Georgetown U. Students Seek Changes at Conference Named for LGBTQ-Negative Cardinal

The editorial board of Georgetown University’s student newspaper is calling for the Jesuit school to reform its annual pro-life conference to distance the meeting from a deceased LGBTQ-negative prelate, as well as from anti-LGBTQ organizations and speakers.

The Georgetown Voice asks the Washington, DC school to change the name of Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life, which takes its name from Cardinal John O’Connor, Archbishop of New York City, who died in 2000, and who had a strong anti-LGBTQ record.  The newspaper claims the cardinal’s legacy does not uphold the University’s Jesuit values.

In an obituary, The New York Times described O’Connor as “a passionate defender of organized labor” and “a vocal assailant of racism and anti-Semitism,” but also “passionately outspoken in his opposition to abortion” and “unconditional in upholding official Catholic teachings on topics like homosexuality and the ordination of women.” He opposed city rules which would forbid employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, though religious institutions would be exempt, particularly Executive Order 50

The editorial board further cites O’Connor’s controversial comments during the AIDS crisis, as he spoke against distributing condoms as a public health measure, even as cases soared over 100,000: 

“Despite the potential benefit of offering protection and clean syringes to sexually active people and intravenous drug users, O’Connor said that “good morality is good medicine” and advocated against implementing these programs for at-risk communities. Looking the other way when people are suffering is not a Jesuit value, nor is blaming their suffering on sin.”

(For more on O’Connor’s record relating to HIV/AIDS and lesbian/gay issues, click here and here.)

The editorial board also asks that the Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life expand its discussion of what it means to be pro-life. The conference is largely focused on anti-abortion issues, as it coincides with the March for Life, also held in Washington, D.C. If being pro-life means respecting human dignity from conception to death, then the conference should also address issues like capital punishment. The authors write “a “pro-life” conference must inherently also be anti-death penalty, or it fails in its mission to promote the dignity of human life.”

The meeting should also protect the dignity of every student at Georgetown, including marginalized groups such as LGBTQ students. The authors cite how the conference has previously been sponsored by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and had representatives of the group speak at the conference. The ADF is considered an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. “By allowing this organization and one of its former employees on campus,” the students write, “Georgetown is fostering an intolerant space for its queer students and acting in direct contradiction to the Jesuit value of ‘Community in Diversity,’ which it frequently expresses publically.”

Georgetown was the first Catholic university to open an LGBTQ resource center back in 2008, and has been a leader in making Catholic higher education more LGBTQ-inclusive. The editorial board encourages the university to continue this tradition by eliminating vestiges of anti-LGBTQ ideology from the conference:

“It is time for Georgetown to decide what kind of Catholic institution it wants to be. Will we continue to permit archaic teachings that alienate the LGBTQ community and survivors, or will we push the Church as a whole to move forward and improve? This editorial board implores Georgetown to do the latter.”

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.

Melissa Feito, New Ways Ministry, March 31, 2020

2 replies

    The Cardinal O’Connor Conference is about life issues, and Cardinal O’Connor was an eloquent advocate for human life. Enough of these efforts to engage in people erasure.

  2. Don Siegal
    Don Siegal says:

    “The Cardinal O’Connor Conference is about life issues”

    LGBT issues are all about life issues. I agree with the Georgetown University’s editorial board. Church leaders who were pro death penalty or anti-LGBT in their public lives should not have conferences on life issues named after them.


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