The Queer Film Festival drew another fault line in Notre Dame’s Catholic identity.
The film festival, which began its run at Notre Dame in 2005, was staged annually until last year, when students decided to forego its production temporarily at least. Since both Father Malloy and Father Jenkins have approved the festival, students may decide to resurrect it at any time unless Father Jenkins reverses his position. But in any case the significance of the play – what its authorization by Father Jenkins and its faculty sponsorship say about the Catholic character of the University – is unaffected by whether or when the students decide to bring it back. The history of this episode shows why.
The festival was publicized for its first two years as the “Queer Film Festival,” which naturally, and we assume designedly, generated a good deal of publicity. The festival featured such objectionable elements as a panel discussing gay marriage that included a nun, Sister Jeannine Grammick, who had been enjoined by the Vatican from publicly speaking on homosexual issues, together with the film In Good Conscience that documented her refusal to be silenced. Terrance McNally’s film Corpus Christi which depicts Jesus and his disciples as modern-day homosexuals, with Judas seducing Jesus on prom night, was another entry, and Mr. McNally another speaker. See The Observer 2/14/05. In his January 2006 statement, Fr. Jenkins criticized the festival’s title as “seem[ing] to celebrate homosexual activity” and took note also of the “concern that…a Catholic view on sexual morality is not adequately presented.” Thereafter, “Queer” disappeared from the title and different adjectives have been used in an attempt to advertise in a less confrontational but still unmistakable way that the focus is homosexuality and lesbianism. And while aggressive opponents of the Church’s teaching did not reappear as panelists, the overall theme in terms of the acceptability of homosexual sex remained, and the fundamental flaw identified by Father Jenkins – the absence of a presentation of the Church’s teaching – was never remedied
Equally significant is the fact that even Father Jenkins’s restrained remarks were too much for many members of the faculty. Forty-two of them, “including three Department Chairs, 20 professors, and two Professors Emeritus,” reportedly not only “wrote Father Jenkins about their concern that his address contributed to a climate of hostility to gays and lesbians” but also “called on President Jenkins for a public apology.” This expression of outrage over Father Jenkins’ remarks is a striking illustration of the sort of indifference, even hostility, to the those teachings with which we are concerned and that we have already discussed in connection with the faculty ferment over the threat to The Vagina Monologues. In any case, the film festival itself is only one element, and a relatively minor one, in the complex of challenging issues that arise in today’s Catholic university because of changing societal mores together with the presence of a significant number of openly homosexual students. “The debate” over these issues “has reached a fevered pitch at the nation’s Catholic universities,” reports an author who visited Notre Dame and a number of other campuses. (Riley, God on the Quad, p. 182.) The University has so far declined to recognize a “GLBT” club, but The Progressive Students Alliance includes homosexual issues in its broader agenda. GALA is the organization of homosexual and lesbian alumni of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s. The principal organization at Notre Dame dedicated to homosexual issues is the Core Council for Gay and Lesbians. The Council is composed of eight students, “a majority of whom are gay, lesbian, or bisexual,” and four administrators, and is charged with “identifying the ongoing needs of gay, lesbian, and bi-sexual students, and… implementing campus-wide educational programming on gay and lesbian issues.” Its activities include promoting the annual National Coming Out Day and Solidarity Sunday, an annual event celebrated each year “at all Masses” on campus in order to “highlight our community’s Spirit of Inclusion for gay, lesbian, and bisexual students.” At the Masses, rainbow ribbons are handed out and students are encouraged to display them “on backpacks, briefcases, and office and dorm doors.”
At the opening of the school year, the Council hosts a reception for entering students so that they can meet student Council members and learn about resources available to homosexual and “questioning” students, including those concerned about “being ‘out’ on campus.” The Council publishes information publications such as Myths about Homosexual Persons, in which students are advised, for example, that “there is no such thing as a gay lifestyle,” and, correspondingly, that “[p]romiscuity has nothing to do with one’s sexual orientation.” (Without wishing to appear tendentious, we note that studies dramatically contradict the latter assertion. For more information, see Gay Report and Statistics On The Homosexual Lifestyle.) The similar publication on Common Questions advises that “human beings cannot choose to be either gay or straight”; that “[s]ince homosexuality is neither a disease nor an illness, there is nothing to ‘cure’”; that the Church “distinguishes between homosexual orientation and homosexual activity,” teaching that the former is neutral but that the latter is “sinful”; that, however, “[u]ltimately the individual conscience is inviolable”; and that the Council provides a program for persons to explore “these complex theological and moral issues.” From these materials, and more, it appears that the University is making a determined effort to insure that homosexual students are treated with respect and without discrimination, as the Church’s teachings require. But we find no evidence that an equally resolute effort is being made to explain unambiguously both the substance of, and the reasons for, the Church’s teaching respecting the immorality of homosexual sexual acts.[separator line=”yes”]