In Higher Education, What Does “Catholic Identity” Actually Mean?

Each semester, there are an increasing number of LGBT-positive developments in Catholic higher education, documented by Bondings 2.0’s “Campus Chronicles” series. But opposition to these efforts often frames LGBTQ supportive developments as undermining Catholic identity. Today’s post highlights some approaches to Catholic identity from this spring to reflect further on just what is meant by Catholic identity when it comes to Catholic higher education.

lucLoyola University Chicago Affirms Trans Students

Responding to the Trump administration’s withdrawal of federal guidelines to protect transgender students, Loyola University Chicago’s Office of the Dean of Students and Office of Student Diversity and Multicultural affairs released a statement saying they “remain committed to serving as sources for advocacy, resources, and support for all students.” It continued:

“This commitment has never been driven by federal directives or guidance, but stems rather from our Catholic, Jesuit mission, which calls us to honor the dignity and humanity of all people and to stand in solidarity with those among us who may be vulnerable to oppression or exclusion. . .we remain committed to the policies we have in place and our institutional mission, both of which fully support Loyola’s transgender, gender-nonconforming, and non-binary students.”

21231_fullMarquette University Resource Center Reopens

In January, Marquette University reopened its LGBTQ+ Resource Center, an occasion for the Marquette Wire to look at the University’s somewhat contentious history around LGBT issues. Referencing anti-transgender protestors the school faced last fall, the editors noted how two administrators explained how the school’s identity relates to the Resource Center:

“University Provost Dan Myers, who stood in counter-protest across Wisconsin Avenue from the [protestors] with members of the Marquette community, said in an email, ‘There is no question that our Catholic, Jesuit mission calls on us to be a welcoming place for all, and we strive to be that welcoming place.’

“Coordinator for LGBTQ+ programs and services Enrique Tejada III said in an email, ‘I believe that it is because of Marquette’s Catholic, Jesuit identity and values that our LGBTQ+ Resource Center is able to operate on a religious and specifically Catholic campus.’


georgetown20logoFor Georgetown, Catholic Identity Means Diversity 

The editors of Georgetown University’s campus newspaper, The Hoya, took up the question of Catholic identity recently. Right-wing critics have, through a petition and a lawsuit, challenged the University for not being Catholic enough. In response, The Hoya editors wrote:

“In attempting to stifle the diversity of viewpoints represented at the university through speakers and faculty, the lawsuit neglects to recognize that Catholicism does not abide by one narrow definition and that, more than any other facet, the university’s particular Jesuit tradition strives to promote authentic human understanding and compassion guided by Catholic social teaching. This includes promoting dialogue among different groups, even if official church doctrine diverges from their ideas.

“No part of the [right-wing] petition failed to grasp this more than the section criticizing Georgetown’s placement within Newsweek’s top-25 ‘gay-friendly’ colleges in the country in 2010— the only Catholic university to be included — and contending that the school’s LGBTQ Resource Center and recognition of LGBTQ student organizations countered Catholic teaching. . .

“[The U]niversity ought to ensure all students receive exposure to the rich religious tradition which informs its values. Yet, in the truest spirit of Georgetown’s Jesuit heritage, the university should not acquiesce to demands for an overly narrow interpretation of Catholicism demanded by the petition.”

Georgetown’s latest initiative is “to make single-stall restrooms in public buildings on campus both gender-inclusive and Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant by the end of the semester,” a joint effort by the administration and the Student Association’s LGBTQ Inclusivity group. Reporting on the initiative, The Hoya noted that in many cases this development means only changing signs, and a feasibility study will look at other cases.

What Catholic identity means concretely in higher education, or in any institutional setting, is not always clear. The devil is in the details when determining how colleges and universities provide high-quality education that is accessible to all and integrates faith.

But investing in programs and policies which welcome, support, and educate LGBTQ students– and particularly trans students in the current climate–is clearly a key part of Catholic identity today.

What do you think Catholic identity means for colleges and universities, at it relates to issues of gender and sexuality? Leave your thoughts in the “Comments” section below.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 25, 2017


New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit REGISTER BY MARCH 27th TO AVOID A LATE FEE!

0 replies
  1. C G Jones
    C G Jones says:

    All three are Jesuit institutions
    What about the several universities owned by the Holy Cross community.( university of Portland, Saint Edwards, Norte Dame.,,)? And those of other communities? Sisters of Charity, Vincentians, Marists,….. to name a few

  2. Wilhelm Wonka
    Wilhelm Wonka says:

    If Catholic identity does not mean primarily love, then it means nothing at all.

    Love is expressed in so many ways, such is its unplumbed depth and its universality. As such, Catholics in higher education should be prepared to accept, first, that their experience and knowledge of love is neither perfect nor complete, and second, that their moral conclusions may not, therefore, always be assured.

    Even if there is a hiatus in our moral knowledge (and, God knows, there have been many in the history of Catholicism), there must never be a corresponding hiatus in our love.

    Welcome all; include all…even if you cannot morally approve, nor understand, their conduct. We are not called upon by God to do either, but to love regardless. In the end, HE will judge, not we in the interim.

    Love condemns no one, excludes no one. It is the only call from God to closed human hearts. Moral censure merely bolts an already locked door.

  3. Bishop Carlos A Florido, osf
    Bishop Carlos A Florido, osf says:

    A truly outstanding article by Robert Shine. When Catholic Identity, whether Roman or other Catholic traditions, is defined in a narrow and limited manner, it begins to become ‘religious’ in the sense of religion as crowd control rather than the Divine intent as proclaimed by the Christ.

  4. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    It amazes me that conservative Catholics have so little faith in their Faith and its principles of being Roman Catholic that they think any exposure to anything outside their very limited definition of what it takes to be Catholic will lead others to perdition. At a university students should be exposed to the world so they can settle on what to believe and how to lead their life. If Christ is as wonderful and true as we and they believe, then they should trust that fact. It has never been shown that living with and supporting equal rights for LGBT students will in any way temp any straight individual to change their sexuality – and vice versa. Remember LGBT individual are raised by heterosexual parents so their being is not a learned desire.

    Regarding the University of Notre Dame’s tepid support of LGBT students it is still much lacking in full equality and it still denies any status to the LBGT alumni group. There is surface cordiality, but much more is needed as their is from the whole Church.


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