“Land O’Lakes” Statement Paved Way for LGBT Welcome in Catholic Higher Ed

It was fifty years ago this weekend when Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, president of the University of Notre Dame, welcomed 25 other educators to reflect on how Vatican II should be received in Catholic higher education. The resulting “Land O’Lakes” statement  greatly altered the trajectory of church-affiliated schools, and it very likely paved the way for LGBT inclusion in these institutions.

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Fr. Hesburgh (left) walking with students

To begin, a bit of history. The prestigious group Hesburgh gathered included university presidents, church leaders, and a handful of laymen. They were some of the best Catholic minds in North America, though by today’s standards they were limited in diversity (for instance, in the previous sentence”laymen” is actually an accurate description, not a sexist slip). Catholic historian David J. O’Brien explained:

“For the university presidents attending Land O’Lakes, a primary aim was to affirm their universities’ Catholic identity in ways that would satisfy Rome while achieving their goal of academic excellence. . .These competent academics in turn insisted on academic freedom and shared responsibility for academic policy. . .For the new generation of vigorous, optimistic presidents who led the major institutions, the time had come to modernize governance, finances and administration, and to reform relations with Church authorities in order to achieve academic respectability and influence. Vatican II gave the reformers what they needed from the Church. The ecumenical council boldly affirmed the autonomy of the human sciences, the primacy of conscience in religious matters, the need for ecumenical dialogue with non-Catholics and the importance of lay participation and leadership in church and society.”

By 1967, Catholic higher education had for the most part accepted academic freedom and other standards followed by secular universities. Given some church leaders’ desire for control, conflicts with schools were inevitable, but those gathered at this meeting affirmed Catholic campuses as places of inquiry and education. Here are a few points I would emphasize from the statement:

  • In the Preamble, the group’s secretary Neil G. McCluskey, S.J. affirmed the need to welcome non-Catholics and “those of other views” because they “bring rich contributions from their own various traditions”;
  • Given the importance of theology, there is a “double obligation” at Catholic universities to preserve academic excellence according to contemporary standards, including academic freedom, in this field;
  • Theologians are exhorted to pay specific attention to “all human relations and the elaboration of a Christian anthropology,” and to be in conversation with other disciplines;
  • Catholic universities serve the church as a source of objective reflection on “all aspects and all activities of the Church”;
  • Undergraduate education should prepare students to confront the “actual world” and therefore there are “no boundaries and no barriers. . .no outlawed books or subjects” in intellectual pursuits”;
  • Universities should also be concerned with students’ flourishing as fully developed human beings.

The question I want to look at here is how the statement and its wisdom have come to impact LGBT issues in Catholic higher education institutions, which have become the vanguard for how the church can be more supportive and inclusive of LGBT people. I make the three following points.

First, inspired by Vatican II’s openness to the modern world, “Land O’Lakes” opened Catholic universities to all types of diversity in their communities. This openness has come to include a welcome to LGBT students, faculty (including theologians), staff, and alumni. New Ways Ministry’s LGBT-friendly Catholic colleges and universities listing, available here, attests to how widespread that welcome has become. This openness now increasingly includes an appreciation for the “rich contributions from their own various traditions” that LGBT people offer schools.

Second, “Land O’Lakes” shattered boundaries that had constrained Catholic theological exploration because educators firmly defended academic freedom. This claim did not mean it was easily implemented.  In some cases, it erupted into major conflicts.  The saga of Fr. Charles Curran and The Catholic University of America began that same year. But as society grappled with new issues in sexuality and gender, theologians at Catholic universities began to do so as well. The profound re-thinking and reclamation of tradition that has happened in the area of sexuality, including enriched theological anthropologies, continues to be a key foundation of Catholic efforts for LGBT equality in the church. Though not considered to be such by many church leaders, these efforts have been a true service to the people of God.

Third, “Land O’Lakes” desired that undergraduate education  be oriented around human formation that encourages free inquiry in conjunction with service and spirituality. This kind of thinking paved the way for Catholic universities to create formal supports for LGBTQ students. In Jesuit terms,  attention to cura personalis or “care of the whole person” means sexual and gender identities cannot be ignored if church institutions are to truly help form young people. This desire also created space for programming that educates all students on matters of the day, including LGBT issues.

As we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the “Land O’Lakes” statement, the question raised is how Catholic higher education continues to receive Vatican II in the present moment. Since the 1960s, Pope John Paul II released Ex Corde Ecclesia, an apostolic constitution on Catholic higher education that in some ways challenged “Land O’Lakes” ideas.  Even today, new challenges remain unsettled, and the path of LGBT inclusion has not been easy.  But without the Land O’Lakes conference, we would never have been able to have come as far as we have on LGBT issues on Catholic campuses. So on this 50th anniversary weekend, I am grateful for how far we have come and hopeful for what is to come in the next fifty years.

This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right-hand corner of this page.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 22, 2017

 

 

CAMPUS CHRONICLES: University of San Diego Controversy Growing as PRIDE Celebrates 21 Years

University of San Diego

Earlier this month, Bondings 2.0 reported on the University of San Diego’s (USD) decision to withdraw a fellowship invitation to British theologian Tina Beattie, largely speculated to be based on her support for marriage equality. In response, the community at USD is rising to Beattie’s defense and conversations over conscience, marriage equality, and academic freedom are occurring in the USD and wider academic community.

The American Association of University Professors stated  in a letter last week  that USD President Mary Lyons’ decision to disinvite Beattie was troubling. On campus, 170 faculty gathered outside of the main administrative building in protest on the same day the academic assembly voted overwhelmingly in support of Beattie. The assembly formally asked Lyons to reconsider her decision or face a vote of no confidence this week, characterizing it with a sense of importance and urgency. In an interview with National Catholic Reporter, Carlton Floyd, chair of the academic assembly executive committee and associate professor of English , was quoted:

“Floyd also portrayed Lyons’ decision as opposed to allowing a diversity of viewpoints on campus.
‘Diversity is the hallmark of education,’ he said. ‘If you can’t have opposing viewpoints, what exactly are you looking at if you can’t engage in dialog about those matters? What exactly does a university do?’”

Mary Lyon
President, University of San Diego

On Thursday evening students and faculty engaged these very issues in a forum titled, “Authority and Academic Freedom in Catholic Universities,” reported on by USD’s student radio organization. Included in the concerns of many was the connection of the Beattie decision to Vatican-backed conservative organizations linked to powerful financial donors:

“The concerns extended, too, to potential alumni and donor pressure that the panelists thought may have been at the root of this decision. Conservative donors have threatened to rescind funding from the university in the past based on similar events.

“Dr. Watson noted that alumni and donor uproar, especially those represented by the unofficial group Alumni for a Catholic USD, has often been linked to events or speakers in support of same-sex marriage and other issues of homosexuality, although Dr. Beattie was not scheduled to discuss homosexuality in her talks. ‘I fear that religion is being used as a shield for bigotry,’ Dr. Watson said.”

The National Catholic Reporter notes that although Lyons denies such connection, there is evidence that some conservative alumni did try to get Beattie disinvited:

“While Lyons and a university spokeswoman denied that pressure from outside groups had influence on the decision to cancel Beattie’s invitation, McKenna and another San Diego man known for his conservative Catholic viewpoints said in interviews with NCR that they had widely expressed displeasure with Beattie’s appointment.

“Among those they said they contacted were current and former members of the university’s board of trustees, San Diego coadjutor Bishop Cirilo Flores, the editor of the diocesan newspaper, and the Cardinal Newman Society.

“In her statement Monday, Lyons identified Beattie’s signing of an August letter in The Times of London along with 27 others, which said it would be ;perfectly proper’ for Catholics to support civil marriage for same-sex couples as ‘the heart of this matter.’ “

President Lyons’ decision has created an opportunity where many are speaking out about the case and its significance for discussion in the Church. Gerard Mannion, director of the Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture at USD where Beattie was to be a fellow, rejected Lyon’s charges of public dissent stated:

“There’s nothing to dissent from,’ Mannion said. ‘The church doesn’t have binding teaching on civil same-sex partnerships. It has a position and a preference, but it doesn’t actually have a binding teaching. Even were this not the case, the policy on academic freedom should protect her right to sign such a letter, which, after all, urged Catholics to follow their conscience.’”

The chair of Fordham University’s theology department, Terrence Tilley, echoed these sentiments defending the place of Catholic theologians as simultaneous public intellectuals in an interview with National Catholic Reporter:

“’Beattie doesn’t dissent from doctrine,’ said Tilley, who is also the Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Professor of Catholic Theology at Jesuit-run Fordham. ‘[Beattie] has just made a statement about the legitimacy of Catholics voting in favor of civil rights for people who want to marry people of the same sex…But that she has chosen to make a statement regarding politics means that she is not denying or opposing Catholic doctrine.’”

In related news, PRIDE, the University’s LGBT student group, held a fundraiser Saturday to celebrate its 21st anniversary on campus and the milestones it has attending including LGBTQ coursework, the inclusion of ‘sexual orientation’ in the nondiscrimination policies, and programming to create a welcoming campus.

These two events, contrasting controversy over Tina Beattie in this most recent iteration of culture wars on campus with the successes of PRIDE for over two decades, signify the ongoing challenges Catholic campuses face in maintaining their mission while creating welcoming and affirming communities.

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

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

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