SOUTH BEND, IN – The Student Gay Rights Campaign and Censorship of Church Teaching.
In this bulletin we describe a student-led campaign for the inclusion of sexual orientation in the University’s anti-discrimination provision, and we also alert those in the Chicago area to a talk that Bill Dempsey, President of Sycamore Trust, will give at a luncheon of the Catholic Citizens of Illinois on April 9th.
The Homosexual/Lesbian Issues
The University has promulgated two policies in harmony with Church teaching respecting homosexual/lesbian issues.
The first policy is expressed in the University’s anti-discrimination clause. That provision, conforming to federal and state law, forbids discrimination because of “race/ethnicity, color, national origin, sex, disability, veteran status, and age.“ It does not refer to sexual orientation.
The second policy, which does refer to sexual orientation, is set forth in the University’s Spirit of Inclusion. There the University pledges to “welcome all people, regardless of color, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, social or economic class, and nationality” and “condemns harassment of any kind.”
The “Spirit of Inclusion” was the University’s response in 1997 to petitions by the Faculty Senate, the Student Senate, and many students who wanted the anti-discrimination clause amended to include sexual orientation. The University denied that request and instead adopted the “Spirit of Inclusion.”
Then-President Edward A. Malloy, C.S.C., explained that the “Spirit of Inclusion” reflects Church teaching whereas an expanded anti-discrimination clause would be in tension with it. He wrote in part:
The Church teaches that homosexual orientation…is neither sinful nor evil….The Church also teaches that neither heterosexual union outside marriage nor homosexual union is morally acceptable….The University has tried to speak with an authentic voice on both of these dimensions of Church teaching….[W]e prize the gay and lesbian members of our community as children of God…[and] our harassment policy specifically precludes harassment based on sexual orientation. At the same time and with an equally strong voice, we strive to set policy…in a manner that supports the teaching of the Church…reserv[ing] sexual union to those who are married.
The critical consideration, Father Malloy said, was that including sexual orientation in the anti-discrimination clause “might jeopardize our ability to make decisions that we believe necessary to support Church teaching.”
The problem, he explained, is that “American society does not always use the phrase ‘sexual orientation’ to mean only ‘orientation’ but also ‘sexual conduct.’” Thus, if the University were to take an action, not because of sexual orientation but because of advocacy of, or engagement in, morally illicit activity, a tribunal might nonetheless hold the University liable. More generally, since many mistakenly think the Church’s teaching respecting the sinfulness of homosexual acts implies bias against homosexuals, the University would risk liability whenever taking any action adverse to a homosexual. Potential claimants would include employees, students, faculty members, applicants, and contractors. More, the provision would surely be used as a lever to secure recognition of a student homosexual/lesbian club.
Nothing has changed since 1997 other than an intensification of the pressure at Notre Dame and throughout society to put the Church’s teachings aside in the name of “tolerance.” Today, as in 1997, were Notre Dame to accede, it would “jeopardize its ability to make decisions necessary to support Church teaching.”
The recent highly-charged student campaign has taken advantage of an offensive cartoon that appeared in the student publication The Observer. (The text was “What’s the easiest way to turn a fruit into a vegetable?” with the answer “a baseball bat.”) Although the cartoon was promptly denounced by the Administration and could not possibly be thought representative of student attitudes, the story line of homophobia at Notre Dame was irresistible and the event made national headlines.
On campus, the Student Senate, by a 25-0 vote, passed a resolution calling for amendment of the anti-discrimination clause. A group of students then launched a petition to amend the clause, believing that “the controversy over the comic strip” makes this “a good time to again address the issue.”
In support of the petition, students, faculty, and townspeople staged a rally on the campus and submitted a letter to Father Jenkins asking both for amendment of the anti-discrimination clause and for recognition of a student “gay-straight alliance” — another demand the University has regularly denied. More, the student body officers appeared before a Board of Trustees committee to report that revision of University policy was an issue “of most pressing concern” to students
The role of The Observer deserves special attention. Having first apologized for the cartoon, the Observer turned to exhorting those outraged to “harness that passion” by promoting the petition. Then, in a popular online newspaper, one of the Observer’s editors pointed to the “attention generated by the comic strip controversy” as a reason to hope the Administration will “change course.”
Not surprisingly, an article (p.4) in the independent student publication The Irish Rover raised the question whether this could “all be some highly planned event staged to use a rush of pressure to cause a change to the University’s policies.” It described “odd” circumstances and “missing pieces” in The Observer’s explanation of the cartoon’s appearance. In addition, a Rover editorial (p. 2) reviewed both he Observer’s role and the merits of the issue.
The Observer’s actions have been called into question most recently by its startling refusal to publish a column by Dr. Charles Rice explaining the Church’s teachings on homosexuality. It was to have been the most recent of a bi-weekly Observer series by Dr. Rice dating from 1992. The editor-in-chief wrote Dr. Rice that the column would not contribute to a “productive” discussion and added that in any case Dr. Rice’s essay should be coupled with one expressing an “opposing or differing” viewpoint. Dr. Rice replied that, “in a university that claims to be Catholic,” he would not participate in a “format that treats the authoritative teaching of the Church as merely one viewpoint or ‘side’ among many.”
The editor then pleaded that the paper was still “recovering” from the cartoon incident and would “prefer to examine this issue at a later time.” But, as we have noted, The Observer’s angst did not inhibit its publishing its own assault on the University’s policy. Evidently its distress relates only to the publication of the Church teaching undergirding that policy. The Observer’s action has drawn widespread criticism (see the Google compilation) and was the point of departure for an article by Bill Dempsey in The Washington Times.
The petition will be given to Father Jenkins in March. He will then rule on it as well as on an application filed last fall by AllianceND for official recognition. AllianceND, the “unrecognized, unofficial gay-straight alliance (GSA) of students, faculty, and staff at the University of Notre Dame,” has filed these applications for 11 out of the past 13 years without success.
Because of the consistent position of the University, success of either petition would ordinarily seem highly unlikely. Still, in view of Father Jenkins’s surprising decisions to honor President Obama and to sanction The Vagina Monologues, a reversal of policy on one or both issues cannot be ruled out.
Acceptance of either of these proposals would deal another serious blow to Notre Dame’s reputation as a Catholic institution. Reaffirming existing policies, on the other hand, would be welcome evidence of a measure of allegiance to the Church and its major teachings.
This, then, may also be the first test of whether Father Jenkins will consult Bishop Rhoades, as he did not consult Bishop D’Arcy, on important questions involving the Catholic identity of the University.
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick recently called upon Catholic university educators to “include the local bishops in the campus community,” and Father Jenkins said that the Cardinal “was absolutely right on this point.” Father Jenkins and many others are in fact welcoming Bishop Rhoades warmly. The question is whether his views as well as his presence will be welcomed.
Bill Dempsey’s April 9th Chicago Talk
Bill will speak in Chicago on Friday, April 9th, about threats to the Catholic identity of Notre Dame and the Obama episode and its aftermath. Bill will speak at a luncheon sponsored by Catholic Citizens of Illinois. Here are the details from CCI:
We meet at the Union League Club, 65 W. Jackson Blvd. (between Clark & Dearborn) Chicago, at 12:00 noon on Friday, April 9th. Tickets are $30.00. Business Attire. For Reservations call Maureen at 708-352-5834.