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An Open Letter: To Rev. Gerry Olinger, C.S.C., Vice President for University of Notre Dame Student Affairs

With copies to Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., Rev. William M. Lies, and John J. Brennan

Dear Father Olinger,

We – alumni, students, families of students present and past, others of the Notre Dame family, and concerned Catholics – write to express our deep disappointment with your and the Office of Student Affairs’ recent actions respecting LGBTQ issues and with your refusal to respond to questions from The Irish Rover about these actions.

We refer specifically to the instructional video on LGBTQ issues that was required viewing for first year students and to the LGBTQ questionnaire they were obliged to answer, both of which were the subject of recent reports by the Irish Rover (Sexuality-Ed) and Sycamore Trust (Notre Dame’s First Year Sex-Ed and Notre Dame, Same-Sex Marriage and Gender Theory).

The Video

We are especially concerned with the video, which you introduced as a priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross and Vice President of the University, declaring that “Church teaching is at the heart” of what followed.

What followed, then, was purportedly invested with the imprimatur of Church, University, and Order. 

Instead, what followed was in large part demonstrably contrary to Church teaching on gender and sex.

As to gender, the Church teaches that sex and gender are inseparable and condemns the propagation in academic institutions of “gender theory,” under which gender is a matter of choice.

But the university’s video tells first-year students:

A person’s gender identity may not match a person’s biological sex.

The gender theory definitions that follow dispose of Church teaching with specificity:

Gender identity is a person’s inner sense of being a male, female, or differently gendered person.

Transgender refers to someone whose internal gender identity doesn’t match their biological sex.

Questioning refers to someone in the process of discerning their sexual orientation or gender.

(The reference to genders in addition to male and female presumably refers to synthetic gender identities such as “non-binary,” “pan-sexual,” and “genderqueer.”)

More, while the rejection in the video of Church teaching on same-sex sexual acts is not so explicit, it is quite clear enough. One of the featured students is a bi-sexual female student “who has had a same-sex partner in the past” and who calls upon students to “treat it like it’s no big deal.” It is fanciful in the extreme to suppose that by “same-sex partner” she meant “same-sex good friend” or that the first-year students thought that’s what she meant.

But, for the Church, while men and women who have homosexual tendencies “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” (CCC 2358), homosexual sexual acts are indeed a “big deal.” They are “acts of grave depravity” that “under no circumstances can be approved.” (CCC 2357).

The Questionnaire

We turn now to the gender questions added to the questionnaire new students were required to complete. They came from your Office at the instance of unnamed students, we learn from the Irish Rover story.

The questionnaire first asked the students to disclose whether their birth certificates recorded their sex as male or female, and then asked, “What is your current gender identity?”

The options offered were “male,” “female,” “transgender male,” “transgender female,” and “genderqueer—neither exclusively male nor female.”

The “gender by choice” theory reflected in the video and questionnaire, we repeat, is in direct conflict with Church teaching. We would be very much surprised were you to disagree. Pope Francis calls this theory “evil,” “ideological colonization,” and part of a “global war” on marriage.” And see especially the recent statement by the Vatican Congregation for Education, “Male and Female He Created Them.”


Finally, we are disturbed by your refusal to answers questions put to you by The Irish Rover after having said you would respond.  This echoes the refusal of Dolly Duffy, the executive director of the Alumni Association, to respond to questions from alumni about the establishment of an LGBTQ alumni “affinity group” headed by same-sex married leaders.

With respect, we suggest brushing off inquiries by students about what’s being taught on important moral issues of the day and by alumni about the Alumni Association’s stance toward same sex marriage does not comport with what should be the responsibilities of your respective positions.


The undermining of Church teaching on important moral issues by a Catholic institution charged with the moral formation of its students constitutes scandal of the first order. We think it clear that, whatever their purpose, this was the effect of the LGBTQ video and questionnaire. This constitutes a betrayal of the 180-year tradition of Notre Dame as a Catholic institution and of those, like us, who have a proprietary stake in that tradition. The Office of Student Affairs, which has care of the community of students, is obliged to explain and endorse authentic Catholic teaching on sex and gender. Your Office gravely abuses its authority and flouts its moral responsibility by teaching the opposite.

Accordingly, we urge you to send first-year students a full and accurate explanation of Church teaching on gender, sex and marriage and tell them to disregard anything in the video or questionnaire to the contrary.

That would enable you to respond to the Irish Rover without embarrassment.

And to us.

In Notre Dame,

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