The University of Notre Dame’s progress on LGBT issues has been a gradual process, but one that is making headway since the unveiling of the University’s pastoral plan in 2012. Still, recent incidents show a campus in tension on this path to full inclusion.
Last week, Notre Dame and its sister school, Saint Mary’s College, notified employees that benefits would now be available to same-gender spouses as marriage equality becomes law in Indiana. A university email obtained by the South Bend Tribune, said in part:
“This means that the law in Indiana now recognizes same-sex marriages and the University will extend benefits to all legally married spouses, including same-sex spouses…
“Notre Dame is a Catholic university and endorses a Catholic view of marriage. However, it will follow the relevant civil law and begin to implement this change immediately.”
Notre Dame is one of the first religiously-affiliated colleges to observe the new law, as other Christian universities are refusing to comply with the latest court rulings. One staff member who is openly gay, Aaron Nichols, said of the announcement:
” ‘Being an out staff member, I feel a lot more confident that my concerns are being heard and responded to…The university is no longer acting in a vacuum…That makes me proud to be ND.’ “
However, not all members of the Notre Dame community are reacting positively. Aleteia reports that Holy Cross Father Wison D. Miscamble, a history professor, spoke with young alumni in Washington, DC on the topic: “For Notre Dame: Battling for the Heart and Soul of a Catholic University.” He gave out Notre Dame president Fr. John Jenkins’ personal email and encouraged alumni to write negatively of the decision.
Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend added his criticism, saying Notre Dame should have waited for a “study of what the law requires” so that Catholic institutions are not “compelled to cooperate in the application of the law redefining marriage.” In response, President Jenkins said Rhoades was consulted before and after the decision’s announcement, and a University spokesperson defended Notre Dame’s decision.
Additionally, the University is set to host a traditionally inclined conference titled “Gay in Christ.” The conference, hosted by the Institute for Church Life and the Gender Relations Center, will “explore how Catholic institutions can coexist comfortable with gay Catholics” and focus on pastoral outreach, according to Indiana Public Radio.
Institute director John Cavadini said the conference has been a point of controversy on campus, adding:
” ‘I feel like our imaginations get cramped. . . We get caught in ways of thinking and don’t allow ourselves to think a little bit farther and this conference is meant to help us think a little bit farther.’ “
However, the conference is not as open ended as Cavadini portrays it. “Gay in Christ” focuses on outreach to “self-identified gay Catholics who accept Church teaching,” and speakers are predominantly Catholics advocating celibacy as the only option for lesbian and gay people. In fact, a writer for Slate recently highlighted the conference and torturously argued that the path of celibacy could be a path for acceptance of lesbian and gay people in the Church.
While Notre Dame is to be commended for the several initiatives it has made in enacting the pastoral plan, “Beloved Friends and Allies,” the presence of such a conference on campus proves there is still work to be done.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry