Gays, doctrine and Catholic University

CUAdomeSeveral GetReligion readers have sent in the URL for a Washington Post story that ran last weekend about the formation of a group for gays, lesbians and, one would assume, bisexuals on the campus of the Catholic University of America. This story is pretty much what you would expect: A love song to a small, courageous band of true believers who are standing up against the establishment. Journalists love that template. You can see this right at the top of the report:

Every Wednesday morning, 150 officials at Catholic University receive an email about a gay student's struggles on campus.

There's a graduate student who doesn't mention her girlfriend to classmates or professors for fear of being lectured. An undergraduate who held her girlfriend's hand and was called an ugly name. Another student learned his roommate's mother tried to have her son reassigned when she learned he was gay. Every Wednesday night, more than three dozen students gather to discuss what Catholic can do to welcome, affirm and protect its gay students, staff members and others.

So far, the administration has not been receptive to the group's Wednesday efforts. This summer they rejected an application from the group, CUAllies, to be an official student club. Doing so would have led to supporting an advocacy group for positions contrary to church teachings, Catholic spokesman Victor Nakas said in a statement.

"What else could be their purpose?" said Nakas.

If you are looking for Catholic doctrinal insights deeper than those of a campus spokesperson, this is not the story for you. There are, of course, a wide variety of voices from the student group itself and from its supporters in other settings. It goes without saying that there is a strong, official, LesBiGay presence at Georgetown University, the Jesuit institution that serves as the official maypole around which dance the principalities and powers of progressive American Catholicism.

However, the Post team does seem to realize that private colleges -- left and right -- are voluntary associations that are allowed to advocate and even protect their foundational doctrines, whether those doctrines are ancient Catholic Christianity or a modern or postmodern creed of the choosing of a school's trustees. Thus, it would have been good to mention that CUA students voluntarily affirm a student-life code that includes this statement:

R. Sexual Offenses

1. Sexual Relationships: The university affirms that sexual relationships are designed by God to be expressed solely within a marriage between husband and wife. Sexual acts of any kind outside the confines of marriage are inconsistent with the teachings and moral values of the Catholic Church and are prohibited. ...

There are, of course, a wide variety of Catholic educational institutions that would not make this demand or strive, in any way whatsoever, to advocate these doctrines. Then again, CUA is very open about its loyalty to Catholic teachings and to Rome. Yes, the student code includes other statements about sexuality and the dignity of all students. It's a truly Catholic mix, so check it out.

The leaders of CUAllies know where they are. Thus, the Post reports:

"We might not be an official group, but we're winning," said Robby Diesu, a senior political theory major from New York who is a founder of the group. "We have our own community. ... It's empowering."

But the group has a self-imposed list of topics that are off-limits: Pre-marital sex, gay sex, birth control, gay marriage and behavior not permitted by the Catholic church. Despite the university's refusal to sanction the group, the students say they want to respect the campus's conservative nature and rules. Instead, they focus on helping gay students who are trying to navigate campus and educating the rest of the student body about gay issues.

courageAnd later we read:

Catholic University used to have a gay-straight alliance, the Organization for Lesbian and Gay Student Rights, which was formed in 1979 and was officially recognized as a student organization in 1988. The group's original constitution stated that it will not permit "any ambiguous use of the University's name to imply that the University approves of homosexual lifestyles as morally neutral, of homosexual activity, or of homosexual behavior."

The group was forced to dissolve several years ago because it became an advocacy group, Nakas said.

Since several readers praised the article, I kept waiting for a truly balanced debate about the Catholic teachings on sexuality (click here for key Catechism material), and homosexuality in particular. In other words, I kept waiting for a balanced, accurate journalistic presentation of the doctrinal issues being debated, with articulate, informed voices from both sides.

You'll be stunned to know that I'm still waiting.

Surely there are real, live theologians who back the church's teachings on that campus. You think? Surely there are some faculty members who are critical of those teachings, in part, and are willing to state their views on the record. After all, there are faculty members who are working to help CUAllies seek official status.

However, I was also left asking a more foundational question. The whole point of the article is that CUAllies has become the gathering place for LesBiGay students and their supporters on this campus.

Note, however, that this assumes that there is no local chapter of the Courage Apostolate, a network of support groups for Catholics who struggle with same-sex attraction -- but openly support the church's teachings. In other words, these are gay Catholics who are seeking the strength to remain celibate or to change their sexual behavior in some way. In liturgical terms, these Catholics believe that they need to confess their sins like everyone else who struggles to live by the high standards of Catholic doctrine.

According to the Courage website, there is a priest associated with this organization who works in the Washington, D.C., area. Might someone from the Post team have given him a call?

In other words, there is a chance, a good one I would think, that there are two groups on or near the CUA campus for gay, lesbian and bisexual Catholics. One group is defined by its support for Catholic teachings and the other one is, well, the one worthy of coverage in the Washington Post. If there isn't a Courage chapter on the campus, then that is, in and of itself, a story worthy of coverage.

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