Gay Alumnus: Acceptance Must Prevail at Notre Dame and in the Catholic Church

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University of Notre Dame

Acceptance is a Catholic value, and one that needs to be lived out by the church. This truth takes on new meaning in the United States after last Tuesday’s election, and the potential damages to human rights that a new president might bring.

But a month before ballots were cast and counted, one gay alumnus from the University of Notre Dame had already issued his call for the University and the church to practice acceptance. Jack Bergen, class of 1977, was motivated by the discrimination that his daughter and her wife, both also Notre Dame grads, experienced because of a Catholic institution.  He wrote in campus newspaper The Observer [a hat tip to Queering the Church blog for alerting us to this essay]:

“The way I practice my faith these days is to believe and act as we were taught growing up: to be honest, treat everyone with respect, show love and compassion especially for those less fortunate and most of all to try to help others build a better community. It is with this strong belief that I desperately would love to see the Catholic Church be so much more inclusive of people like myself, my daughter and her family and the many other Catholics who also happen to be part of the LGBT community as well.”

Bergen’s call happened because he has “personally seen the impact of the current state of intolerance,” as when his gay daughter-in-law lost her job at a Catholic high school. Bergen’s daughter and her wife have left the church, and have taken their daughter with them too, a loss for the church. His call also happened because he is a gay man and a Catholic himself, sharing. He shared a snippet of his own story:

“After about eight years of marriage, I began to suspect that something wasn’t right. After much soul searching, I realized I had to be truthful to myself and my family. . . Fast forward 25 years. I am now married to my husband. . . I also have the privilege of being the national chair of the LGBT Alumni group of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s GALA ND/SMC [Gay and Lesbian Alumni of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College].”

His call for the University, and the church generally, is clear:

“I encourage our school, Notre Dame, as the premier Catholic institution of higher education in the U.S., to use its position of influence to take the lead amongst its Catholic peers and step forward with words, action and deeds to more fully embrace LGBT Catholics. Take Pope Francis’s own vision during this Year of Mercy and become more merciful and inclusive. Embrace his wish for more tolerance and love and move away from the fear and distrust so often taken with the LGBT community.”

Bergen said acceptance must be concrete, and cited former Notre Dame president Fr. Theodore Hesburgh’s promotion of civil rights in the 1960s as evidence it could be done:

“[Hesburgh’s] unabashed vision and drive to push for equality for all humans, regardless of their background or skin color. Like Fr. Ted did in the ’60s, Notre Dame should speak out against the firing of teachers, coaches, even cafeteria workers who lose their jobs in Catholic schools simply because they are gay (it is happening ever day). Notre Dame should encourage greater tolerance and publicly condemn hatred and bias demonstrated by groups who disenfranchise LGBT individuals and seek to pass laws not only limiting rights, but in many cases, removing rights.”

Bergen is not only a concerned alum who wants his granddaughter to graduate from Notre Dame, he is a loving grandfather who seeks for his granddaughter’s “entire family be welcomed into the Catholic Church,” just like, he said, Pope Francis would do.

In uncertain times, when many people are afraid and the future is troubling, hearing such clear and energized calls for love and acceptance is a helpful reminder of our calls to love unconditionally and to be unafraid in seeking justice.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 12, 2016

2 thoughts on “Gay Alumnus: Acceptance Must Prevail at Notre Dame and in the Catholic Church

  1. Wilhelm Wonka November 12, 2016 / 3:29 am

    It angers me so much to hear ever more accounts of LGBT discrimination in the US. And to be told again that LGBT people have to continue pleading for respect and equality from Catholic institutions almost makes me apoplectic. They shouldn’t have to be pleaded with! If they were truly following Christ’s command to love, this would come instinctively to them. Hypocrites!

    Here in the UK, I recently spoke with two priest-friends of mine about this very subject. They belong to a religious community and we meet regularly, with mutual friends, to pray, debate and critique Scripture. I asked the priests whether they would fire any employee of the community who happened to be LGBT and married. Both immediately answered “no”, with emphatic shakes of their heads. (Just as well, since we couldn’t have remained friends otherwise ). I then told them the jobs discrimination that LGBT Catholics were suffering in the US at the hands of Catholic institutions; they were, to say the least, surprised.

    In the UK, anyone who discriminates against an LGBT person in this way is breaking the Law; this goes, too, for any housing authority that denies accommodation to a person because of sexual orientation.

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