Saturday, February 6, 2010

Students at Notre Dame and John Carroll Universities Protest Discrimination vs. Gays


I find it fascinating that students at two leading Catholic universities in the U.S. have recently staged protests against ongoing discrimination against gays and lesbians on their campuses.  This past Wednesday, hundreds of students at Notre Dame marched to protest a gay-bashing cartoon recently published in the Notre Dame student newspaper.  The students are also asking that Notre Dame’s president, Rev. John Jenkins, add sexual orientation to the school’s non-discrimination statement.  Jenkins has refused to do that.

In the same week, students at John Carroll University staged a sit-in to disrupt a university basketball game in protest of a decision by John Carroll’s president, Rev. John L. Niehoff, SJ, not to add sexual orientation to the school’s non-discrimination statement.

What fascinates me about these two events is that they are student-led.  They’re coming from the ground up.  They’re absolutely not manifestations of the “evangelical Catholicism” that National Catholic Reporter writer John Allen tells us is a ground-up manifestation of a desire for accentuated Catholic identity among Catholic youth today.

Allen’s interpretation of “evangelical Catholicism” among the young stresses the “strong emphasis” of this brand of Catholicism on “hierarchical authority and traditional doctrine.” 

And so it’s fascinating to note that in the same week in which students at two leading Catholic universities called the priest-presidents of their Catholic universities to task for refusing to prohibit discrimination against LGBT faculty members, staff, and students, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops, Cardinal George, issued a statement condemning the Catholic gay-affirming pastoral ministry New Ways.

You can’t get more hierarchical and top-down than Cardinal George and the USCCB—or the priest-presidents of Catholic universities, for that matter.  To my way of thinking, what students at flagship Catholic universities like Notre Dame and John Carroll are demanding is anything but an affirmation of hierarchical authority and traditional doctrine.

This is a demand that the church live the gospel authentically in a cultural context in which a vulnerable minority is discriminated against flagrantly and repeatedly, while Catholic hierarchical leaders and leaders of Catholic institutions natter on about love and justice and human rights—without ever intending that nattering to apply to their gay brothers and sisters.

Younger Catholics get it, on the whole.  They get that the church can’t talk credibly about love and justice and human rights out of one side of its mouth, while belying that rhetoric out of the other side of its mouth in how it treats its LGBT members.

To their discredit, far too many theologians of my generation have been completely silent about this glaring discrepancy for far too long.  Many of my peers in grad school have spent their academic careers teaching in places like Notre Dame and John Carroll, never opening their mouths about the injustices done to their gay colleagues or to gay students in these schools.

Though they themselves frequently reject Catholic sexual teaching in their own married lives (when they’re lay theologians), they do not make the obvious connection between their own rejection of natural-law sexual ethics as married, heterosexual Catholics and the struggles experienced by their LGBT brothers and sisters in an institution that holds those brothers and sisters to a different standard, using the same moral norm that prohibits contraception to justify discrimination against LGBT persons that is never practiced towards heterosexual Catholics rejecting natural-law teaching.  To their shame, the vast majority of Catholic theologians of my generation have been totally silent about the injustices the church inflicts on its gay members and the double standard to which gay Catholics are held.

And to their credit, younger Catholics do get it, and are willing to make their voices heard against the discrimination.  Institutions like John Carroll and Notre Dame owe a debt of gratitude to these courageous students who are now speaking out for a justice too long denied in Catholic institutions.