Monday, June 21, 2010

Anne Hendershott Addresses Marquette's Withdrawal of Job Offer to Lesbian Scholar, Claims Catholic Colleges Have Openly Gay Leaders

Wall Street Journal carried an article last Friday by Anne Hendershott of King's College in New York, rebutting the claim that Marquette University's recent decision to withdraw a job offer to out lesbian scholar Jodi O'Brien was based on O'Brien's sexual orientation.

Hendershott's essay makes a number of astonishing claims that directly contradict statements of members of the Marquette faculty, who find strong reason to conclude that O'Brien's sexual orientation (and her publication of articles in the field of queer theory and history) has everything to do with the rescinding of a job offer to her.  Hendershott attempts to make a nifty little step around the issue of sexual orientation by suggesting that it wasn't O'Brien's public identity as a lesbian or what she has written about that topic that led to Marquette officials' blocking her after they had offered her a contract.

It was what O'Brien had written about marriage, family, and sexuality in general that was problematic, because her publications challenge Catholic teaching in these areas (though O'Brien is not Catholic):

Teachers who criticized the initial job offer say that Ms. O'Brien's sexual orientation is not what disqualifies her, but rather the fact that her publications disparage Catholic moral teachings on marriage, sexuality and the family.

And, in any case, "her publication record was minimal in comparison with the others."

What to make of this tissue of insinuations, which directly contradicts the viewpoint of those right on the spot, of the Marquette faculty who have voted to condemn the university's decision and who see the question of O'Brien's sexual orientation right at the center of what has happened to her?

In the first place, this is the sort of disinformation that members of the Catholic right with access to the mainstream media always seek to seed in mainstream media narratives when the Catholic church's deplorable, deep-seated homophobia--and the operation of that homophobia in Catholic institutions--reaches the public's attention.

In the second place, the disinformation is not convincing because 1) it contradicts the testimony of those most informed about what is taking place at Marquette, and 2) it is incoherent and self-contradictory.  Is the problem what Professor O'Brien has written about marriage and sexuality?

Or is it that she hasn't written enough?  Hendershott can't have it both ways.

The most astonishing claim of the Hendershott article is the following statement:

There are openly gay men and women in leadership positions at a number of Catholic universities and colleges.

The O'Brien decision can't be about homophobia, ipso facto, because Catholic universities give leadership positions to openly gay men and women.

As I myself wrote when I first commented on O'Brien's story (and when I've commented on the treatment of gay and lesbian employees in Catholic institutions in general), I know of no openly gay leaders in Catholic universities in the U.S.

Perhaps because I have been somewhat removed from the Catholic academic scene for a number of years, I'm behind the times.  If so, I'd certainly appreciate a report from some quarters--Anne Hendershott, the USCCB, any place--about the presence of openly gay and lesbian faculty and staff (and leaders) in American Catholic universities.

I'm not aware of these folks.  Who are they?  Where do they serve?  Why is this information not widely available to the public, since these academic leaders are obviously open about their sexual orientations?

This is an issue that deserves serious public discussion.  I hope Hendershott will assist that discussion by elaborating on the claim she is making here.  Otherwise, I'm tempted to regard this bald assertion that appears to contradict all evidence I've seen as part of a disinformation campaign and not part of an attempt to bring an issue that deserves further attention to the table.