NOTRE DAME, IN — Notre Dame has in the past resolutely denied repeated petitions by faculty and students for inclusion of "sexual orientation" in its non-discrimination clause and for official recognition of a homosexual/lesbian student club. It responded to these petitions instead by adopting its praiseworthy “Spirit of Inclusion” declaration of non-discrimination and by providing a host of resources and supports for homosexual and lesbian students, actions that we will review in a later bulletin.
Last spring the University again rejected the petition for adoption of a “sexual orientation” clause, but it deferred until this fall decision as to the student club "for a close and comprehensive look."
Understandably, a student leader of the movement is "very encouraged." "This is the first time," he said, "that the club has not been denied outright." Plainly, the University may reverse its established policy.
Presumably the University gave "a close and comprehensive look" when it denied these student club petitions in the past. What has changed is the greatly increased intensity of the drive by students, faculty, and this time supporters outside the Notre Dame community for University sanction of the club and the financial and other support that follows.
Under the banner of the newly formed Notre Dame 4 to 5 Movement, faculty and students produced a video that faulted the treatment of homosexuals and lesbians at Notre Dame and called for the University to recognize the club. The movement was reported widely by news sources through an AP release and a prominent South Bend Tribune article, and the video went viral on the Internet. As a homosexual news source reported:
Social media has raised the profile of the 4 to 5 movement well beyond South Bend. Loyola University of Chicago's student government, for example, passed a ‘resolution of solidarity’ with Notre Dame's LGBTQ community in its efforts. Students at the Catholic University of America…have produced a similar video and formed a coalition with Notre Dame advocates….
Both the Student Senate and the Faculty Senate pressed for recognition of the club; student Senate representatives argued the case to the Notre Dame Board of Trustees; over a hundred faculty signed a petition; and there was a torrent of letters to the student publication The Observer.
But if this clamor has made it more likely the University will abandon its long-established policy, it has not made such an action any more acceptable. Indeed, the recognition of such a club would be even more incompatible with the school’s Catholic character than would be the inclusion of sexual orientation in the non-discrimination clause.
As the University explained in its Spirit of Inclusion declaration, it decided not to incorporate a “sexual orientation” phrase in its non-discrimination provision so that the risks of misapplication of law would not inhibit or penalize the school in applying Church teaching.
But University recognition and support of a homosexual club would be deeply objectionable for even more fundamental reasons. It would give grave scandal damaging to the Church, to the University, to students, and to other Catholic institutions and would establish a potential source of serious mischief within the school.
While the petitioning students pledge that the club would be devoted only to worthy purposes and while the University might formally so stipulate, neither the organizers nor the University could police the organization. And almost surely the University would not risk charges of “censorship” by trying to do so.
Surely it is predictable that a group whose organizing principle is same sex attraction is likely to be a forum, overt or covert, for opposition to the Church’s teachings about homosexuality. It may also become an instrumentality in the student ”hookup” culture.
There are disquieting signs at Notre Dame even now. The principal student spokesperson for this cause is also a public supporter of gay marriage. And in a remarkable Observer article, several homosexual and lesbian students spoke quite openly about “hookups” among gay students and the means they employ to “make connections” “without a University recognized gay-straight alliance.” In these circumstances, a sophomore lesbian said, this "underground network” is important “for meeting potential romantic partners.”
Worse yet would be the message about Notre Dame that this action would send.
The University is now a model for those Catholic schools holding fast against demands for student GLBTQ clubs or their more euphemistically named equivalents. While a majority of Catholic schools still withhold recognition of these clubs, Notre Dame and Catholic University are the only two of the 25 largest and most prominent major Catholic universities that have remained firm.
An abandonment by Notre Dame of its long-standing position would be widely reported by the media, secular and religious, and trumpeted triumphantly by the gay media. It would be celebrated especially by the Gay and Lesbian Alumni Association of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s, for whom this has long been a key objective. Any protestations by the University of fealty to Church teaching would be drowned out.
Notre Dame would then become the poster school for those pressing for recognition of homosexual clubs by other Catholic schools and for proponents of the unlimited “homosexual rights" agenda on all fronts.
As to Notre Dame itself, the damage to its reputation as a Catholic institution would be severe. Instead of being distinguished from almost all other major Catholic schools by a special mark of Catholic identity, it would join them in a widespread collapse of Catholic sensibility in Catholic higher education. With them, it would finally join their secular counterparts, for whom these clubs have long been a hallmark of a the “openness” and “tolerance” of a “modern” university.
This would erase the good that has been done for Notre Dame by Father Jenkins’s praiseworthy action in joining the litigation challenging the HHS contraception mandate. The elation of so many alumni and others in the Notre Dame family would turn to dismay.
More, approval of the club might well exacerbate the central problem of the erosion of Catholic faculty representation. Notre Dame would become more inviting to prospective faculty for whom its rejection of such a club is a warning that the school may be “too Catholic” for them.
And just right for those who would be just right for the school.
Notre Dame has gone to great lengths to fulfill its obligation of affording homosexual students a full measure of justice and charity. It could now serve them well, not through a club that defines them by their sexual identity in an secular way, but by encouraging the establishment of a chapter of the Catholic Apostolate Courage, which provides fellowship and support in the move “beyond the confines of the homosexual identity to a more complete one in Christ."
Notre Dame, then, is on the brink of deciding how to respond to Father Jenkins's challenge in his luminous inaugural address:
If we are afraid to be different from the world, how can we make a difference in the world?
We have, accordingly, written Father Jenkins, with copies to the Fellows, who are explicitly charged with maintaining the Catholic identity of the school, and to the other Trustees.
If you wish to follow suit, as we hope many of you will, you will find email addresses for Father Jenkins and the Fellows in the right hand margin. If you wish to include the other Trustees, their addresses are here.
Notre Dame should adhere to its policy of nondiscrimination and support for homosexual and lesbian students while withholding approval of a student homosexual-lesbian club under whatever lable. If you agree and would like to help with our mission of Catholic renewal at Notre Dame, please click here.