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John Michael Vore : AN EARLY GAY STUDENT

Claire Heininger | Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Coming out to his own family was gut-wrenching. Coming out to the Notre Dame family proved to be another challenge entirely.John Michael Vore learned the distinction the hard way when, as an undergraduate struggling to place his identity, he realized he was gay and sought out a priest for counseling. Instead of the spiritual guidance he expected to receive, he said he got sexual abuse and a stifling silence. Vore said he also discovered that the University’s highly touted “family” didn’t live up to its promises.”They say Notre Dame is a family,” Vore said. “If you’re my parents, you’ve got to take care of me. If I come to Notre Dame not knowing I’m gay and discover it while I’m there, I don’t want to be silenced.”Vore said his first reports of the abuse, as well as his subsequent efforts to gain acknowledgment of gays on campus, were quieted by an administration that was more concerned with its image than with the values it pledged to promote and the students it promised to respect.However, Notre Dame spokesman Matt Storin said that while he could not comment on Vore’s particular case, the University took immediate action in response to all sexual abuse allegations. He added that he believed all involved in the abuse incidents were of graduate student age.Vore focused on the University’s attitude towards gay students, saying that it was careful not to publicize the existence of a group that might cause controversy among donors.”Notre Dame has to play a game with its donors to survive,” Vore said. “They’re making sure none of the donors feel uncomfortable.”Vore believes that this money-for-image exchange factors highly into the University’s reaction to students in his situation.”They’re very conservative because they don’t want to offend people who give them money, don’t want to interfere with the cash cow,” he said. “[So] they ostracize things that go against the ‘Notre Dame family’ and the university’s Catholic character.”Gay students do not fit into this ideal character, and, Vore said, Notre Dame doesn’t do much to mask their exclusion. He believes that by catering to the priorities of Catholicism over the priorities of individualism and intellectual curiosity, the University not only hurts students like himself but also betrays its purpose.”A Catholic university is a contradiction in terms,” Vore said. “There is a conservative Pope and pressure to meet Catholic priorities. But at a university you are taught to think for yourself – to question everything, to question us, to question where you end up.”Vore’s own questioning persisted throughout his time at the University, when he consistently tried to bring alternative, liberal and progressive views to campus. His masters’ thesis, “Gay Man in Catholic Disneyland,” which was published in 2002 as an introduction to his memoir “Tell Me What Home Is Like,” summarized his feelings about Notre Dame’s profit-driven decision making. He compared the University’s image-conscious approach to a corporation trying to maintain “a theme park for Catholics.” In addition to his thesis, Vore was involved with GALA (Gay and Lesbian Alumni/ae of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College), contributed consultation to the University’s antidiscrimination clause and suggested that a permanent standing committee on gay and lesbian issues be created at Notre Dame. Although Vore has since stepped outside Notre Dame, publishing “Moving Into History: Lookout Liberals, Psychological Correctness and Victim Cultures” in 2003, he continues to urge others who have been ignored, abused or both to step back into the dialogue. He stressed that “you don’t get through it by hiding – you get through it by creating a network of people to help.”Such a network was missing from the University’s own stance on the sexual abuse crisis, Vore said. He said that administrators have focused too much on congratulating Notre Dame’s response to the scandals without acknowledging that events on its own campus were a contributing force in the first place.”It all comes down to how Notre Dame is sold,” he said. “It goes back to the Catholic Disneyland concept. Notre Dame has a lot of first-hand experience with the sex abuse scandal, but [these reactions] are evidence that the University is still taking care of itself first and foremost – and that’s sad.”A self-serving and exclusive community, Vore reiterated, is not worthy of the “family” title. “If you care too much about image,” he said, “you’re going to lose what you’re all about.”