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Confusion on the home front

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, March 25, 2004

Notre Dame’s policies on homosexual issues are a paradigm of incoherence. Our leaders act sincerely in what they see as the best interest of Notre Dame and its students. But in their pursuit of political correctness, they have misled students, especially those with homosexual inclinations, and they have acquiesced in the exploitation of Notre Dame by activist movements hostile to the Catholic Church.

Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the 1990 Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities requires that the “essential characteristics” of “every Catholic university” must include: “Fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church.” That message on the homosexual issues is clear:

1. Persons with “homosexual tendencies … must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” Catechism, No. 2358.

2. Homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life.” “Scripture … presents [them] as acts of grave depravity.” No. 2357

3. The homosexual inclination is not a sin. But, as an inclination toward an objectively disordered act, the inclination is itself “objectively disordered.” No. 2358.

Notre Dame refuses to recognize student groups which approve homosexual acts. It refuses on the ground that such acts are prohibited by “official Church teaching.” The University, however, refuses to acknowledge that the inclination toward such acts is disordered. But how can an inclination toward a disordered act be itself anything but disordered? And if an inclination is not disordered why may it not be acted upon? This is important because our leaders wrongly imply that the prohibition of homosexual acts is not rooted in the natural law and the law of God but rather that it is an arbitrary edict of an insensitive Church.

This misdirection is compounded by the University’s readiness to combat other disordered inclinations. Students inclined to eating disorders, smoking and excessive drinking are the object of elaborate programs to control those inclinations. Smokers, especially, have achieved the status of virtual pariahs. Not for them the welcoming solicitude extended to students inclined toward sodomy rather than tobacco.

To alumni, donors and the public our leaders present an image of fidelity in their refusal to recognize student groups condoning homosexual acts. To the students, however, they offer cognitive confusion. If they are so adamant about refusing to approve homosexual acts, why have they allowed, for three years, University sponsorship of The Vagina Monologues, a play which commends the lesbian exploitation of a teenager by an adult as a “salvation” for the victim? And why did our leaders allow University sponsorship of the Queer Film Festival which exalted homosexual and transgendered lifestyles so as to hijack the reputation of Notre Dame in support of a politicized agenda hostile to the Catholic Church? Only a liberal academic could imagine that those events were neutral academic exercises.

Despite their denial of formal recognition to activist homosexual groups, our leaders convey by their actions the message that the legitimacy of the active homosexual lifestyle is at least an open question. While that message accords with political correctness, the de facto official religion of Notre Dame, it poorly serves the members of the University community. The Letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, issued with the approval of John Paul II, states: “[D]eparture from the Church’s teaching or silence about it, in an effort to provide pastoral care, is neither caring nor pastoral. Only what is true can ultimately be pastoral. The neglect of the Church’s position prevents homosexual men and women from receiving the care they need and deserve.”

The teaching of the Church in this area, rooted in the natural law as well as Scripture, is a hopeful and constructive testimony to the dignity of the person. Notre Dame students are entitled to a coherent affirmation by our leaders of the fullness of that teaching. Here, as in other areas, they are shortchanged.

Professor Emeritus Charles E. Rice is on the Law School faculty. His column normally appears every other Wednesday. He can be contacted at plawecki.1@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.