Bishop Expresses “Serious Concerns” Over New LGBTQ Law Clinic at Gonzaga University

The bishop of Spokane, Washingon, has expressed “serious concern” over Gonzaga University School of Law’s inauguration of a new LGBTQ+ Rights Clinic.

Bishop Thomas Daly expressed ‘serious concerns’ over the new clinic, reported Catholic San Francisco. The Spokane diocese is worried that the law school’s new clinic “will be actively promoting in the legal arena and on campus, values that are contrary to the Catholic faith and natural law.” According to the diocese, such practices at the law school could conflict with the religious liberty of Christian individuals and organizations.

Jesuit Father Bryan Pham, a lawyer and chaplain for Gonzaga’s law school, does not see the clinic causing these problems.  The purpose of the clinic is not to indoctrinate law students towards one specific way of thinking or another, he said.  Rather, the “goal of the clinic is to create a space that helps students understand the viewpoints of a broad range of clients.”

Father Pham also emphasized how the work of the clinic will expand the conversation on anti-discrimination provisions.  For example, discrimination against same-gender couples in the areas of employment, housing, [and] bank loans are “basic human [rights] issues.”

Father Pham further commented that each professor at the clinic will have the option to incorporate Catholic Social Teaching into their course. Father Pham plans to weave this aspect of Church doctrine into his lectures.

Jacob Rooksby, dean of the law school, located in Spokane, Washington, also contextualized the new LGBTQ+ Rights clinic within the framework of Catholic social teaching:

“We are excited to launch this new clinic, which is informed by Gonzaga’s Catholic, Jesuit and humanistic mission of promoting and respecting individual dignity.”

The diocese plans to meet with leaders from the law school to try to resolve their contested viewpoints.

The work of the new LGBTQ+ Rights Clinic will focus on examining discrimination within the framework of the law. Such analysis does not run contrary to church teaching. Indeed, homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic statutes and policies run contrary to protecting the dignity of LGBTQ people, which is squarely enshrined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

We are seeing a growing divide on LGBTQ issues between Catholic educational institutions and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. On the one hand, Catholic schools are seeking to inaugurate additional resources and outreach to their LGBTQ population because it sees this step forward as a powerful expansion of its Catholic mission and identity. On the other hand, the bishops are generally troubled when protections and resources for LGBTQ students, employees, and the wider community at large are increased.  

Let’s hope the future conversation between the Diocese of Spokane and Gonzaga University School of Law will lead to more church institutions addressing the discrimination, prejudice, and bigotry faced by the LGBTQ community.

This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right-hand corner of this page.

Brian William Kaufman, New Ways Ministry, February 29, 2019

6 replies
  1. Richard Boyle
    Richard Boyle says:

    Here again, and ever more frequently. we see the confrontation of Catholic ideology and pastoral outreach and reality. I believe this conflict to be a defining issue in the future direction of the Church. Unresolved, a sort of developing schism in the Church would not surprise me.

  2. Mark F Clark
    Mark F Clark says:

    What a welcome relief to read about a program at a Catholic university that takes an honest, intellectually unbiased approach to a subject like LGBTQ+ civil rights. Church teaching should not be used as a bludgeon iin the courtroom of academic discourse.

  3. Drew Conneen
    Drew Conneen says:

    Congratulations to Gonzaga Law for offering a program that should be part of anyone’s legal training especially as this issue heads to the Supreme Court next year.

    DON E SIEGAL says:

    Natural Law

    “The Spokane diocese is worried that the law school’s new clinic ‘will be actively promoting in the legal arena and on campus, values that are contrary to the Catholic faith and natural law.’”

    Since the days of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), the Catholic Church has been obsessed with “natural law.” However, there have been major objections to the “natural law” theory since the period of the Enlightenment (seventeenth and eighteenth). As a response to these and contemporary criticisms, the Catholic Church developed the “new natural law” theory. This “new natural law” happens to embrace every moral teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The secular scientific community rejects all “natural law” theory. Regardless, knowledge of “natural law” theory is necessary to engage with and understand the traditional Catholic position.

    Until such time as the Catholic Church can put aside the outdated theories of “natural law,” they will be a stumbling block to accepting modern scientific knowledge.

    Resources: Stephen Pope, Reason and Natural Law; In Gilbert Meilaender & William Werpehowski (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Theological Ethics. Oxford University Press (2005). Stephen J. Pope is Professor of Theology at Boston College. His research interests include Christian ethics and evolutionary theory, charity and natural law in Aquinas, and Roman Catholic social teachings.


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