Pilgrimage of Mercy Stressed Reconciliation Between LGBT People and Bishops

Last month’s “Pilgrimage of Mercy,” sponsored by the Gay and Lesbian Alumni Association of Notre Dame and St. Mary College, was a plea for extending mutual mercy between the LGBT community and the institutional Catholic Church.

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Piligrimage organizer Greg Bourke welcomes the participants. (All photos in this post by Glen Bradley/New Ways Ministry)

The march, which began in New York City’s Central Park, paused for a prayer rally at Columbus Circle, and concluded by participating in the Sunday liturgy at St. Paul the Apostle parish, attracted about 50 participants.   Greg Bourke, a gay Notre Dame alumnus who organized the event, explained to The Observer the intention of the program:

” ‘What we wanted to show with this pilgrimage is that being merciful and forgiving is an interactive process,’ Bourke said. ‘We extended our forgiveness and mercy to the Catholic Church, and we ask for those same things in return.’

“Bourke said the rally was meant to be ‘an expression of faithful LGBTQ Catholics.’

” ‘There are many of us, and Pope Francis has started to push that door open for us,’ he said, referring to the statements the pope has made on LGBTQ issues.”

He expressed a similar sentiment to The National Catholic Reporter:

“We are both seeking mercy from our church, and in return we offer mercy and forgiveness to all those in our Church who have not been so gracious to us in the past,” said Bourke.

The idea of LGBT people and the institutional church showing mutual respect to one another was the theme of Jesuit Fr. James Martin’s talk when he accepted New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award last Sunday.  You can read his talk by clicking here.

Bourke also recalled Notre Dame’s legendary president, Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, as an inspiration for the event:

” ‘By supporting the civil rights movement among conservative circles, he [Hesburgh]was ahead of the curve in many ways,’ Bourke said. ‘Now, he is respected and admired for that courage.’

“Bourke said a main theme in the day’s speeches was the need for mutual reconciliation. 

” ‘We all need to give a little and work better at understanding each other,’ he said. ‘We need to find that area we can agree on.’ . . . 

” ‘We need someone willing to take a controversial stand, someone within Catholic leadership and the Catholic community,’ Bourke said. ‘Notre Dame could do that.’ “

The event was modeled on a similar Pilgrimage of Mercy in Louisville, Kentucky, held earlier this year.

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Phil Donahue addresses the pilgrims.

At the New York event, legendary television talk show host Phil Donahue was one of the speakers at the prayer rally.  Other speakers included: Jack Bergen, of the Gay and Lesbian Alumni of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College; Chris Hartman of Catholics for Fairness; Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry executive director; Fr. Warren Hall, an openly priest from the Newark archdiocese who was recently because of his support for LGBT issues; Dave Swinarski, a St. Paul’s parishioner and a leader of their OUT at St.Paul’s LGBT ministry; and Holly Cargill-Cramer and Rosemary Grebin Palms of Fortunate Families.

Legendary television talk show host Phil Donahue was one of the speakers at the prayer rally.  Other speakers included: Jack Bergen, of the Gay and Lesbian Alumni of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College; Chris Hartman of Catholics for Fairness; Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry executive director; Fr. Warren Hall, an openly priest from the Newark archdiocese who was recently because of his support for LGBT issues; Dave Swinarski, a St. Paul’s parishioner and a leader of their OUT at St.Paul’s LGBT ministry; and Holly Cargill-Cramer and Rosemary Grebin Palms of Fortunate Families.

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Francis DeBernardo speaks at rally. Pilgrim Leonard Discenza listens in background.

At the rally, DeBernardo called for greater conversation between bishops and LGBT people:

“This morning, all of us gathered here renew our call to our church, and especially to our church’s leaders, the U.S. bishops, to reject homophobic and transphobic words and deeds of the past, and instead to reach out in a spirit of mercy to LGBT Catholics who are an important but often under-recognized blessing to our Church.  And we ask LGBT Catholics to show mercy to church leaders for past harm, to offer forgiveness and reconciliation to them, just as Jesus offered forgiveness and reconciliation to Peter who denied him three times.

“In this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, we ask the bishops to remember the words of Pope Francis, spoken in a homily soon after his election in 2013, when he said that from Jesus ‘we do not hear the words of scorn, we do not hear words of condemnation, but only words of love, of mercy, which are an invitation to conversation.’  This year of mercy is a time to begin the conversation. It’s a time for both the church’s bishops and LGBT Catholics to sit down together in humble and honest dialogue. May the Spirit of God open minds, hearts, ears, and mouths so that this dialogue can take place with understanding and charity.”

The Pilgrimage was co-sponsored by the following organizations: Catholics for FairnessGLAAD, HRC, New Ways Ministry, Equality Blessed, Dignity/USADignity/New York, Freedom for All Americans, Out At St Paul, Fortunate Families and Believe Out Loud.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 3, 2016

 

Catholicism and the Disappearing Middle Ground on LGBT Rights

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 20, 2016

Is a middle ground on LGBT issues disappearing and, if it is, what does this mean for Catholics? David Gushee of Religion News Service answered the first part of this question affirmatively, writing in a new piece:

“It turns out that you are either for full and unequivocal social and legal equality for LGBT people, or you are against it, and your answer will at some point be revealed. This is true both for individuals and for institutions.

“Neutrality is not an option. Neither is polite half-acceptance. Nor is avoiding the subject. Hide as you might, the issue will come and find you.”

Where most institutions, organizations, and businesses in the United States have accepted LGBT equality, the holdouts are religious communities and those civil communities where conservative Christians have a dominant impact. Churches and affiliated institutions are, Gushee noted, “digging in their heels — even against profound and pained internal opposition from their own dissenters.” He continued:

“These institutions and their leaders are interpreting pressure to reconsider as pressure to succumb to error, or even heresy.

“They are interpreting social changes toward nondiscrimination as mere embrace of sexual libertinism.

“They are attempting to tighten doctrinal statements in order to tamp down dissent or drive out dissenters.

“They are organizing legal defense efforts under the guise of religious liberty, and interpreting their plight as religious persecution.

“They are confident that they have the moral high ground, and from their remaining, shrinking spaces of power they still try to punish those who stray from orthodoxy as they understand it.

Gushee’s description fits well the reality of the Catholic Church in the United States. While the faithful support LGBT civil rights, the bishops’ sustain their opposition. As more and more LGBT church workers are fired, it looks more and more like they are being punished. From the other side, political liberals and some LGBT advocates, there is almost contempt for non-affirming religious communities.

Fr. John Jenkins, CSC, the president of the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, opined on the emerging context of LGBT rights in the U.S. for the Wall Street JournalJenkins commented on the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s recent decision to move its national championships out of North Carolina in response to that state’s HB 2 law targeting LGBT people, and said:

“Heightened respect for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens is a signal moral achievement of our time, and harboring reservations about any retrenchment is natural. Yet some citizens may wonder about the implications of substituting gender identity for biological sex in public restrooms. While attending to the rights and sensibilities of transgender persons, it’s important to also take into account the feelings of those who might be uncomfortable undressing in front of a member of the opposite biological sex.”

Jenkins said that while society “has become inured to public disputes over neuralgic moral and social questions,” universities can foster reflection and discussion:

“At a time when tweets, slogans and sound bites seem to define the substance of our political discourse; when respect for truth seems a casualty of the campaign; and when ideological polarization often hamstrings responsible governing, the nation needs universities to raise the intellectual tone of Americans’ discussions more than ever.”

SocialCommsDay.jpgI see that there is a need for middle ground on two levels: the legal and the ecclesial.

In the legal context, protecting the civil rights of every person requires a careful handling of how such protections interact with religious institutions. Admitting exemptions where necessary can seem like prudent acts. Claims of an attack on religious liberty by the U.S. bishops and other conservatives are overblown, but religious liberty is something worth protecting. Legally, a middle ground seems necessary in a pluralistic society and even vital to healthy democracy. Given the intense complexities of these issues, universities seem like prime sites where intelligent debate and informed discourse could happen.

In the ecclesial context, however, the concept of middle ground becomes more problematic. What does it mean to hold a middle ground in the church? If it means allowing space for people to grapple with church teaching and the signs of the times, receiving pastoral support when needed, then this is the right of every Catholic and it is good. But if middle ground means, in practice, not challenging the prejudices of some believers and allowing extremists to target LGBT church workers or demean same-gender marriages, then it cannot be acceptable.

Unfortunately, Fr. Jenkin’s leadership at Notre Dame undermines his point about universities’ potential contributions. It was only in 2012, after decades of activism by students and alumni, that the University began offering formal support for LGBTQ students. Notre Dame students, however, have questioned the strength of this commitment, and it was reported the University denied housing to a transgender student. Though there have been positive developments, can Catholic colleges and universities like Notre Dame be places of dialogue when LGBT people are left vulnerable to discrimination and violence?

This question seems pertinent to the wider church, too. How can we be a church of dialogue and of encounter when members of the Body of Christ feel unwelcome and even unsafe? When church workers are fired and bishops remain silent after the slaughter of 50 LGBT people in Orlando? Vatican II called the church to dialogue, a defining aspect of the Council and a practice to which we should aspire. But dialogue and understanding, the very essence of middle ground, can only happen when all feel respected, equal, and safe. It might be that middle ground has not disappeared in the Catholic Church on LGBT issues, but that it never existed at all.

TV Talk Show Host Phil Donahue Headlines ‘Pilgrimage of Mercy’ for LGBT Catholics and Supporters

Former television talk show host Phil Donahue will be one of the featured speakers at a  “Pilgrimage of Mercy” sponsored by the Gay and Lesbian Alumni of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s (GALA-ND/SMC) on Sunday, October 2, 2016, 11:00 a.m., beginning in New York City’s Central Park.  The 1.5 mile pilgrimage walk and peaceful rally is a way to for LGBT Catholics and supporters to celebrate the Jubilee Year of Mercy called by Pope Francis.

Phil Donahue

Donahue, who is a 1957 alumnus of the University of Notre Dame and the host of the groundbreaking Phil Donahue Show, will be joined at the rally by Greg Bourke and Michael DeLeon, two of the plaintiffs in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell case which granted marriage equality nationwide; Father Warren Hall, an openly gay priest who has been a strong advocate for LGBT equality and who was sanctioned by his local archbishop for such efforts, Francis DeBernardo, executive direcctor of New Ways Ministry; Joe Vitale, another Obergefell plaintiff; along with several GALA-ND/SMC members and leaders from other Catholic LGBT organizations  (complete list of speakers is below).

The pilgrimage begins at 11:00 a.m. at the entrance to Central Park at East 69th Street and Fifth Avenue. (Participants are asked to gather by 10:50 a.m.)  The rally will be held at Columbus Circle (West 59th Street and Central Park West).  For more information and updates, click here. To register for the pilgrimage, click here.  The pilgrimage’s Facebook page can be accessed by clicking here. For church groups and organizations which would like to join the pilgrimage, send email to jack.bergen@yahoo.com.

Following the rally, the pilgrimage will continue with a walk to St. Paul the Apostle Church, concluding at 12:15 p.m.  Participants are invited to attend the parish’s 12:30 p.m. Spanish language mass.  The pilgrimage will go on rain or shine.

A GALA-ND/SMC press statement explained the purpose of the pilgrimage:

“The pilgrimage is inspired by Pope Francis declaration last fall, ‘We are in the midst of an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy in the Catholic faith,’ decreed Pope Francis, during which we are to be ‘merciful like the Father’ and perform acts of mercy and forgiveness to all.”

“The goal of the pilgrimage is to call upon The University of Notre Dame, and Catholic bishops across the US, to join in a show of mercy and compassion for LGBT Catholics, who continue to be marginalized by the Catholic Church.”

Michael DeLeon and Greg Bourke

Jack Bergen, chair of the alumni group, commented further on the purpose of the event:

“The University of Notre Dame, through the leadership of Fr. Ted Hesburgh CSC, has had a long history of leadership in supporting civil and human rights.  We ask that they demonstrate that same type of leadership now when it comes to welcoming LGBT Catholics into their community and be more inclusive of LGBT students and alumni.”

Co-sponsoring the event are a number of Catholic and LGBT organizations: Catholics for FairnessGLAAD, HRC, New Ways Ministry, Equality Blessed, Dignity/USADignity/New York, Freedom for All Americans, Out At St Paul, Fortunate Families and Believe Out Loud.

Bourke and DeLeon will be leading the pilgrimage walk.  Commenting on the inspiration for the pilgrimage, Bourke said:

“After the devastating event in Orlando this summer, Pope Francis sympathetically told his worldwide flock “I repeat what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: that they (LGBT people) must not be discriminated against, that they must be respected and accompanied pastorally. It is a great honor to be able to bring a successful movement, Catholics for Fairness, to New York City and partner with so many willing supportive organizations to promote a fully inclusive Catholic Church.”

Currently, the roster of rally speakers is as follows:

Following the walk at 4:00pm, GALA ND/SMC will be holding their Second Annual LGBT Student Scholarship Benefit at ND Alum Phil Donahue’s ’57 apartment.  The Scholarship helps LGBT students who attend Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s.  For information on this event, go to: NYC LGBT Scholarship Benefit (registration is limited).  You can contribute to the scholarship fund by clicking here:  ND/SMC LGBT Student Scholarship Fund.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

University of Notre Dame Reportedly Denies Safe Housing to Transgender Student

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Eve on Notre Dame’s campus

The University of Notre Dame reportedly failed to provide a transgender student with housing, the latest incident as many Catholic colleges and universities grapple with gender identity issues.

Ronan Farrow of NBC’s “Today Show” reported in June about Eve, a transgender Notre Dame student, in a segment following up the show’s 2015 report about her.

Eve, who just finished her junior year at the South Bend, Indiana, school, began transitioning while in college. This positive step in her life has made campus life difficult for her when it comes to housing, restrooms, and other issues.

Regarding housing, Notre Dame has only single-sex dormitories. The news piece claimed the University has not supported Eve as she seeks to move from the all-male dorm in which she had lived to an all-female dorm.

Eve said in the 2015 report that, for the most part, other residents referred to her by her new name and “treated [her] exactly the same as before.” Still, the all-male dorm is not ideal for her. Her former Resident Assistant said compassion is many people’s priority.  Still some residents had come to him with questions about a woman living in their dorm.  Some saw Eve as simply a man dressing as a woman who was living in their dorm. As for the administration’s response, Eve told NBC:

“I expect, honestly, that the University is hoping that as soon as I leave, no one will ever try this again.”

Eve’s mother, Teresa, like many parents of LGBT children, said she simply wants “what’s best for” her child. And an all-female dorm would be significantly safer.

Safety is a question, too, when it comes to restroom use. Eve stated, “I am safer using a women’s restroom.” But beginning to use women’s restrooms has been”really scary,” she told NBC, because if she is reported, she could be expelled. But, Eve said, “people don’t even consider the safety of the [transgender] individuals.”

Eve said socializing is incredibly difficult, and, with no support system on campus, she has caused experienced depression. She told NBC in the 2015 report, “being trans is a small part of who I am” and there is far more to her life.

Eve will be entering her senior year this fall, finishing her degree in math and aspiring to be a teacher. After repeated requests for safer housing were ignored, she will be living off campus. According to NBC, officials at Notre Dame declined to comment,which host Matt Lauer said was a surprising response. But the University of Notre Dame is not the first, nor the only Catholic institution responding to increased transgender visibility and awareness.

A number of Catholic schools refuse to support LGBT students and even oppose protections for them. At least five Catholic schools have sought religious exemptions from federal Title IX protections which ban LGBT discrimination. Colleges approved for exemptions by the Department of Education are  Belmont Abbey College, North Carolina, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, St. Gregory’s University, Oklahoma, and John Paul the Great Catholic University, California. The University of Dallas, Texas, has a pending application.

On the positive side, as Bondings 2.0 has reported in the past, many schools have proactively sought to support transgender students. Gender-neutral housing options have been implemented at some schools, such as the College of the Holy Cross , Massachusetts. Gender-neutral restrooms exist at some schools, such as Fordham University, New York. And transgender student Lexi Dever said that even though the Catholic Church nearly killed her, Georgetown University had saved her.

Greater awareness and more legal protections mean gender identity issues on Catholic campuses will not be going away any time soon. Education officials should not ignore or oppose the well-being of transgender students. All students in Catholic education deserve to feel safe, welcomed, and affirmed.

Know of more news happening for LGBT inclusion in Catholic higher education? Let us know in the ‘Comments’ section below or send a tip to info@newwaysministry.org.

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.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Bishop Criticizes University Honor for Biden, a Supporter of Marriage Equality

Sometimes, it seems, that some church leaders go looking for an argument where one should not happen.

Bishop Kevin Rhodes of Indiana’s Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese has criticized the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, for awarding its highest honor to Vice President Joe Biden, in part because of Biden’s support for LGBT equality.

Vice President Joe Biden

According to LGBTQ Nation, the University of Notre Dame decided to give its Laetare medal to two Catholic politicians, Biden and former Speaker of the House John Boehner–two men who hold very different political opinions.  According to a university press statement the Laetare Medal is given at commencement exercises to Catholics “whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church and enriched the heritage of humanity.”

Rhoades wrote to Fr. John Jenkins, CSC, the university president, expressing his displeasure at the decision to honor Biden.  In a statement describing his communication with Jenkins, Rhoades objected to the choice of Biden because of his pro-choice and pro-marriage equality views:

“I believe it is wrong for Notre Dame to honor any ‘pro-choice’ public official with the Laetare Medal, even if he/she has other positive accomplishments in public service, since direct abortion is gravely contrary to the natural law and violates a very fundamental principle of Catholic moral and social teaching: the inalienable right to life of every innocent human being from the moment of conception. I also question the propriety of honoring a public official who was a major spokesman for the redefinition of marriage. The Church has continually urged public officials, especially Catholics, of the grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that supports or facilitates abortion or that undermines the authentic meaning of marriage. I disagree with awarding someone for ‘outstanding service to the Church and society’ who has not been faithful to this obligation.”

What makes Rhoades’ criticism even more problematic is that he acknowledges that the university had a good intention in choosing to honor these opponents, one Democrat and one Republican at this time of political rancor.  Rhoades stated:

“Father Jenkins made it clear to me that in recognizing Vice-President Biden and Speaker Boehner, Notre Dame would not be endorsing the policy positions of either, but rather, would be honoring them for their public service in politics. I know that this honor is also an attempt to recognize two Catholics from different political parties at a time when our national politics is often mired in acrimonious partisanship. I appreciate Notre Dame’s efforts to encourage civility, dialogue, mutual respect and cooperation in political life.”

The problem with Rhoades’ kind of thinking is that it fails to acknowledge that different Catholics may take different routes to solving social problems.  Many avenues exist to address a variety of social problems.  Praising people whose lives and service have been exemplary is one way to heal wounds.  The fact that the university explicitly disavowed any support for particular positions of either recipient should be enough to make it clear to people what the university is praising about the men, and what it is not.

Yet, Rhoades believes that only his approach is appropriate. and that the conferral of the medal on Biden would send a bad message:

My principal concern about this whole matter is scandal. In honoring a ‘pro-choice’ Catholic who also has supported the redefinition of marriage, which the Church considers harmful to the common good of society, it can give the impression to people, including Catholics in political office, that one can be ‘a good Catholic’ while also supporting or advocating for positions that contradict our fundamental moral and social principles and teachings.

Besides the fact that the accusation of “scandal” has become meaningless, Rhoades fails to recognize that, in fact, millions of U.S. Catholics have supported marriage equality in good conscience and with no harm to their faith or spiritual lives.

In the news story, Jenkins responded to Rhoades criticism by noting that he and the bishop don’t always agree, adding:

“I’m gratified that he acknowledged, in his words, ‘Notre Dame’s efforts to encourage civility, dialogue, mutual respect and cooperation in political life.’”

In an interview Jenkins gave before Rhoades’ criticism became public, he further explained the rationale of his decisions:

“One thing I hope we do at the University is we try to bring our students to understand they can disagree but they need to talk to one another, reason with one another, and despite differences, they should always respect the other person and not demean.

“Unless we do that, we cannot work together, we cannot serve the common good. We are just in this gridlock of antagonism that is all too common today.”

Rhoades’ opposition seems to fall under the single-minded “obsession” with sexual issues that Pope Francis has warned bishops against.  Pope Francis has shown the example many times that he can meet with leaders and individuals with whom he may not always agree.  Rhoades’ objection seems to be an objection to political positions, something which the university said did not factor into its decision.  In doing so, the bishop has threatened to turn an exercise in reconciliation into a fiasco in the type of political fighting that was trying to be defused.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

CAMPUS CHRONICLES: LGBT Rankings Fail to Reveal Full Story

As college students return to campus for the fall, the Princeton Review released its annual listings of most- and least-friendly schools for LGBT students. Catholic schools fared as expected given public perceptions of Catholicism:  Catholic schools appear on the negative listing and are absent from the positive one. The three Catholic colleges listed under least-LGBT friendly were the University of Notre Dame (#5), University of Dallas (#10), and The Catholic University of America (#18). The Princeton Review’s rankings, though, fail to capture what is really happening in Catholic higher education around LGBT issues.

At The Catholic University of America, an LGBTQ student group was denied official recognition in December 2012 over concerns it would engage in political advocacy. Students organized for several years to create a safer space on a conservative campus, but without success and perhaps the Princeton Review’s rankings are correct for listing this school. in addition, questionable comments by the University of Portland’s president or the 2010 firing of a Marquette University administrator because of her sexual orientation are all reminders that not all is well in Catholic higher education.

Yet, the high-profile controversies and Princeton Review rankings cannot capture the good happening just below the firestorms. New Ways Ministry’s list of “Gay-Friendly Catholic Colleges and Universities” contains more than half of the Catholic campuses in the U.S.  for having student organizations, campus ministries, and other programs and policies that support LGBT students.

In a high-profile example,  University of Notre Dame administrators released a pastoral plan in December 2012 focused on LGBTQ students that would establish a staff position, student group, and other reforms to make the campus more inclusive. Student leaders and University staff worked closely leading up to the plan’s release to ensure it would make Notre Dame more-LGBT friendly and maintain the school’s Catholic identity.  The work of many students for many years had achieved a great success.

Elsewhere in the last year, Stonehill College students won the inclusion of sexual orientation in non-discrimination policies and hosted New Ways Ministry co-founder, Sr. Jeannine Gramick, to speak. Georgetown University and Marquette University have extensive LGBTQ resource centers with professional staff and programming. The New York Times and USA Today reported on the prominence of gay student leaders in campus governance elected by their peers. In a comprehensive article, Michael O’Loughlin recently examined the positive things that Catholic campuses are doing for LGBT issues across the country. Then there are the numerous initiatives that do not gain media attention such as building up inclusive communities in dorm rooms, chapels, and meetings nationwide.

Is this a declaration that the struggle to make Catholic higher education more inclusive is over? No. However, as students and their allies strive for  Catholic campuses where LGBT community members feel safe and respected, it is essential to recall all the good happening too. Certainly, it is a dream at this time to think Catholic colleges would be the most progressive on LGBT issues, but there is too much good for the dominant theme to be just the anti-gay listing. The Princeton Review’s rankings cannot reflect nuanced reality within Catholic schools.

Is the University of Notre Dame’s plan perfect? Probably not, but for those following Catholic LGBT issues this was viewed as a positive and significant step for a high-profile Catholic school. The willingness of administrators to listen and engage LGBT student concerns should be applauded and this dialogue will only flourish into more steps forward. Is the rejection of Catholic University of America students a final chapter? Certainly not, as they reorganize for the coming academic year to ensure every student has a safe place on campus and a community where they are included.

Instead of condemning the Church’s higher education where problems remain, every Catholic might ask themselves at the start of a new academic year how to support students and schools in becoming friendlier for LGBT students and educators.  With over one million students in approximately 220 Catholic campuses nationwide, this is certainly an important area for all in our church to be considering.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Gay Students’ Elections Signal Shift in Catholic Colleges’ Inclusivity

Nate Tisa of Georgetown University

Students at leading Catholic colleges continue electing openly gay peers to lead campus governing bodies, in a widening trend of greater LGBT acceptance in Catholic higher education.

The student body elected Nate Tisa as President of the Georgetown University Student Association in early March, marking the first election of an openly gay candidate at that Washington, DC school and the second at a Jesuit-sponsored institution following University of San Francisco’s lead in 2003. The Hoya, a Georgetown student newspaper, reported on the significance of Tisa’s election :

“[Tisa] was sworn in with the book ‘Taking a Chance on God’ by JohnMcNeill, a gay (resigned] Jesuit priest. He said he chose the book because it redefines Catholicism in a way that affirms LGBTQ Catholics and other groups.

“’I thought it had special significance at Georgetown, where our Catholic and Jesuit identity is a strong and crucial part of our heritage that can promote, rather than conflict with, our values of diversity, inclusion and the dignity of all members of our community,’ Tisa said.”

Anthony Alfano of DePaul University

Other Catholic colleges have also elected openly gay student leaders in recent years. Anthony Alfano presided over student government at the US’s largest Catholic college, DePaul University, Chicago, in 2011-12 as an out gay student. Ryan Fecteau was Speaker of the Student Association at The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, last year, after co-leading CUAllies, the rejected LGBT student group. Fecteau spoke to Bondings 2.0 about his role within this broader trend of LGBT student leadership:

“There is much to be said about the call students are making to their administrators and their Chruch with my election as the first openly gay speaker at Catholic University, Anthony Alfano at DePaul, and now Nate [Tisa] at Georgetown. While there is much progress to be made, students are telling their peers that being LGBT does not prevent you from being an effective leader–even on a Catholic campus.”

At the University of Notre Dame, student newspaper The Observer reported on Alex Coccia’s election as president of the student body for this upcoming year after he was active as a straight ally in the successful 4 to 5 Movement that won greater LGBT student support from the South Bend, Indiana university in late 2012. Coccia also spoke to Bondings 2.0, saying:

Ryan Fecteau of The Catholic University of America
Ryan Fecteau of The Catholic University of America

“With the 4 to 5 Movement, we built a broad-base of support for initiatives aimed at creating a more welcoming and inclusive environment for LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff…I think we all recognize that this is an exciting time for Notre Dame.  As a University, we’ve made a commitment to become a more welcoming University through recognizing the gay-straight alliance organization.  There was a sense that Student Government has an important potential to take the lead on these larger issues that affect student well-being on campus…

“The trend of prominent LGBTQ and Ally individuals being elected to leadership positions shows an increase in passion and drive from our generation — a willingness to work together to ensure that each individual’s dignity is protected.”

Alex Coccia of the University of Notre Dame
Alex Coccia of the University of Notre Dame

While hopeful that their elections signal a groundswell of LGBT inclusion on Catholic campuses and planning to continue efforts, each of these leaders has and intends to focus on the good of students-at-large. As a member of student government, Fecteau battled the administration’s implementation of mandatory single-sex housing and worked to improve safety on campus grounds. Both upcoming presidents laid out plans that include the expansion of free-speech on campus and an attempt at gender-neutral housing by Tisa, and the implementation of Notre Dame’s LGBT pastoral plan and town halls with Student Affairs by Coccia

Clearly, these student leaders recognize the significance of their elections as openly gay students or publicly straight allies within Catholic higher education. After the elections though, they demonstrate that LGBT students on campus express similar concerns to college students nationwide about housing, safety, quality of their education, and the abundant topics filling student government meetings. New Ways Ministry applauds Anthony, Nate, Ryan, and Alex in leading their campuses and advocating for LGBT dignity within Catholicism.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry