Franciscan University Course Labels Homosexuality as "Deviant Behavior"

A group of LGBT and allies alumni of Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio, has publicly criticized the inclusion of homosexual people as a topic in a sociology course entitled “Deviant Behavior.”  The university’s response has been to threaten legal suit if the group continues to identify with the school in their public materials.

The Daily posted the group’s press release, as well as the text of the letter from the university’s General Counsel which threatens suit.    The press release, in part, states the group’s criticism of the course and its description:

“Outdated prejudices appear to be given more weight than scientific truth at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. A recent survey of Franciscan University’s course offerings found this active course description on their website:

” ‘SWK 314
DEVIANT BEHAVIOR focuses on the sociological theories of deviant behavior such as strain theory, differential association theory, labeling theory, and phenomenological theory. The behaviors that are primarily examined are murder, rape, robbery, prostitution,homosexuality, mental illness, and drug use. The course focuses on structural conditions in society that potentially play a role in influencing deviant behavior.
3 credit hours (Bold font added for emphasis)’

“Despite more than 25 years of solid mainstream scholarship in the fields of psychology, social work, and mental health demonstrating the psychological health of gay and lesbian individuals, Franciscan University continues to teach otherwise, allowing pseudo-science to be taught at an accredited university.

“To classify the normal day-to-day life of gay and lesbian citizens as being on par with that of murderers, rapists, and prostitutes is offensive, untrue, and an example of religious ideology being allowed to trump the scientifically demonstrated truth of the matter. . . .

“The alarm must be raised that psychology and mental health graduates from Franciscan University are less prepared than graduates at other universities and colleges, being taught ideological falsehoods in the classroom rather than solid, proven research and evidence.

“Further concern must be raised that such classifications feed cultural biases and promote hatred for lesbian and gay individuals and runs counter to official Roman Catholic teaching on this matter.

“We urge Franciscan University to revise its course descriptions and to stop contributing the culture of hate and ignorance that is already too pervasive. The University should conduct an audit of its entire curriculum and remove any information being taught on this subject that is outdated and not substantiated by sound scientific fact. “

The university’s General Counsel, Adam E. Scurti, sent the following brief letter to the alumni group’s contact people, Gregory Gronbacher and Elizabeth Vermilyea:

“I am advising you that you have no right to use the Name of Franciscan University, its logo or any other reference to the University in any of your activities.

“This statement by me is as General Counsel to the University. Should you not comply with my demand that you cease and desist, I will take all measures available to the University to interdict your activities as they relate to the University.”

The alumni group responded by dropping “University” from their title, calling themselves simply “Franciscan Gay Alumni & Allies.”

While there have been many stories of Catholic campuses being criticized for not updating their policies in regard to sexual orientation, this is the first I’ve heard where a school’s course material is being asked to be updated.  On the good side, I think the reason there haven’t been more stories of this sort is that, by and large, Catholic campuses have done as good a job of updating their course material in regard to sexual orientation as other schools have.

For a list of gay-friendly Catholic colleges and universities across the nation, visit New Ways Ministry’s website.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

18 replies
  1. Maryann Vitelli
    Maryann Vitelli says:

    I also had a priest tell me that my son is like a criminal; my son has a choice in being a homosexual. This is so hurtful and is one reason why I am considering leaving the Catholic church. My son is a Franciscan University Graduate. I’m sorry he went to that university; but, although he is no longer Catholic he is well versed in theology and is very capable of challenging those who have the mentality of this ridiculous teaching.

    • Gerald
      Gerald says:

      Maryann: I am very sorry for your son having been so hurt by the culpable ignorance of an ignorant priest. Clearly the Catholic Church does not hold that any of us choose our sexuality. I would want to ask that priest when did YOU choose your sexual orientation. . . that is a GIFT FROM GOD who in His own image and likeness He created us. Think thru. . .what does that statement tell you. . .?
      I know it is difficult. . . I have decided that no one. . NO ONE is going to take my church from me or allow them to drive me out. WE are the Church. . and in the Church, so Benedict XVI tells us, there is room for everyone! If they have a problem, well. . ..let THEM get over it. WE are staying: it is MY church also.

  2. Mary Colgan McNamara
    Mary Colgan McNamara says:

    St. Francis, with his great heart, must be weeping at such exclusionary teaching. I would add that my heart weeps also for prostitutes bundled in with murderers and rapists. Which behavior is actually more deviant–that of the woman forced into prostitution by poverty or sex trafficking or that of the johns who pay for them?

  3. Gerald
    Gerald says:

    I am shocked by the letter of the University’s ‘General Counsel’ to G/L alumni of the University. I wonder if the Friars are/were aware of this letter and its heavy-handed tone and content. As a CATHOLIC Univerisity what they are teaching goes entirely contrary to the official teaching of the Catholic Church as stated in The Catechism of the Catholic Church and in the relatively numerous statements of various official groups/people such as Vatican statements, USCCB, and the like.
    The University course does not appear to make any distinction between BEING and ACTION. Nowhere in Church teaching does it say that having a homosexual orientation is evil, wrong, sinful, deviant, etc. The Church does hold that acting out of one’s homosexual orientation. .engaging in same-gender sexual actions. . is sinful, immoral. The Church does not condemn homosexuals. It does condemn sinful acts.

    One would assume that an accredited university would teach the current understanding of this issue from doctrinal, sociological, psychological viewpoints and that it would most certainly teach and reflect the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. . .or else risk losing its right to call itself a CATHOLIC University.

    Pax et Bonum.

  4. rich
    rich says:

    This is crazy. The inclusion of homosexuality as a category of deviancy is completely normal and appropriate in sociology courses on deviancy at universities across the board (as one could easily find in a simple search for descriptions of similar courses). It’s not the role of sociology to make a moral judgement about homosexuality, sex work, or any of the other categories but to examine how social relations negotiate/create/legislate categories for deviancy, etc. Steubenville is a completely messed up institution for a lot of reasons (and I don’t suspect it’s an environment where an good conversation on sexuality [let alone homosexuality] can be had) — and this is coming from a former Franciscan — but this is not because they incude homosexuality as a category of deviancy in a sociology course syllabus. Those who authored this letter and the organizations that published it might do well to do their homework next time.

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth says:

      Deviant behavior is behavior…mental illness is a condition, homosexuality an orientation…basic premises should apply…one does not label these things behaviors per se.

    • Gregory
      Gregory says:

      The issue isn’t deviancy as “out of the statistical norm” its the notion of deviancy from a mental health and moral perspective. Every mainstream mental health association of professionals follows sound, valid science in finding that homosexuality isn’t deviant in the same manner as murder, rape, prostitution, etc. To lump homosexuality in such a list is bad science and offensive.

      We’ve done our homework:

      • More than 25 years of solid mainstream scholarship in the fields of psychology, social work, and mental health demonstrating the psychological health of gay and lesbian individuals.

      • The latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) does NOT include homosexuality as a disorder or form of deviant behavior.

      • All major professional mental health organizations have gone on record to affirm that homosexuality is not a mental disorder or deviant behavior.

      • If the University claims to be teaching according to science, please produce the exact studies and experts used to justify this position.

      • richard hoffman reinahrdt
        richard hoffman reinahrdt says:

        Elizabeth — i agree. i think part of the point with homosexuality is that it has become discursively linked up with behaviors (that may or may not apply) to peripheralize people socially through discourse, violence, and structural/institutional barriers. So, people were made deviants and then treated as such.

        Gregory — Rest assured that no one (and certainly not I) has taken issue with any of the information you have cited in your reply to me. I realize that the scientific, psychological, social work, etc. communities have come around as it were. Nevertheless, none of this means that academic institutions across the world are going to erase the creation of homosexuality as a category for deviancy in standard sociology courses. Is this what you are calling for? If members of this organization or other Catholic LGBT organizations are somehow unaware of histories of how social relations have constructed LGBT people as deviants and violated them on this premise, then it might do them well to enroll in a course (though, as I said above probably NOT at Steubenville! 🙂 ). If there are other problems with Steubenville — and I suspect them to be (and have experienced them as) legion — I might be interested in being a part of that conversation, though I think it’s probably more important to let people know they should get as far away from that place as they can.

        There is one more point I’d like to emphasize. Mainstream LGBT people seem all to content to throw others under the bus these days. I think it would be a good time to ask ourselves questions — based on an understanding of histories of repression against sexual minorities — how comfortable we feel throwing sex workers or those addicted to drugs under the bus “we” (LGBT people as a supposed community) have historically been thrown under. If the project is to say that we are better than sex workers, that is not a project I am interested in (Are we ready to participate in constructing others as deviants and proceeding to violate them on those grounds? Oftentimes I’ve found that “we” unfortunately are.). So, perhaps it’s time all of us began to try to understand (perhaps took a course in) histories of how social relations create categories of deviancy; single individual out for violence, erasure, or death based on those categories; understand how we might fit into those categories (or not); and find out what we might do to confront these destructive machinations.

        Thanks for your response and for reading my scattered follow-up thoughts. rhr

      • richard hoffman reinahrdt
        richard hoffman reinahrdt says:

        and i also want to be very clear that i never said anything about homosexuality being framed as deviant because of its relation to statistical norms. i don’t find that kind of argument to be helpful or productive here. it is certainly not the one i was trying to make, and i apologize if for some reason this was not clear enough.

  5. Pauline
    Pauline says:

    As I understand the American University system, they rely heavily on alumni for fund-raising. LGBTI alumni have the power to withdraw the $$$ perhaps, and use the money for further justice work.
    What a pity the Franciscan University is not leading but having to be dragged into this century – not to mention the Gospel.

  6. Steve
    Steve says:

    The morally deviant behavior is the engagement in homosexual ACTS. It is NOT the orientation. “homosexuality”, the term, refers to both (the act and the orientation). Franciscan is clearly and simply referring to the ACTS. It is clearly a credible and legitimate course, fully in-line with the teachings of the Magisterium. You fail to remember that this is a Catholic university, which unlike other Catholic schools, actually attempts to design it’s curriculum around authentic Catholic doctrine.

  7. Darby
    Darby says:

    How is it that a Catholic university is being criticized for views consistent with Catholicism? Seriously folks… you need to be tolerant and let others have freedom for their beliefs too.


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