Saturday, March 26, 2011

Catching up on News at Two Catholic Colleges--Marquette and Chestnut Hill


Catching up to some stories about which I've blogged here in the past:

I mentioned this yesterday: the situation at Jesuit-owned Marquette University in Milwaukee.  In yesterday's posting, I alluded to what happened at this Catholic school last spring.  As I noted last May, controversy developed following an announcement by Marquette's president Fr. Robert A. Wild, SJ, and provost John J. Pauly that the university had rescinded an offer of an administrative position to an out lesbian scholar, Jodi O'Brien.

In response to this development, a nationwide conversation about how gay and lesbian faculty, staff, and students are received at Catholic universities in the U.S. ensued.  Because the controversy created such turmoil at Marquette itself, the school's vice-president for student affairs L. Christopher Miller commissioned a study of issues of gender identity and sexual orientation at Marquette.  That study, compiled by Ronnie Sanlo, director of UCLA's master's program in student affairs and senior associate dean of students at UCLA, was made available last month.  I reported on it here.

In extensive interviews with members of the campus community, Sanlo found a climate of fear and harassment for LGBT persons at Marquette.  One of the concerns Sanlo heard is that the university offers no partner benefits for gay and lesbian employees.  Her report recommended that the school consider taking the step of implementing such benefits.

And now, as Jim McCrea noted in a comment to my posting yesterday mentioning Marquette, on Thursday, Fr. Wild announced to the campus community that the school has decided to offer such benefits.  Sharif Durhams and Don Walker report on the announcement yesterday in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.  According to their report, Wild says he's been struggling with the thought of offering such benefits for some time now, since the Jesuit principle of cura personalis would seem to imply, at a pastoral level, that there's something uncaring and inhumane about denying access to health care benefits to a couple in a recognized civil partnership.  

However, as Durhams and Walker also point out, in recent weeks the university's Academic Senate and council of Student Government have both voted to urge the school's administrators to offer such benefits to gay couples at Marquette.  And it surely can't be coincidental that these votes came right on the heels of the release of Sanlo's report, noting the general climate of hostility to gay and lesbian persons on the campus, and recommending that one way to address the prejudice would be to extend partner benefits to gay employees.

In  other words, what's happening at Marquette right now proves the validity of the point I made repeatedly in yesterday's posting about the growing support of lay Catholics in the U.S. for gay and lesbian rights: that such support doesn't mean much, in the long run, until it's translated into action.  And action means pushing back in concrete ways against the prejudice and discrimination embedded in our own institutions.

What's happening at Marquette shows that pushback can be effective.  I applaud Fr. Wild for being a man of Jesuit conviction and conscience.  But I think I'm inclined to applaud even more all the courageous members of the campus community who put the feet of the Marquette administration to the fire and forced the administration to live up to its Jesuit principles re: extending health care benefits.  

And not just to talk grandly about them.

A second catch-up story: a month or so ago, I blogged about the firing of Fr. Jim St. George, an openly gay, partnered priest of the Old Catholic church, by Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, a Catholic school owned by the Sisters of St. Joseph.  As my posting noted, after firing St. George, who was an adjunct faculty member in its religion department, the college issued a statement through its president Sister Carol Jean Vale stating that permitting those in same-sex partnerships to teach on Catholic campuses is "contrary to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church." 

And now the Philadelphia Inquirer is reporting that St. George and the college have reached an amicable agreement consistent with the religious beliefs of each party.  No further information about the terms of the agreement is available.  The Inquirer article does note, however, that St. George had substantial support among Chestnut Hill students, and they were preparing to rally on his behalf when news of the settlement broke.  

And so this would seem to be another illustration of the value of solid pushback against the homophobic prejudice that clearly does remain embedded in concrete, systemic, and extremely hurtful ways in Catholic institutions, despite the belief of a majority of lay Catholics in the U.S. that such prejudice is wrong.  As I said yesterday, we have work to do.  And what has happened at Marquette and Chestnut Hill suggest that collaborative efforts of lay Catholics to stand in solidarity with their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and to demand an end to discrimination can be effective.

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