‘Queer Studies,’ Catholic Style

It’s no secret that Catholic colleges and universities are under the microscope these days.

Catholics, even those who don’t have children in (or bound for) college, want to know which campuses sponsor or allow activities, courses and events that fly in the face of Catholic doctrine and morality.

So it came as a shock to many when, in February, Chicago’s DePaul University announced a minor-studies program in “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered and Queer” studies.

The Catechism teaches that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered (No. 2357).

The school’s decision raised red flags for Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society. “At a minimum, the program undermines Catholic teaching by presenting the gay and lesbian subculture in a positive light,” he says. “That culture in itself is conducive [to] and in many ways encourages sinful behavior.”

Father James Halstead, chairman of the school’s religious-studies department, says DePaul supports Church teachings but also encourages critical, thoughtful learning about “any topic we can afford to teach.”

“Study is not the same thing as advocacy,” Father Halstead told the Register. “In my classes, I have taught Karl Marx. That doesn’t mean I advocate his position, but it does mean that a liberally educated person ought to know it.”

He adds that a university should not be an “indoctrination center.” Rather, students should have the opportunity to explore the “burning issues” of their time.

“[Homosexuality] has constitutional implications, political implications, personal implications for mothers, fathers and kids, and massive social implications,” he says. “Therefore, it ought to be studied with the full powers of the university.”

Reilly calls the new minor a “faddish academic program” motivated by the administration’s desire to be seen as politically correct.

“If they are truly interested in delving into cultural studies, one would assume they would be looking at a whole variety of cultures and establishing minor programs to focus on [them],” adds Reilly. “Under ‘sexual cultures,’ why not look at the whole problem of prostitution or sexual activity within marriage?”

‘Special Concern’

In a 1986 letter to bishops, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote of homosexuality: “[S]pecial concern and pastoral attention should be directed toward those who have this condition, lest they be led to believe that the living out of this orientation in homosexual activity is a morally acceptable option.”

Pointing to additional statements on the matter made by another former prefect, Cardinal Pio Laghi, prefect emeritus, of the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education, Reilly says such care should be administered through Catholic theology courses and “ordinary pastoral ministry.”

A specific collegiate program addressing the “culture” of homosexuality is “highly problematic and potentially scandalous,” Reilly adds. “There is no indication as of yet that each of the courses will look at this issue from the Catholic perspective.”

DePaul, in fact, has offered many of the courses in question for more than a decade. They have been speckled throughout a number of different departments, including literature, modern languages, women and gender studies, and religious studies. Course titles have included “Lesbians, Gays and the Law” and “Introduction to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Studies.”

But it’s only with this latest development that such courses have been packaged as a minor in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The reason for the change is student demand, says Gary Cestaro, who teaches the intro course. “The courses are always filled,” he says, “and the evaluations ask for more.”

Father Halstead says the advantage to the school is that, now, college recruiters can advertise that DePaul offers Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered and Queer studies.

“This is all marketing,” he says. “You caught us.”

LGBTQ Lobby?

A Catholic college offering such classes was problematic in and of itself. Joining them together as an official minor lends even more legitimacy to the lifestyles in question.

So says Karl Maurer, a DePaul alumnus and vice president of the Catholic Citizens of Illinois.

“When you do a queer studies minor, you essentially provide cover for this behavior and in the process validate it,” he says. “You give tacit approval to this lifestyle if not overt approval. If it was being taught as wrong behavior, that would be one thing. But it is not. These courses are intended to bring broader acceptance to this behavior in society.”

As for presentation of material, statements made by Cestaro and Father Halstead indicate that the Church’s position will be presented alongside alternative viewpoints. Cestaro already allots time in his intro class for a discussion about Catholic teaching.

But, he says, “LGBTQ studies as a discipline believes in individual legitimacy and [sees] a certain amount of sexual variation as benign and normal.”

Love Is Truth

Father Halstead teaches a course under the umbrella of the religious-studies department called “The Body and Human Relationships: Divergent Meanings, Conflicting Values.” During the course of the semester, the Church’s teaching on homosexuality is discussed. “It is presented clearly, thought about by students, affirmed by some, and known by all,” he says.

“Our students, who are very bright and who think clearly, will listen to religious perspectives all with a critical ear,” adds Father Halstead. “To the extent that the Catholic position makes sense, students will believe it. To the degree it doesn’t make sense, students will critique it.”

Maurer, who long ago stopped giving money to his alma mater due to similar controversies, doesn’t see it that way. He says that, while all ideas and concepts should be subject to evaluation, administrators and faculty have a responsibility, spelled out in Ex Corde Ecclesiae (On the Catholic Identity of Catholic Universities), to maintain the Catholic culture on campus.

“If the purpose of dialogue is to identify what is true and what is not true, great,” says Maurer, whose group intends to write to DePaul’s president and board of trustees, requesting an abandonment of the program. “But here the purpose is to lead people into scandal and sin.

“The greatest act of scandal is to lead people away from the truth,” he concludes. “The greatest single act of charity is to bring people to the truth.”

Monta Monaco Hernon writes from

LaGrange Park, Illinois.