Thursday, February 17, 2011

Marquette Situation, More Commentary: "Not Catholic Enough" When It Practices Discrimination

What I posted yesterday about Ronni Sanlo's report re: the situation for LGBT faculty, staff, and students at Jesuit-owned Marquette University in Milwaukee focused on the disparity between what Jesuit institutions proclaim about themselves--"We do justice!"--and how Marquette  actually deals with LGBT members of the campus community, if Sanlo's report is correct.  For the epigraph to my posting, I took something from Ranlo's report that she heard from the Marquette community about this disparity:

While inclusion of social justice is a strong Jesuit tenet, LGBT inclusion at Marquette is generally not part of the social justice work

In my commentary on the situation at Marquette, I wanted to suggest that the disparity to which the preceding statement points run through almost all Catholic universities in the U.S.--as, indeed, it runs through almost all Catholic institutions.  We who are Catholic like to talk about social justice issues as if those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered somehow do not count when we state that we are committed to upholding the human rights of everyone, and that we are committed to working for justice for the marginalized.

The Wisconsin Gazette summary of Ranlo's report to which I linked yesterday quotes one member of the Marquette campus community who makes these points in a powerful way.  In this postscript to what I posted yesterday about the Marquette story, I'd like to highlight her testimony. 

Louis Weisberg notes in his Wisconsin Gazette report that Margaret Steele is a grad student in Marquette's philosophy department and an LGBT ally.  According to Weisberg, Steele was attracted to Marquette precisely because it offers a "values-based educational environment that promotes the Jesuit tradition of social justice."

But Steele has been disappointed by what she's found at this Jesuit university.  Here's her testimony:

But she said she’s been disappointed to find herself engulfed in a culture that seems to elevate “a couple of ambiguous statements about sexuality” over “the hundreds of scriptural injunctions about helping the poor, the sick and the disenfranchised."

“For me, Marquette is not Catholic enough,” Steele said. “They use their Catholic identity as window dressing to attract a certain customer base. But they don’t show a true commitment to Christianity or Catholicism at is best. They talk up Catholicism when they want to defend something they’re doing to appease their conservative customers and donors.

“There’s a lot more the university could do without going in any way against Catholic teaching – just by emphasizing the shared humanity of people. The university could make the campus a more comfortable place for most people by sending the message that we might have different views but there’s nothing in Catholic teaching that says we can’t make people feel comfortable on campus.”

For me, Marquette isn't Catholic enoughMarquette calls on its Catholic identity selectively when it wants to add some window dressing to its image to appease a certain "customer base."

This is significant testimony.  Steele is pointing to the glaring discrepancy between what Catholic institutions proclaim about social justice, and what they actually do in the case of those who are gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgandered.

Decisions of many Catholic institutions to discriminate against LGBT persons are often driven by financial considerations, by the need to add Catholic "window dressing" to their institution which appeals to well-heeled conservative donors who argue that a bona fide Catholic identity requires these institutions to discriminate.  If Steele is correct, however, what institutions like Marquette do when they engage in anti-gay discrimination is precisely to betray their Catholic identity.

Institutions that discriminate against LGBT persons are not Catholic enough.  Jesuit institutions that profess to be all about social justice, while they ignore the needs of gay and lesbian persons or, even worse, engage in discrimination against these persons, betray the Jesuit tradition.

This is valuable testimony.  It's testimony thatt Catholic institutions need to hear, if they care about being authentically Catholic.

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