Orienting Students to the Truth About Love

Catholic colleges that allow “queer” film festivals, celebrations for National Coming Out Day and student groups organized around same-sex attraction have one thing in common with schools that give an unequivocal No to all of the above activities: They justify their decisions by quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The Catechism commands that homosexuals be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity and adds, “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (No. 2538). For many schools, this passage seems to mandate the formation of homosexual student groups.

But other schools point to the fact that the Catechism also refers to homosexuality as “intrinsically disordered” (No. 2537) and say that organizing a student group around it would be tantamount to promoting sin.

“We are a seriously Catholic college,” Thomas Dillon, president of Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., says. “Such a club would be contrary to the very principles of the school. We try to appeal to the highest aspirations of our students and to encourage them to live their Catholic faith, to live the virtues, in particular chastity.”

To allow a group based on homosexuality — even one that purported to act only as an “educational resource” — would be to rebuff the Catechism’s call for respect and compassion, says Father Michael Beers, dean of the pre-theologate program and associate professor of classics at Ave Maria University in Naples, Fla.

“I don’t see where there’s any love shown in saying to a person, ‘We’re going to promote your sin,’” he says. “My loving response is, ‘Let’s have the sacrament of Reconciliation and make out a plan of life that will lead you to eternal life.’”

As for Ave Maria, “It’s inconceivable that there would ever be such a club because it’s totally incompatible with our mission,” says Father Beers. That’s not to say the school doesn’t reach out to students struggling with same-sex attraction; it provides counseling and spiritual direction, and refers students to Courage, an orthodox Catholic apostolate (couragerc.net).

There is no tally of how many sexual-orientation-based groups exist at the nation’s 224 Catholic colleges and universities, but Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society,  says the number is rising.

“These issues have been around for a long time,” he adds. “However, it’s just within the past half-dozen years that we have seen an increase in homosexual activism on [Catholic] campuses.”

This activism takes different forms, from support groups to film festivals to celebrations for National Coming Out Day. Even at campuses that keep a tight rein on student groups, reviewing all proposed activities to make sure they don’t veer into advocacy, there are events that cross the line.

Gift From God

Boston College administrators recently struggled over what, exactly, constitutes crossing the line. The dilemma was summarized in a letter sent out by the school after administrators rejected a student proposal for a homosexual-themed dance, “A Night in Gay Paris,” that would have benefited an AIDS house.

“Boston College students (and their families) have chosen to attend a Catholic and Jesuit university,” read the letter from Robert Sherwood, dean for student development. “We all need to continue to be faithful to this Catholic value system while also being caring, supportive and respectful of our students, faculty and staff. Our goal is to do both.”

The school allows a “gay-straight alliance,” Allies, whose constitution and mission state that its focus is “education and support, not advocacy,” and that its aim is to “develop and sponsor educational programs that promote a fuller appreciation of sexuality as a gift from God, especially as understood in the Catholic tradition.”

All activities must be reviewed and approved by the dean for student development. It was a branch of the undergraduate student government, not Allies, that proposed “A Night in ‘Gay Paris.’”

The University of Notre Dame in Indiana is another example where groups besides the one recognized by the school plan homosexual-themed activities. At Notre Dame, the Standing Committee on Gay and Lesbian Student Needs acts as a resource to the administration and does not participate in advocacy, says Matthew Storin, associate vice president for news and information.

Still, Notre Dame has been home to “Out of the Closet” Day, during which students stepped out of a giant closet with a rainbow curtain to proclaim their sexual orientation. Last year its “Queer Film Festival” featured speaker Terrence McNally, the playwright behind Corpus Christi, a drama that portrays Christ and the apostles as homosexuals.

The Standing Committee had nothing to do with either instance. The first was sponsored by the school’s sociology department and the Graduate Student Union, the second by a conglomeration of departments (film, television and theater, English, anthropology and gender studies) along with a homosexual alumni group.

As academic departments, their activities are protected by academic freedom and freedom of speech, says Storin.

True Love Teaches

Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pa., cites the U.S. bishops’ 1997 document “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers,” along with the Catechism, as justification for its recent decision to allow a “gay-straight” alliance on campus under certain restrictions, including support or sponsorship of events that involve public protest.

A statement released by the university says that the “first and foremost” condition for recognition was “adherence to Church teachings on homosexuality.”

Christendom College in Virginia also respects the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, and for that reason Tom McFadden, director of admissions and marketing, said he could never imagine such a group there.

“One hundred percent of our population is practicing Catholics,” he says. “Generally the people who come to Christendom would not be gay.”

Dillon, president of Thomas Aquinas, knows what would happen if a request for a group ever did come up at his school.

“It would be brought before the instruction committee of the college, which is composed of the president, dean and elected members of the faculty,” he says. “They would consider the request in light of Thomas Aquinas College’s founding principles, and there is no doubt that it would be denied.”

Dana Lorelle writes from

Cary, North Carolina.