“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

 

 

Reviewing Fr. James Martin’s “Building a Bridge,” Part I

Fr. James Martin’s new book on LGBT issues, Building a Bridge, has created quite a buzz in the Catholic Church.  It is currently the #1 bestseller in the category of Gender & Sexuality in Religious Studies category on Amazon.com.  The book is based on an address Martin gave upon receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award last fall. With the current buzz has come many reviews, three of which Bondings 2.0 will feature this week.

Today’s post engages theologian David Cloutier’s review in Commonweal. His piece is titled “The Ignatian Option,” a reference to Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option” that proposed opponents of LGBT equality begin to remove themselves from the secular world as equal rights expand.

Cloutier applauded Martin as someone who has “consistently sought to convey the riches of Catholic Christianity in both a style and a language that is as accessible as possible in a pluralist, post-Christian culture.” In doing so, Martin “does not sacrifice sophistication in aiming at accessibility.” About Building a Bridge specifically, Cloutier commented:

“Lest this approach be taken as a mere plea for more civility, Martin insists that the greater end is that each group will actually get to know the other. ‘You can’t be sensitive to the LGBT community if you only issue documents about them, preach about them, or tweet about them, without knowing them,’ he writes. Similarly, Martin insists on prayer from the LGBT community for the bishops. His book is not meant to outline where the conversation might go but to set the necessary conditions for a conversation. This seems a reasonable initial goal of ‘accompaniment,’ allowing for an ecclesial practice that is faithful to the church’s basic claim that gays and lesbians are ‘always our children’—and always children of God.”

David Cloutier

Cloutier also named three ways by which, in his words, the bridge was “shaky.” First, he disagrees with “Martin’s initial characterization of the LGBT community as a ‘group,'” given the problems which arise in generalizing discussions and the differing issues facing transgender people. Cloutier continued:

“This overly tidy solution about naming leads to the second concern, which is whether this book is written for a socio-political context that no longer exists. At times, I imagined myself reading Building a Bridge in the early 1990s, when as a young Catholic at a very secular liberal arts college, I was learning to negotiate (hopefully with respect, compassion, and sensitivity!) LGBT issues for the first time. But on this issue, the early 1990s seem like ancient history. The idea of generous bridge-building is more difficult when anti-discrimination lawsuits lurk in the wings. Moreover, Catholics have observed decades of church-dividing strife among Protestant churches unable to make this sort of a bridge work, and Martin never hints at why Catholic bridge-building won’t end up in the same place.”

Finally, Cloutier criticized Martin for not forthrightly addressing sexual ethics, writing:

“[H]e elides the fact that the issue at the core of the LGBT community is the challenge to church teaching. I presume this omission of the question of sex is intentional, but there is a sense of ‘let’s pretend’ that seems bothersome. . .Proponents of both sides might point out that the core problem is not how to bring together a marginalized group and an awkward church leadership. It’s really about two clashing views on the fundamental truths of justice and love. Each side has core beliefs about what these claims should mean, and we need to confront why those claims are at odds.”

Cloutier, who trends conservative, called for a conversation on the bridge that would involve chastity and involuntary celibacy, to “come to discern it as a potential gift, rather than an obvious curse.” Interestingly, he wondered whether church leaders should ‘come out,’ but do so only towards the end of “communicating the possibilities of holiness in following the path of Christ” because of their celibate state. He concluded:

“Again, [the clash between Catholics] is no different from what Catholics should expect from tough conversations on issues like economics and the environment: there is a clash of fundamental moral visions that must be engaged. If we’re going to have a conversation, we might not start with that clash. But any bridge is going to have to cross these troubled waters at some point. And perhaps then we’ll see if we need a new St. Ignatius or a new St. Benedict.”

You can read coverage of lesbian Catholic author Eve Tushnet’s review by clicking here. To read Bondings 2.0’s full coverage about Fr. James Martin’s involvement on LGBT issues, click here.   You can order Fr. Martin’s book by clicking here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 3, 2017

Related Articles

Publisher’s Weekly, In New Book, Priest Urges Church to Welcome LGBTQ Catholics

Religion News Service, “The necessity of LGBT bridge-building

QUOTE TO NOTE: Stop Church Teachings that Kill, Says Sr. Margaret Farley

Mercy Sr. Margaret Farley, the theological ethicist who wrote Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, said the church has “not gone far enough” on gender equality because “we still hear the cries of women, through the centuries and today.”

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Sister Margaret Farley

Farley’s comments are readily applicable to the movement for LGBT equality, too. After receiving the Catholic Theological Society of America’s (CTSA) Ann O’Hara Graff Memorial Award earlier this month, she told the gathered women theologians:

“Ideas oppress and repress. . .When the church’s secondary teachings cause sickness and death, there is something wrong with that teaching. . .Just as cultural practices may have been fine until they kill people, so the church’s teachings may have been fine, even harmless, until they kill people.”

Farley’s scholarship has greatly advanced efforts to expose and transform oppressive church teachings on sexuality and gender. For her efforts, Farley was censured by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2012.

I wrote on Bondings 2.0 in April that, even more than ten years after her book was first published, Just Love is still a radical text that challenges Catholics to reorient our church’s teachings and practices on sexuality towards justice. At CTSA’s 2017 meeting, Sr. Farley has once again spoke with precision and prophetic clarity about how Catholic theology can, should, and must serve better the people of God.

You can read a full report on Sr. Farley’s reception of the CTSA award at the National Catholic Reporter by clicking here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 20, 2017

 

 

 

Displacement, Solidarity, Home: Reflections from the Symposium

Today’s post is from Alfred Pang, a doctoral candidate in Theology and Education at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, who offers a reflection based on his experiences at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium this past April.

solidarity20hands201000x560“What has been your experience growing up as an LGBT person?” This question was posed to participants at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium during the “Youth, Young Adult Ministry and LGBT Questions focus session led by Dr. Michael Maher. The purpose of his question was to draw out generational differences in perception around being an LGBT person in the U.S.

Being Singaporean Chinese, I was naturally confounded by such a question premised on a cultural and political history which I did not share growing up. The following thoughts fleeted through my mind: What should I share? Where do I find my place at this conversation table? How will my voice be received?

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Alfred Pang

I was also wrestling with a deeper question: When and where did my personal history as a Catholic gay man begin? On the one hand, in coming out more publicly in Boston, I experienced a rebirth of myself. On the other hand, within this space of liberal American Catholicism that has been instrumental in helping me integrate my faith and sexuality, I found myself confronted by a felt-sense of displacement both ethnically and nationally.

Remaining with the weight of my intersectional identities, I finally spoke, “I come from Singapore, and my earliest image of a gay man while I was growing up had been a Caucasian white man. I grew up in a culture of silence around my sexuality as a way to preserve family harmony, which is a value for me. I do not identify fully with the particular history of sexual minorities in the U.S.,  but I also find myself not knowing a lot about the collective experience of LGBT persons in my country, Singapore.”

It was this sense of being an international/cultural ‘other’ that led me to my next symposium focus session, this one led by Dr. Elsie Miranda on “Hispanic Catholic Culture and LGBT Issues.” Dr. Miranda made a point which resonated immediately with me: coming out to our gender and sexual identities is a privilege. I understand this to mean that the conditions allowing for the public visibility of LGBT people are not possible for all in all cultural contexts. This is due to the complexity of gender and sexuality intersecting with race, culture, class, religion, and nationality , all of which can oppress and privilege at the same time.

This complexity was attested to in Dr. Frank Mugisha’s keynote address on the final day of the symposium. Carrying a gentle presence, Dr. Mugisha, a Ugandan gay Catholic and an LGBT rights advocate, spoke firmly and plainly against the anti-gay laws in his country. He criticized, too, the complicity of some African Catholic bishops in criminalizing homosexuality.  Mugisha had highlighted the cultural differences of gay people in the U.S. and Uganda when he wrote in a The New York Times  op-ed essay“The right to marry whom we love is far from our minds. Across Africa, the ‘gay rights’ we are fighting for are more stark — the right to life itself.”

Dr. Mugisha has consistently criticized the extreme religious rhetoric around sexuality American Evangelical Christians export to Africa. Mugisha noted that homophobia, not homosexuality, is the Western import in Africa, and that this fear is realized in violent preaching against same-gender relations.

Dr. Mugisha’s testimony illustrated the intricacy of intersectionality in the struggle for LGBT rights as human rights. Yet, our ability to transform situations for justice is not hampered by these complexities. Listening to Dr. Mugisha reminded me of what education theorist Paulo Freire once wrote: “We are transformative beings and not beings for accommodation.”[1]

Dr. Mugisha’s story connected me back to the situation in Singapore, where sex between consenting adult men is still criminalized under Section 377A of the Penal Code. Although this law is not strictly enforced, it stands as a sign of conditional tolerance for LGBT persons. The threat of imprisonment is real, which in turn feeds their invisibility as a community. Listening to the daunting and risky work of Dr. Mugisha has made me recognize the privilege of being ‘out’ here publicly and freely in Boston. Such privilege is not owed to me, but built on the backs of people who, across time and place, have put their lives on the line to speak the truth of our sexual lives as integral to the one humanity created in God’s loving image and likeness.

Where does this leave me as a gay Catholic Singaporean living in the U.S.? Standing in the borderland of the local and global, I wrestle to find a sense of home. Yet, perhaps this sense of homelessness is part of witnessing to global solidarity.  As Richard Giannone writes in his memoir Hidden: Reflections on Gay Life, AIDS, and Spiritual Desire, “Home – come to think of it – is never stationary. Home gathers together breathing spaces and temporary havens on the horizon for me to tiptoe toward or lunge beyond to the peaceful Zion of the heart.”[2]

“What has been your experience growing up as an LGBT person?” This question lingers on, and the witness of Dr. Mugisha has helped me make sense of the displacement with which I wrestled throughout the symposium. I hear in this question now the challenge of standing in global solidarity with my LGBT siblings-in-Christ. It seems to me that in my felt-sense of dislocation both ethnically and nationally, I am also invited to remain at the periphery of the local and global, at the cross-cultural borderland of intersectional identities.

Ultimately, I have been challenged to let go of the “border controls” around my heart that make it difficult for me to be at home with myself and others in the world.

The symposium, whose title included the phrase “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss” reminded me that this kiss happens when I embrace God’s unconditional love, widening the geography of my heart, stretching its contours to keep receiving and walking with my LGBT siblings-in-Christ as a pilgrim church. Justice and mercy shall meet in our global advocacy for LGBT rights, in the perseverance to seek that most fundamentally human right to life. Where justice and mercy shall meet is in the hope that recognizes the fierce grasp of God’s love that never lets us go, a sheltering presence in which we find a home.

Alfred Pang, June 10, 2017

[1] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Heart, trans. Donaldo Macedo and Alexandre Olivera (New York: Continuum, 1998), 36.

[2] Richard Giannone, Hidden: Reflections on Gay Life, AIDS, and Spiritual Desire (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012), 168.

QUOTE TO NOTE: Trans Catholic ‘Clings to Faith’ As Church Guidance is Absent

Earlier this spring, Commonweal magazine featured a pair of articles on gender identity, titled “The Church and Transgender Identity: Some Cautions, Some Possibilities.” You can read Bondings 2.0’s coverage of theologian David Cloutier’s piece here and theologian Luke Timothy Johnson’s piece here.

istock-499902638_0In response, a transgender person, who remained anonymous, wrote a powerful letter to the editor about their experiences with the church. “Anonymous” explained:

“I was a transgender child raised in a very religious Catholic family. . .the price of living ‘in the closet’ has been high: hundreds of hours of psychotherapy and spiritual direction, a lifetime of eating disorders and psychological suffering, and very little experience of deep, fulfilling friendships. When interacting with people, I am guarded, not myself. I feel as if I’m putting on an act, to spare other people from having to ‘freak out,’ as the people in my pre-school did.”

Still, the letter’s author has no clear answers about what the church or society should do with transgender children. The author only knows that their identity was “inborn” and nothing could change it. The letter concluded:

“Over the years I have longed for better guidance from the church. Nowhere does the vast literature of Catholic spirituality ask how a transgender person can lead a Christian life. All I can do is cling to the faith that, if the Creator made the kind of universe in which transgender people are possible, then the God ‘who wills everyone to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth’ must have a plan even for me. I just wish I knew what it is.”

Letters like this one clearly indicate how much the church must improves its pastoral care for trans Catholics and their families. To read the full letter from  “Anonymous” in Commonweal, click here.

To read the latest updates on transgender Catholic issues, see Bondings 2.0’s “Transgender” category in the right-hand column or click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 28, 2017

In Community, We are Nourished for the Journey

One of my highlights at New Ways Ministry’s Symposium last month was encountering blog readers, some of whom I knew and others whom I met for the first time. I love the community that has developed around the blog, and it is this community that sustains Bondings 2.0 in a multitude of ways!

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Attendees at the Symposium’s Closing Mass

Twice a year, Frank and I turn to you for financial support. We cannot provide high quality content about Catholic LGBT issues each and every day without your generosity. We need your support to keep this critical conversation on LGBT issues in the church going.

Click here to show your support for this community and keep it growing!

I was humbled at the Symposium to hear from so many of you about how the blog has been a helpful and nourishing resource these past five and a half years. This positive feedback (and your comments and emails throughout the year) in turn nourishes Frank and me when writing posts each day becomes tiring. I want to share with you a few testimonies we have received from readers:

“Bondings 2.0 has become a critical tool in keeping abreast of LGBT issues and a motivator for redress and affirmative change.”

“Thank you for providing a safe space for civil dialogue that is informative, insightful and inspiring.”

“Bondings 2.0 and all of the New Ways team have been a great blessing in my life. You are the sunshine at dawn and the rain on dry fields.”

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Symposium attendees, including fired church worker Colleen Simon, share their stories at table discussions

Click here to sustain Bondings 2.0 with your donation of $5, $10, or more as you are able!

However you support the blog—a financial contribution, sharing it with friends, leaving a comment—Frank and I are deeply grateful. Happy 5 ½ years to our companions on this journey towards LGBT equality!

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 28, 2017

Fr. Bryan Massingale to LGBT Catholics: “Refuse to Be Silenced. Continue to Speak Our Truth.”

“We ain’t what we oughta be. We ain’t what we want to be. We ain’t what we gonna be. But, thank God, we ain’t what we was.”

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Fr. Bryan Massingale

Fr. Bryan Massingale began his talk on “Pope Francis, Social Ethics, and LGBT People” with these words of an unknown Black preacher, which were often quoted by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Massingale, a theologian at Fordham University, New York, addressed participants at New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium, and asked them this key question:

“What does it mean to be an LGBT Catholic in an age of Pope Francis?”

The National Catholic Reporter offered further details on his talk:

“Those who came to the Chicago symposium brought with them both ‘hope and frustration,’ Massingale said: hope that more understanding and acceptance of gays and lesbians was on its way into the church and frustration because that time has not yet arrived.

“The priest, who left Marquette last year to teach theology at Fordham University, pointed to a new tone in the church toward gays, a tone he characterized as ‘cautious, tentative, tense, at times ambiguous and contradictory, and yet nevertheless real.'”

Massingale affirmed that beneath the rhetorical shifts, there is genuine doctrinal development happening. Church officials’ “hesitant, resistant and even hostile stance” to LGBT rights comes from their fear that legal protections would lead to approval of sexual behavior they deem immoral. Their deeper fear is the impact such acceptance would have on youth. NCR reported:

“The situation leaves the church in an often contradictory corridor or ‘open closet,’ Massingale said, one in which gays ‘are to be accepted sensitively and compassionately, as long as there is little or no public acknowledgment of their sexual identity, “lifestyle” or “culture.”‘. . .

“Massingale, a priest of the Milwaukee archdiocese, shared a note he had received in 2002 from Rembert Weakland, who earlier that year had resigned as archbishop of Milwaukee after a man he’d had an affair with two decades earlier and he had paid to $450,000 to keep it quiet made the relationship public. Weakland wrote: ‘On the gay issue, the level of fears is so high that the official teaching of the church skates so very close to the edge of a new ‘theology of contempt.'”

Biden - Human DignityAgainst the “open closet” and Magisterium’s troubled approach to lesbian and gay people, Massingale said Pope Francis was focusing on LGBT people’s personhood, not their sexual conduct.  Massingale added his own commentary, saying, “[LGBT people] are equally redeemed by Christ and radically loved by God.”

As an ethicist, Massingale affirmed the right LGBT people have to participate fully in society in and the church, and the necessity for the Magisterium to extend its existing support for human rights to include LGBT communities:

“To insist on private acceptance and compassion for LGBT persons – that is, saying “I love the sinner” – without a commitment to defending LGBT human rights and creating a society of equal justice for all, is not only contradictory; it is inherently incomprehensible and ultimately unsustainable.”

A vibrant question and answer period followed Massingale’s address, during which he shared a story from his own life. After the U.S. bishops released “Always Our Children,” he called his mother. She asked Massingale for his thoughts on the document, and he replied by asking her what she thought, as it was addressed to her. She answered quickly, “I don’t need permission to love my child.”

Massingale closed with a powerful call for LGBT Catholics and their families to keep working for equality:

“Refuse the refusal. Refuse to be silenced. Continue to speak our truth even when we know it’s not going to be welcome.”

Fr. Massingale has himself been increasingly outspoken for LGBT inclusion and human rights. While at Marquette University, he celebrated monthly Masses for members of the LGBTQ communities on campus because, he says, it is important they “have a Mass where they feel welcome and that God does love them.” He challenged Pax Christi USA members at their 2013 annual conference to increase the organization’s defense of LGBT rights, as both a human rights concern and a necessary part of attracting younger Catholics. Massingale also joined other Catholic theologians and officials in condemning proposed anti-gay legislation in Uganda. Most recently, he has said the church cannot abandon transgender Catholics.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 24, 2017