SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The University of Notre Dame has established a “GLBTQ” student organization.

Notre Dame's president, Father John Jenkins, on Dec. 5 accepted the Office of Student Affairs’ recommendation to “expand and enhance the support and services for students who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and questioning (GLBTQ).” The recommendation includes the creation of a university-recognized student organization.

One critic says the organization is “astonishingly extensive” and provides a potential venue for homosexual activists to undermine Catholic teaching.

William Dempsey, president of the Sycamore Trust, said the university opposed a homosexual student organization because it was “incompatible with its Catholic identity.”

“Few will be credulous enough to think that the school finally got around to considering the matter carefully,” he said in a Dec. 6 email to supporters of his independent organization, which aims to preserve and strengthen Notre Dame’s Catholic character.

Father Jenkins, a priest of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, said the goal is “to create and sustain a welcome and inclusive environment for all students.”

“I am confident that this multifaceted, pastoral approach represents the next step in advancing our efforts toward this aspiration for our GLBTQ students,” he said.

The student-affairs office issued a plan that involves the creation of a support and service organization for “GLBTQ students and their allies,” whose activities the university says will be “consistent with Notre Dame’s Catholic allegiance and commitments.”

An organization is more permanent in structure than a student club. Unlike student clubs, which can select or change their advisors and bylaws, the advisors for organizations are always appointed. 

Notre Dame said it will hire a full-time staff member to oversee the organization’s “awareness and education programs” aimed at advancing “inclusion” and sharing Catholic teaching. Student leaders will play a role in the selection of the person hired for the position.

The university will also launch a new advisory council to provide guidance to the vice president for student affairs on the needs of “GLBTQ” students.

The university’s pastoral plan said it will support “out or questioning students” with programs and initiatives from “multiple units on campus,” including the Gender Relations Center, Campus Ministry, the University Counseling Center, the Institute for Church Life and student groups, many of which are already active in this area.

These initiatives will involve speakers, conferences, retreats and student groups. 

The university’s pastoral plan said the school calls all students to “chastity in lives of self-giving love.”

But Dempsey of the Sycamore Trust said there is “emptiness” to the university’s statement that it promotes Catholic teaching on sexual morality. He said the plan provides a venue for opposition to Catholic teaching, boosts the "gay-rights" movement and damages the school’s Catholic reputation.

In an Aug. 22 bulletin, the Sycamore Trust noted that Alex Coccia, a student leader in the push to recognize “GLBT” groups, is a supporter of “gay marriage.”

A March 6 article in the Notre Dame newspaper, The Observer, discussed how homosexual students at the school “hook up” and meet “potential romantic partners” in the absence of an officially recognized student group.

Dempsey voiced concern about Father Jenkins’ Dec. 5 statements to The Observer, which, as reported, implied that Catholic teaching is not intended to limit the organization’s actions.

Father Jenkins said that Catholic teaching is “about the role of sexuality, about intimacy, about human relations, about responsibility to the community, about relationships to the Church.”

“To put this in a ‘Well, you can do this; you can’t do that’ [category] is to distort the issue,” the university president said.

On Dec. 7, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., issued the following statement:

One of the essential characteristics of a Catholic university is “fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us from the Church” (Pope John Paul II, Ex Corde Ecclesiae). In its recently released Pastoral Plan, the University of Notre Dame clearly affirms its fidelity to Catholic Church teaching on human sexuality by affirming that “sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman” and that the fulfillment and proper context of human sexual love is to be found in the marital covenant. It affirms the teachings of the Church on the commandment and vocation of love, the virtue of chastity and its expression in friendship, the importance of self-mastery, and the call to holiness. The Plan affirms Catholic teaching that men and women who have homosexual tendencies “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”

It is vitally important that the Foundations of the Pastoral Plan, which express Notre Dame’s fidelity to Catholic teaching, inform and guide the implementation of the Plan, including the vision, programs and activities of the new student organization that is being formed. The Pastoral Plan states that “the organization’s purpose arises directly from the University’s Catholic mission and its aspiration to create a community where all may flourish and feel welcome, where we aspire to an even deeper understanding and appreciation of Catholic teaching, and where the human dignity of each Notre Dame student is valued.”

It is my hope and prayer that the rich Catholic teaching on sexuality, teaching that serves the true good and happiness of the human person, will be embraced by the students and all involved in the implementation of the Pastoral Plan. I hope that the organization will be helpful in providing support for the students, thus preventing the experience of isolation and alienation which are “risk factors for an unhealthy life, including unchaste behaviors” (USCCB, Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination). I also hope that the Pastoral Plan will be of support to all students at Notre Dame in living a chaste and holy life according to the teachings of Jesus and His Church.

+Kevin C. Rhoades
Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend