The president of a Catholic university has apologized for offensive LGBTQ-negative language sent to students by Campus Ministry.
Francesco Cesareo, president of Assumption University which is on New Ways Ministry’s list of LGBTQ-friendly Catholic colleges, issued an apology weeks after criticism began. In his letter, reported on by MassLive, Cesareo wrote, in part:
“I deeply regret that some of the language in the document was received as a personal affront to LGBTQIA+ students and their allies as well as to their dignity as human beings. That was certainly not the intent. I acknowledge that unfortunate fact and regret that members of the community were hurt by that language.”
The president also mentioned campus members who do not support LGBTQ equality and gave prominence to those voices who “expressed concern that to voice an opposing [LGBTQ-negative] viewpoint on this issue will cause them to be ostracized or maligned.”
Cesareo participated in a student forum led by the campus’ LGBTQ group, AU Allies, which discussed next steps for the university to further support LGBTQ students.
The initial dispute at the school, formerly known as Assumption College and located in Worcester, Massachusetts, resulted from a Campus Ministry email sent to all students with a copy of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) voting guide, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” attached to it. Cesareo had previously offered a much weaker response to the controversy on October 21, according to Patch.
Students balked at the document’s placement of the term “redefining civil marriage” alongside racism, immigration, environmental destruction, abortion, and genocide, among other topics suggested to evaluate for the upcoming election. They pointed to the document’s section entitled “Doing Good and Avoiding Evil,” as reported by the Telegram & Gazette:
“Racism and other unjust discrimination, the use of the death penalty, resorting to unjust war, environmental degradation, the use of torture, war crimes, the failure to respond to those who are suffering from hunger or a lack of health care or housing, pornography, human trafficking, redefining civil marriage, compromising religious liberty, or unjust immigration policies are all serious moral issues that challenge our consciences and require us to act.”
A student group launched an online petition on Change.org, demanding that the university apologize. In one part, the petition stated:
“At a time when LGBTQ+ Americans are living in fear, this is the worst possible timing for Assumption to send out an information sheet that displays such horrendous language. This is a stab in the back to the LGBTQ+ community that is very present on Assumption’s campus, including its club, AU Allies. We demand a formal apology from the school acknowledging the emotional harm or trauma this may have caused for students in the LGBTQA+ community.”
As of today, the students’ petition has received close to 4,000 signatures. Because the petition is open to the general public, it is unclear how many Assumption students have signed it thus far.
The Telegram & Gazette also interviewed current students, reporting their reactions to the Catholic university’s email. One student shared:
“‘I can’t believe my own school could make me feel so invalid,’ one LGBTQ student told the Telegram. ‘They clearly put no thought into how their students would feel when they decided to send that email.’”
To support the school’s LGBTQ population, sixty-five current faculty members as well as a group of retired faculty from Assumption University submitted its own letter to the administration, advocating for a formal apology from other school leaders. The Telegram & Gazette cited part of the letter:
“We are greatly dismayed by how alienating it must have been for our LGBTQIA+ students to read these words issued by the people with whom they have entrusted their intellectual and spiritual journeys, especially the many of them who find great solace in their faith“If anything, extending the civil rights to gay couples could be viewed as a means of celebrating the institution of marriage and recognizing its benefits. It is none other than Pope Francis himself who is now entertaining the idea of civil unions for same-sex couples.”
“It is disappointing that during an election cycle that is extremely polarizing, Assumption University would provide these considerations for civic engagement.”
The letter continued:
“In the shadow of this incident, and so many others that are not named, we are calling on you to uphold the human dignity of every Assumption student, and particularly LGBTQIA+ students.”
Comparing marriage equality to actual social injustices, as “Faithful Citizenship” does, is harmful. LGBTQ students, their allies, and alumni at Assumption University have objected rightly to the bishops’ damaging language. Thankfully, administrators are responding with an apology and the pursuit of dialogue. This process of reconciliation will inevitably make the campus a more welcoming place in the end.
—Brian William Kaufman, New Ways Ministry, November 13, 2020