Notre Dame feels heat again af­ter fund­ing stu­dent trip to gay march

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY JU­LIA DUIN

A sur­prise de­ci­sion by the Uni­ver­sity of Notre Dame to send five stu­dents to the Oct. 11 gay rights march in Wash­ing­ton has pro­duced fury among alumni still smart­ing from the Catholic in­sti­tu­tion’s in­vi­ta­tion to Pres­i­dent Obama in May.

Five stu­dents be­long­ing to the school’s Pro­gres­sive Stu­dent Al­liance were given an un­de­ter­mined amount from the uni­ver­sity’s stu­dent ac­tiv­i­ties fund — from fees as­sessed to stu­dents — to drive to Wash­ing­ton, bunk with friends and par­tic­i­pate in the Na­tional Equal­ity March. Thou­sands of par­tic­i­pants marched from the White House to the Capi­tol to sup­port gay rights.

Since the news broke Oct. 13 in the Ob­server, the stu­dent news­pa­per, com­ments and post­ings about the school’s spon­sor­ship of the trip have ric­o­cheted on Catholic blogs and some gay out­lets.

William Dempsey, a re­tired Arlington, Va. lawyer from the school’s Class of 1952 who heads Project Sy­camore, an alumni or­ga­ni­za­tion with a 10,000-name mail­ing list, said Notre Dame alumni are “tear­ing their hair out” over the news.

“We’ve had a tor­rent of e-mails from alumni that are suf­fused with dis­may, as­ton­ish­ment and sad­ness,” he said. Notre Dame has “been the icon of Amer­i­can Catholic ed­u­ca­tion for gen­er­a­tions. This is like a par­ent turn­ing on a child un­ex­pect­edly.” He has asked the uni­ver­sity for an ex­pla­na­tion but so far the re­sponse has been “un­sat­is­fac­tory,” he said.

Den­nis Brown, spokesman for the uni­ver­sity, did not an­swer ques­tions from The Wash­ing­ton Times about why one of the na­tion’s pre-em­i­nent Catholic in­sti­tu­tions ap­proved the trip, al­though he did e-mail a brief state­ment say­ing the PSA spon­sored the jour­ney. And in a short phone con­ver­sa­tion, he said the PSA only needed ap­proval from a fac­ulty ad­viser to spend money on the trip.

PSA Pres­i­dent Jackie Em­manuel told the Ob­server that the school fund­ing was “a won­der­ful sur­prise.”

“They haven’t al­ways been sup­port­ive of us in the past,” sopho­more Joanna Whit­field told the pub­li­ca­tion. “But we’re thrilled.”

The Ro­man Catholic Church has taken one of the strictest stands against ho­mo­sex­ual acts of any Chris­tian de­nom­i­na­tion, call­ing such acts sin­ful and ho­mo­sex­ual de­sires “dis­or­dered.” The church’s stance has been re­it­er­ated re­peat­edly un­der the present Pope Bene­dict XVI, dur­ing whose reign the Vat­i­can has pro­hib­ited any priest­hood can­di­date who has “present deepseated ho­mo­sex­ual ten­den­cies or sup­ports the so-called ‘gay cul­ture’ “ to en­roll in sem­i­nary.

Last year, the PSA pre­sented a pe­ti­tion with about 3,000 sig­na­tures of stu­dents, fac­ulty and staff to the of­fice of the school pres­i­dent, the Rev. John I. Jenk­ins, ask­ing the school to add sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion to its nondis­crim­i­na­tion clause.

Al­though the school has not done so, it does have a Core Coun­cil for Gay and Les­bian Stu­dents con­sist­ing of eight un­der­grads, the ma­jor­ity of whom are gay, and four ad­min­is­tra­tors from the school’s stu­dent af­fairs divi­sion. Sis­ter Sue Dunn, a Do­mini­can nun who is the coun­cil’s co-chair­woman, said her of­fice was not in­volved in the stu­dent trip to the equal­ity march.

The school’s cam­pus min­istry of­fice also has an an­nual re­treat for gay stu­dents, or­ga­nizes a “sol­i­dar­ity Sun­day” each fall to pray for “in­creased in­clu­sion of all mem­bers of the church” and main­tains a room of gay/les­bian ref­er­ence ma­te­ri­als.

Crit­ics of the ven­er­a­ble in­sti­tu­tion, founded in 1842, were queru­lous.

“Faith­ful Catholics will ask whether Notre Dame has learned its les­son from the scan­dalous com­mence­ment cer­e­mony last spring,” said Pa­trick J. Reilly, pres­i­dent of the Car­di­nal New­man So­ci­ety and a 1991 Ford­ham Uni­ver­sity grad­u­ate. “What uni­ver­sity seek­ing to re­as­sure fam­i­lies of its Catholic iden­tity would pay for stu­dents to at­tack the fam­ily and op­pose Catholic teach­ings on mar­riage?”

Notre Dame en­coun­tered a pub­lic re­la­tions wind­fall — and a furor — in March when it in­vited Pres­i­dent Obama to be the main speaker at its May 17 com­mence­ment cer­e­mony and re­ceive an honorary doc­toral de­gree. Eightythree bish­ops protested or crit­i­cized the in­vi­ta­tion, as did 367,000 in­di­vid­u­als who signed a Car­di­nal New­man So­ci­ety pe­ti­tion against invit­ing him.

Fort Wayne-South Bend Bishop John M. D’Arcy boy­cotted the grad­u­a­tion. The U.S. Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bish­ops, he said, for­bade giv­ing “awards, hon­ors or plat­forms” to “those who act in de­fi­ance of our fun­da­men­tal moral prin­ci­ples” in 2004.

Mr. Dempsey said alumni care deeply about the home of the “Fight­ing Ir­ish” and the di­rec­tion it’s headed.

“What hap­pens to Notre Dame is cru­cial in terms of what hap­pens to all re­li­gious colleges in the coun­try,” he said. “We won­der if it’s go­ing to turn into an­other Ge­orge­town,” re­fer­ring to the more lib­eral Je­suit-run Ge­orge­town Uni­ver­sity, founded in 1789.

Notre Dame Law School pro­fes­sor Charles E. Rice, au­thor of the newly pub­lished “What Hap­pened to Notre Dame?” cri­tiquing the in­vi­ta­tion to Mr. Obama, said the PSA trip has caused “not a rip­ple on cam­pus.”

De­spite the school’s rep­u­ta­tion, based on such iconic im­ages as “Touch­down Je­sus” and the 1940 film “Knute Rockne: Al­lAmer­i­can,” its char­ac­ter has changed, he wrote, partly due to the num­ber of Catholic pro­fes­sors drop­ping from 80 per­cent in the 1970s to 53 per­cent now.

“Gen­er­ally the fac­ulty,” he said Oct. 15, “are not friendly to­ward re­tain­ing the Catholic char­ac­ter of the school.”

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