’ she said. ‘There’s got to be a happy medium here.’ “

McElwee’s reporting expands on these themes with interesting details and perspectives.  For those who want more information about the complexities of these employment situations, I recommend you read his entire article by clicking here.  He closes with a plea from Schwartz for greater organizing on the part of Catholic teachers:

“Most Catholic teachers, she said, ‘have no job security, have no due process. They just work at the pleasure of the employer.’

” ‘They need to stop doing that,’ she said. ‘They need to organize themselves into an association, they need to petition for recognize and collective bargaining. That’s the only way that they’re going to have a say over the conditions under which they work. And the sooner they do it, the better.’

“Griffin suggested that teachers consider consulting with lawyers if they have to sign contracts defining them as ministers. Particularly, she said, those teachers might consider trying to insert language into their contracts that specify that while they are ministers, they still claim their rights to sue for workplace discrimination.

“Ultimately, said Griffin, ‘Catholics have to stand up to this.’

” ‘The laws won’t change unless people start seeing it more from the employee perspective,’ she said.”

New Ways Ministry has been encouraging Catholics to adopt employment non-discrimination policies for their church institutions.  To find out how to begin the process of implementing one, click here.  New Ways Ministry has also supported DignityUSA’s call to write letters to church leaders protesting restrictive employment policies.  All three efforts can have an impact on our church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related Article:

Cincinnati.com: Marchers seek change to Catholic teacher contract

 

 

Papal Canonizations, Part 3: More Questions than Answers

Pope Francis canonized Popes John XXII and John Paul II yesterday, formally acknowledging them as saints. In the weeks leading to yesterday’s six minute ceremony, questions have been furiously debated online, in print, and in person about what these canonizations mean for the Church today, how Pope Francis is viewing this event, and, most contentiously of all, whether one or both popes are indeed worthy of sainthood.

On Saturday, Bondings 2.0 covered the positive impact John XXIII had in calling for Vatican II and setting the conditions for greater openness in the Church, which you can read here. On Sunday, we covered the tremendous harm done to LGBT people and their loved ones under John Paul II’s 27-year papacy, which you can read about here. Today, we highlight some of the commentaries swirling around and, while not directly addressing LGBT topics, these articles are raising questions which impact our common efforts for a more inclusive, just church today.

Joshua McElwee’s reporting from Rome for the National Catholic Reporter notes that Pope Francis “wrapped up” the last 56 years of church history through the canonizations, but that “the implications of the saintings…are not so clear.” McElwee writes further:

“While the Vatican has sought this week to tie the popes together by their work shepherding the church through the 20th century — framing them as two bookends of church modernization and reform — Catholics in many parts of the world see John as the man who started that reform, but John Paul as the one who harnessed or even rolled parts of it back…

“Now that [Pope Francis] has sainted the man who opened the council and the man who over 27 years most shaped its reforms, how will he continue to direct its influence over the church?

“That answer may come most clearly during October’s meeting of bishops, which is expected to discuss a number of sometimes controversial subjects — including the question of communion for divorced and remarried persons.

“In other words, while Francis was able to wrap together 56 years in just six minutes Sunday it will likely be many years before we know the full impact of the council — and of the man now leading its continuing reforms.”

Also at NCR, Isabella Moyer wonders what Pope Francis actually thinks of these canonizations, and Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese states his belief that canonizing popes is a “dumb idea,” which makes those saints already in heaven have a good laugh. He writes further:

“I fear that the people pushing hardest for the canonization of a pope want him made a saint so he can be presented as the ideal pope that future popes should imitate. It is more about church politics than sanctity.

“Making a pope a saint is a way of strengthening his legacy, making it more difficult for future popes to change policies that he put in place. ‘How can you dare to change what St. Whoever established?’ …

Thirty years from now, another pope will preside over another double canonization, that for Blessed Benedict XVI and Blessed Francis I (yes, there will be a Francis II). I will not be around to be a party pooper, but if I am in heaven, I promise to organize a party for all these popes who, I am sure, will get a good laugh out of it.”

Fr. Reese is not the only person questioning the canonizations. US Catholic posted an article which called this process a “rush to sainthood,” and Emily Reimer-Barry of the the blog Catholic Moral Theology explores whether the canonization of saints is still relevant.

Finally, John Gehring of Faith in Public Life and Kim Daniels, formerly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, penned a piece together about these canonizations being a moment to bridge divides in the Church. They write:

“When Pope Francis canonizes Popes John Paul II and John XXIII on Sunday in St. Peter’s Basilica, he will do more than honor the lives of towering figures that brought unique gifts to the Catholic church and the world. He will also send a powerful message of unity. By simultaneously declaring as saints these two men so often deployed as symbols for competing Catholic camps, Pope Francis is reminding us that the Gospel leaves no room for ideology…

“As the world watches the Catholic church with new eyes, we must strive for something better than internecine battles and gotcha rhetoric. Pope Francis is challenging us to build “a church of encounter” that goes to the margins where people are hurting and broken. A divided church will not meet that transcendent mission.”

What do these canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II mean for you? How do they impact the bridge building done by LGBT advocates worldwide to foster understanding about sexual orientation and gender identity? What impact will canonizing a pope who opened the doors to LGBT people indirectly and a pope who tried hard to close them mean for Pope Francis today? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Papal Canonizations, Part 2: Pope John Paul II’s Record on LGBT Issues

Today is canonization day for two recent popes:  John XXIII and John Paul II.  In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that Catholics who support LGBT equality are somewhat mixed in their emotion today because while John XXIII opened the way for a discussion of justice in the church, John Paul II instituted a number of developments that were detrimental to LGBT people.   Yesterday, I reviewed John XXIII’s record, and today I will will look at John Paul II’s record.  Tomorrow, this blog will review some of the recent commentary written recently about the influence these two men have had on the church and the world.

Pope John Paul II

There are many memorable things that will distinguish John Paul II’s papacy:  the downfall of the Soviet Union, the assassination attempt on his life and his moving forgiveness of his would-be assassin, his many and varied travels to all corners of the world.

Unfortunately, John Paul will also be remembered as the pope who instituted a number of developments that were negative and unduly harsh towards LGBT people.  Through numerous measures, messages, and actions, this pope tried to hold back the burgeoning LGBT justice and liberation movement that was initiated because of the reforms John XXIII instituted in the church.  I will mention only a few major highlights.

To begin with, John Paul oversaw and authorized the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 1986 Letter to the Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons which introduced a number of harmful principles and concepts.  For example, this document:

–introduced the term “objective disorder” to describe a homosexual orientation.  Immediately this term caused much confusion because it sounds as though the Vatican is calling homosexuality a psychological or medical problem, when, in fact, the term is used strictly in a philosophical sense.

–described homosexual activity as “intrinsic moral evil.”

–claimed that Church teaching transcends scientific knowledge: “The Church is thus in a position to learn from scientific discovery but also to transcend the horizons of science and to be confident that her more global vision does greater justice to the rich reality of the human person in his spiritual and physical dimensions, created by God and heir, by grace, to eternal life.”

–while condemning violence against lesbian/gay people, the document also blamed supporters of gay/lesbian rights for that violence, and claims that such violence can be understood and rationalized:

“when [pro-gay] civil legislations is introduced to protect behaviour to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase.”

–blamed gay/lesbian people for the HIV/AIDS crisis, and labels their advocates as dangerous to public health:  “Even when the practice of homosexuality may seriously threaten the lives and well-being of a large number of people, its advocates remain undeterred and refuse to consider the magnitude of the risks involved.”

–warned bishops not to allow Church facilities to be used by groups that do not subscribe to the church’s teaching on sexual activity: “All support should be withdrawn from any organizations which seek to undermine the teaching of the Church. . . . Special attention should be given to the practice of scheduling religious services and to the use of Church buildings by these groups. . .”

In 1992, John Paul II’s Vatican issued Some Considerations Concerning the Catholic Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons.  Sent privately to the bishops, the document became public when New Ways Ministry, after receiving a copy of the text from an anonymous source, released it to the press.  The Washington Post carried the first story on July 17, 1992.     This document:

–instructed bishops to be more circumspect in their support of civil rights legislation for lesbian/gay people: “Such initiatives, even where they seem more directed toward support of basic civil rights than condonement of homosexual activity or a homosexual lifestyle, may in fact have a negative impact on the family and society.”

–instructed bishops that discrimination is not unjust “in the placement of children for adoption or foster care, in employment of teacher or athletic coaches, and in military recruitment.”

–compared restricting the rights of lesbian/gay people with restricting the rights of “contagious or mentally ill persons, in order to protect the common good.”

In August 2003, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with approval from John Paul II, issued Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual PersonsThis document reiterates the Vatican’s opposition to same-sex marriage.  Among its main points:

–Heterosexual marriage would be devalued by same-sex marriage: “Legal recognition of homosexual unions would obscure certain basic moral values and cause a devaluation of the institution of marriage.”

–Permitting adoption of children by same-sex couples “would actually mean doing violence to these children…” by harming their development.

–Catholic law-makers (and all Catholics) have a moral obligation to oppose same-sex unions:

“…where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty.”  . . . .

“If it is true that all Catholics are obliged to oppose the legal recognition of homosexual unions, Catholic politicians are obliged to do so in a particular way.”

Many Catholics saw statements like these as designed to roll-back the movement in the church which was working for greater acceptance and inclusion of LGBT people.  These efforts did not succeed.  The Catholic movement for LGBT equality is stronger than it ever was.

Clearly, John Paul II had a major blind spot when it came to LGBT people.  Some may view this fault as something evil, but I tend to look at it as a mark and reminder of the imperfect humanity that we all share.  We all have blind spots.  We all need to be educated better on a variety of issues.  While some may disagree him his canonization, for a number of reasons, I think this occasion can help to remind us that, even with our flaws, we are still all capable of sainthood.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

Papal Canonizations, Part 1: Pope John XXIII’s Influence on LGBT Equality

On Sunday, April 27th, two recent popes, John XXIII and John Paul II, will be canonized as saints in the Catholic Church.  For many Catholics who support LGBT issues, this double canonization is an occasion of mixed emotions. Though many are happy with the canonization of John XXIII, their joy is tempered by the fact that John Paul II, who was responsible for instituting many anti-LGBT policies and teachings, is being similarly honored.

Pope John XXIII

Today, I’ll review the contribution of John XXIII on LGBT issues in the church. Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at John Paul II’s influence on these matters.  On Monday, we will provide a review of some of the wealth of commentary written recently about these two men.

John XXIII’s greatest achievement in his papacy was convening the Second Vatican Council, which opened up a new era of theological reform in the Church.  Most importantly, for LGBT issues, the theological reform included an important development in the Church’s sexual teaching.  Theologian Lisa Fullam recently offered a succinct description of Vatican II’s development of sexual theology in her essay, “Civil Same-Sex Marriage: A Catholic Affirmation.”  Fullam states:

“The Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes identified two ends of marriage: the procreation and education of children, and the intimate union of husband and wife through which ‘they experience the meaning of their oneness and attain to it with growing perfection day by day.’ (GS 48) Gaudium et Spes eliminated the long-held idea that procreation was seen as the primary end of marriage while the union of the partners was deemed secondary or instrumental to that primary end. The Council insisted that  ‘[m]arriage to be sure is not instituted solely for procreation’ (GS 50). Instead, it ‘maintains its value and indissolubility, even when despite the often intense desire of the couple, offspring are lacking’ (GS 50). Departing from most previous teaching in which the procreative end of marriage was elevated over the unitive end, the Council refused to prioritize either. However, the Council insisted that childless marriages are still truly marriages, not some lesser partnership, while no such contrary affirmation is made—loveless but procreative unions are not affirmed (or rejected) as true marriage by the Council.”

By displacing procreation from its position of primacy in sexual theology, and by raising the unitive function to a higher status, Vatican II opened the way for theologians to explore the unitive function more deeeply, which allowed them to consider the moral status of relationships which were not biologically procreative, especially gay and lesbian relationships.  So, John XXIII’s Vatican II  opened the way for a new discussion of sexuality in theology, which paved the way for the growing field of lesbian and gay theology.

Vatican II’s emphasis on justice being a constitutive part of the preaching of the gospel also had an effect on the development of LGBT ministry.  Fullam points out that John XXIII’s emphasis on human rights in his encyclical Pacem in Terris provided a new perspective for Catholics:

“The language of rights, then, is how Catholics take our religiously grounded understanding of the common good out into public discourse. With the humility appropriate to fallible human beings, we seek input from all people of good will as we do so. We don’t seek to legislate the whole moral law, but only those rights and duties by which the flourishing of all people is made possible. Our deep commitment to human dignity and the equality of all human persons is the bedrock on which Catholic teaching grounds its social message.”

John’s writings opened the path a more justice-oriented church.  One other outcome of this pope’s approach was the development following Vatican II of liberation theology, which would eventually be applied to the LGBT experience.

Immediately following Vatican II was when Catholics first started taking the human rights and liberation of LGBT people more seriously.  As this blog stated on October 11, 2012, the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II:

“In one respect,  the movement for LGBT liberation, equality, and justice in the Catholic Church is a direct result of Vatican II.    The Council’s reform of theology, its updating of scriptural interpretations, its openness to scientific knowledge, its invitation for participation by the laity, its clarion call to work for justice in the world and the church–all these things were part of the 1960s Catholic zeitgeist which resulted in a burgeoning movement to be involved with, and work for justice for, LGBT people.

“It’s no accident that both two of the oldest Catholic ministries to LGBT people–Dignity and New Ways Ministry–emerged from this era and as a direct result of priests and religious following the call of Vatican II.  Similarly, it would have been unimaginable that John McNeill’s theological groundbreaking work, The Church and the Homosexual, could have been written before the Council.”

It is no overstatement to say that without John XXIII, the movement in the Church for LGBT equality would have been much delayed and much diminished.  For this contribution of his, and for the many other ways that he ushered in a more compassionate, just, and socially involved church, Catholics who support LGBT equality are rejoicing at his canonization.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Ontario Teachers’ Decision to March in WorldPride Parade Draws Criticism

Catholic educators in Ontario are planning to march in the WorldPride 2014 parade in Toronto, a decision which has drawn criticism from some parents and the local cardinal.

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA), a union which represents teachers in Ontario’s Catholic schools, will participate in the June parade as an act of solidarity with the LGBT community. James Ryan, the union’s president, made clear this action was not a protest and said of the teachers’ involvement:

” ‘It was in support of those members in the community who identity as LGBT, to be free from all forms of hatred and discrimination and that alone is what it is for…Our marching is purely on the basis of support in solidarity for people to be free from discrimination.’ “

OECTA represents 45,000 educators in the province’s Catholic schools which receive public funds. The union released a statement on their website that echoed Ryan’s remarks but was more critical of Catholic institutions, saying further:

“There is no doubt that students and teachers in Catholic schools, like other publicly funded schools in Ontario, face bullying and discrimination that sometimes has fatal consequences. Few in our society would disagree that more must be done to change the culture of our schools in order to allow individuals, without exception, to lead healthy lives free of harassment and prejudice

“OECTA believes that taking the public stand of marching in the WorldPride Parade 2014 will provide comfort and support to our students and teachers who frequently struggle in a hostile environment that does not offer them the support and protection they are owed as citizens of Ontario and Canada.”

In response, a group called Parents As First Educators (PAFE) has been gathering signatures to protest OECTA’s participation in WorldPride events. The petition was launched Easter Monday, directed at the Ontario Catholic school trustees who are asked to use their power against OECTA, according to the Toronto Sun.

Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto also criticized the teachers’ attendance in the parade. Michael O’Loughlin of The Advocate reports the cardinal called the teachers attendance in the parade “wrong” and said “OECTA leadership have an inadequate and mistaken understanding of their faith.”

What Cardinal Collins and other critics seem to miss, but what the teachers clearly understand, is that Catholic schools are not harmed, but thrive when they are fully inclusive of LGBT people.  In previous years, the OECTA voiced their support for gay LGBT issues but never formally participated in an event. When the union’s assembly voted this year to ramp up support for WorldPride and march in the parade,  they did this “in solidarity with one of most marginalized groups in Catholic community” according to their website.

These teachers know firsthand the suffering of students who are LGBT and the hardships of their LGBT peers, like transgender educator Jan Buterman who was fired from a Catholic school last year. Catholics everywhere would do well to learn from the witness of these teachers in Ontario.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Students Question Notre Dame’s Commitment to LGBT Inclusion

University of Notre Dame

For decades, University of Notre Dame students and alumni advocated to implement more inclusive campus policies towards LGBTQ people at the school. Many believed the 2012 pastoral plan, “Beloved Friends and Allies,” was a step forward, but now the University’s commitment is being called into question as a new, constroversial student organization, Students for Child-Oriented Policy (SCOP), has emerged.

The campus debate over SCOP began when the nascent student group launched a petition and hosted two events calling for the University to defend heterosexual marriage more explicitly.

In mid-March, SCOP co-hosted a panel discussion called “Marriage, the Church, and the Common Good.” It featured leading anti-marriage equality speakers, including Jennifer Roback Morse of the Ruth Institute and Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation. In April, the student group held a daylong conference to organize student leaders who oppose LGBT rights in Indiana and again included speakers from institutions such as the Family Research Council and the Ruth Institute.

However, students from both sides of the marriage equality debate have reacted negatively to SCOP’s presence on campus.  These students launched a petition which explainins their nuanced opposition to SCOP.  In essence, they state that they are more against the organization’s attack on LGBT people, especially in terms of parenting, than SCOP’s beliefs about marriage. The petition authors write:

“As a Catholic university, we acknowledge and uphold the church’s teaching that is not in favor of same-sex marriage. However, SCOP does not reject same-sex marriage on moral or religious grounds in their club petition; rather, this petition takes issue with the University’s formal recognition of SCOP as a club due to the following: 1) SCOP’s incorrect implications that same-sex parenting is damaging to children – this blatantly ignores all empirical data in this field of the social sciences (summarized below) that actually indicates the opposite is true. 2) In ignoring this data, SCOP’s policy discriminates against all non-traditional family structures in a way that is in direct opposition of the university policy on diversity inclusion and message of love and acceptance…

By endorsing the SCOP as a club under it’s current specifications the University is sending the message that it is ignorant of the facts surrounding same-sex parenting and that it tolerates discrimination based on sexual orientation, not that we, as a community, embrace all people as created with dignity in the loving image of God.”

PrismND, the LGBT student organization started as part of the University’s pastoral plan, also opposes SCOP, and they released a letter which was published in campus newspaper, The Observer. Concurring with the petition that discussion over marriage is expected at a Catholic college, these students also object to SCOP’s perceived failure to respect the LGBT community.

About SCOP’s April conference, the PrismND letter noted that one speaker, Evangelical Bishop Harry Jackson Jr., commented that being gay is “becoming almost, if I can use the phrase, the flavor of the week.” He concurred with materials from sponsoring organizations that sexual orientation is a choice, one which he views as harmful. The Family Research Council’s materials insinuated that homosexuality is linked to child abuse, mental illness, and substance issues, and advocated reparative therapy, according to PrismND’s letter. PrismND leaders write:

“When the University of Notre Dame released its official statement ‘Beloved Friends and Allies’ more than a year ago…It called for ‘a safe and supportive environment for all members of the Notre Dame community’ and said that ‘the University deplores any offenses against that fundamental human dignity and calls for an abiding spirit of inclusion within the Notre Dame community.’…

“SCOP’s sponsorship of these [anti-gay] views during the conference stands in sharp contrast to the mission of the University and the Catholic Church to provide pastoral care to GLBTQ individuals. We maintain that the inclusion of these positions at the conference by SCOP is harmful to GLBTQ students and Notre Dame’s commitment to them.”

It is worth noting that SCOP’s introduction this spring came at the same time Indiana’s legislature was considering a constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality, and this assuredly will not be the final battle over LGBT rights there.

Having attended a Catholic university where monitoring of speakers limited academic freedom and free expression, I am always wary of any attempt to curtail campus initiatives. At dozens of Catholic colleges in the US, LGBT groups and events are denied recognition because they do not conform to a specific and selective view of Catholic teaching. As a Church and as educators, it seems prudent to move away from linking every speaker, group, and event as an endorsement from the hosting institution. The University should eliminate anything which is overtly violent or hateful, but allow that which is distasteful or even offensive to both sides of a debate. Doing so would enable freer thought from students, which could foster more fruitful and open dialogue overall on a range of issues. And in an open dialogue, PrismND and their allies would defeat opponents of LGBT justice with their ideas. For surely the ideals of love and justice, of human dignity and civil rights, are far more persuasive than those used to defend discrimination and denial.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry