Love the Sinner

When sexual orientation conflicts with church doctrine, how tolerant should a Catholic University be?

Often the greatest openness -- and the most controversy -- is on the larger campuses or at Jesuit universities. Notre Dame leaders caught criticism over a gay film festival. In Chicago, some Catholics protested the decision by De Paul University to allow students to minor in queer studies. And the debate was heated at Pennsylvania's Duquesne University after school officials refused to allow the formation of a gay student group in 2005.

As an attempt to bridge these tensions, in 1998 the Regis campus ministry encouraged the formation of a group where students could discuss some instances of intimidation against gays that had occurred on campus. Regis philosophy professor Karen Adkins was one of the first faculty advisors; she says it took some time before the group's leaders felt comfortable enough to register their names as officers with Student Activities. "And I don't think they would've been oppressed because of it," she says. "But it spoke to why we needed the group that there was a real climate of not talking about it."

The group was later formally recognized as the Gay/Straight Alliance.

When she didn't get satisfaction at Regis University, Alana McCoy went to the Denver police.
Anthony Camera
When she didn't get satisfaction at Regis University, Alana McCoy went to the Denver police.
Although Zachary Dong (left) and Alex Robinson weren't on campus when Alana McCoy's car was vandalized, they did admit to ripping down her display of coming-out stories.
Although Zachary Dong (left) and Alex Robinson weren't on campus when Alana McCoy's car was vandalized, they did admit to ripping down her display of coming-out stories.

Father Sheeran has always been supportive of the Alliance's mission to increase dialogue and understanding among students, which he identifies as the core mission of a Jesuit education. "The people can talk to each other and understand how things look from another's point of view," he says. "We just found that it was very important for the gays to be heard and the straight students to understand. Because there's an awful lot of just plain lack of understanding for people, especially boys, who are eighteen years old coming here."

But he's careful to point out that the group's mission is philosophical only. "It's not an advocacy group where it's only gays and lesbians who are together not only to support each other but also to have dances, to be advocating the gay lifestyle," Father Sheeran explains. "It is not a social group in that sense; it's a discussion group. It's designed so that people can walk in each other's moccasins. That's different from the kind of thing that you would find has been controversial on campus.

"It is saying no, we don't approve of the gay lifestyle. We think that's bad even for the people who are practicing it. But don't anybody go out there and start harassing them or being disrespectful toward their rights. And especially if they disagree with church teaching, then that's something we presume is with great integrity and that's to be respected."

Last December, an online user posting under the name Zachary Dong wrote a response to a Catholic news website's article about the Knights of Columbus losing support from the University of Wisconsin. "What's worse, I believe, is when Catholic schools fail to uphold the values of their mission statements and seem to be more and more secular," he wrote. "For example, at Regis University I got in trouble for speaking out against a board in my dormitory hallway that was promoting and saying it's acceptable to get a sex change. The catechism clearly prohibits this practice."

Although a Campus Safety officer was present when Robinson confessed to Officer Roller, Regis didn't start any disciplinary proceedings against him until nearly a month later, when McCoy supplied a school administrator with the DPD complaint documents. Robinson has a university hearing on the matter next week.

McCoy still sees Robinson and Dong on campus almost daily. She wonders if it's possible for all of their worldviews to coexist under the same roof -- if tolerance is truly a lesson that can be taught. "I still have a big sense of pride about Regis," she says. "This is my school, too. I want very much to be a part of things that I have so much respect for. But the church doctrine's approach to homosexuality makes it difficult for everybody to reconcile why I'm here or why any gays are here. There are so many issues they pursue that are so noble. I just don't want to disappear from that."

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