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My life as a gay ND alum and a faithful Catholic

| Thursday, September 29, 2016

My life as a gay Catholic man, father, husband and Domer started many years ago being brought up in a traditional middle-class Irish Catholic family in the suburbs of Boston. Both my parents were school teachers who strongly valued hard work ethic, advanced education and bringing their children up in the Catholic religion. My life’s path was to study hard, get into a good college, get married and have children. This was not thrust upon me, just assumed. Does this sound familiar?

While attending Notre Dame back in the mid ’70s, I thoroughly enjoyed attending Mass in the basement of Alumni Hall with my dorm mates. Mass at ND was a true community event that provided time for reflection and a break from the hectic study and social schedule. I truly feel I was spoiled by that experience.

After graduating, I followed the expected path: obtained an MBA, got married, had a child and settled into a “normal” life of working hard and advancing up the corporate ladder. After about eight years of marriage, I began to suspect that something wasn’t right. After much soul searching, I realized I had to be truthful to myself and my family.

Fast forward 25 years. I am now married to my husband. My daughter, who graduated from ND in ’07, is married to another Domer (BTW, a girl she met freshman year in Cavanaugh) and they have a beautiful little 13-month future Domer, class of ’36 (I hope). I also have the privilege of being the national chair of the LGBT Alumni group of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s GALA ND/SMC. Did you even know one existed? Many don’t!

The way I practice my faith these days is to believe and act as we were taught growing up: to be honest, treat everyone with respect, show love and compassion especially for those less fortunate and most of all to try to help others build a better community. It is with this strong belief that I desperately would love to see the Catholic Church be so much more inclusive of people like myself, my daughter and her family and the many other Catholics who also happen to be part of the LGBT community as well.

Why do I feel so strongly about this? Because I have personally seen the impact of the current state of intolerance. My own daughter-in-law was forced to leave a teaching position at a local Catholic high school because she was gay. My granddaughter will not be brought up in the Catholic faith because her two mothers are not welcome. Can you imagine? What a shame.

I encourage our school, Notre Dame, as the premier Catholic institution of higher education in the U.S., to use its position of influence to take the lead amongst its Catholic peers and step forward with words, action and deeds to more fully embrace LGBT Catholics. Take Pope Francis’s own vision during this Year of Mercy and become more merciful and inclusive. Embrace his wish for more tolerance and love and move away from the fear and distrust so often taken with the LGBT community.

What does this look like? Think of the image of our own University president emeritus Fr. Theodore Hesburgh fighting for civil rights in the ’60s. His unabashed vision and drive to push for equality for all humans, regardless of their background or skin color. Like Fr. Ted did in the ’60s, Notre Dame should speak out against the firing of teachers, coaches, even cafeteria workers who lose their jobs in Catholic schools simply because they are gay (it is happening ever day). Notre Dame should encourage greater tolerance and publicly condemn hatred and bias demonstrated by groups who disenfranchise LGBT individuals and seek to pass laws not only limiting rights, but in many cases, removing rights.

Why should Notre Dame take this leadership role? Because at Notre Dame, we love tradition. We have a tradition of being leaders, not just in the classroom, on the playing field or in the boardroom, but in the way that Catholics and all individuals across our country live and treat each other.

To encourage the pope’s vision of greater inclusion and compassion, GALA ND/SMC is sponsoring a “Pilgrimage of Mercy” in New York on Sunday. This pilgrimage is similar to ones that have occurred on Notre Dame’s campus and across many cities. The goal is to celebrate the pope’s message and call upon Catholic leaders everywhere, including at Notre Dame, to hear his words and follow his lead. My hope is that his message is heard, and someday I can see my granddaughter not only graduate from Notre Dame, but have her entire family be welcomed into the Catholic Church.

Jack Bergen

class of 1977

Sept. 26

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • UpperFells

    I bet your daughter-in-law wasn’t fired because she was gay. She was more likely fired because she had a child through IVF or artificial insemination. Or perhaps she was fired because she got married to another woman. Both are public violations of Church teaching. Being gay is not.

    • RC

      You definitely got the point he’s making. Good stuff, you nailed it, and you definitely did not come off as a callous, officious turd, nope.

      • UpperFells

        The author is distorting a key issue about how gays are treated by the Church.

        “Notre Dame should speak out against the firing of teachers, coaches, even cafeteria workers who lose their jobs in Catholic schools simply because they are gay (it is happening ever day).”

        This is not true. Arguments should be based on truths.

        • Tom Z.

          I love how knowledgeable catholics are so quick to recognize that being gay is not the problem, it’s acting upon those feelings which is the problem. You have no idea or comprehension of what it would be like if the institution you revolve your life around told you that you are fine the way you are, you just cannot act upon those attractions even if it towards a consenting adult. Like these people that were born this way don’t have the opportunity to find love, but you can because you’re “normal”. People that tell other people they cannot act on their attractions and find somebody to love and spend the rest of their life with are delusional in my mind. But hey, maybe that’s why you go to church every Sunday worshipping one of many man-made gods instead of actually volunteering your time and money to make this world a better place, or in my case, simply watching football.

          • UpperFells

            You know nothing about me, but you have chosen to engage in an ad hominem attack. I think you’re revealing a lot about yourself in your comments.

            If I’m single, then the Church expects the same things of me that it expects of my gay friends. In fact, I might be single and gay, but you don’t know that. You are making assumptions about who I am, how I act and even how I spend my Sundays.

          • Tom Z.

            I am assuming you are a catholic and are homophobic. I’m allowed to assume things based on your post. Your post was quick to point out that the church does support being gay, but not acting upon it. So I am assuming that you are a supporter of the church, against equality for heterosexuals and homosexuals, and you go to church religiously. All of those I am willing to bet are true. The only ad hominem attack is that I also assume you are not very smart for the above reasons, but I won’t mention that.

          • Alum

            HA! what a baseless attempt at defense, especially when you were the first person to jump to conclusions about how his daughter in law was possibly fired (for IVF) or from marrying the person she loves.

            If you’re going to douse yourself in gasoline and start lighting matches, then don’t expect people to come knock the matchbooks out of your hand. The “truths” you hold dear to your hard does not allow you to wrap vitriolic language in your posts.

          • JL

            What vitriolic language did UpperFells use?

          • NDaniels

            Although we do not choose all of our relationships, we choose how we behave in our relationships. There is order in Love as there is order in truth. Love is ordered to the personal and relational inherent Dignity of the human person, which is why a man does not Love his wife, in the same manner as he Loves his daughter, or his son, or his mother, or his father, or a friend. If he did, his Love would be disordered.

        • RandallPoopenmeyer

          They are treated like crap, period.

  • Kate Sullivan

    Amen. Thank you, Jack

  • The Vatican condemned homosexual sin in 2003. It was valid then and its valid now.

    You can’t be a good Catholic and support moral sin. Simple as that.

    • Alum

      please take your link, your bigotry and your denial and shove it where the sun don’t shine.

      nobody cares about your archaic viewpoints. it doesn’t represent Notre Dame in the slightest. most of you guys are closeted, anyways.

    • RandallPoopenmeyer

      Then there are no good Catholics if they are so hateful. Suit yourself

    • RandallPoopenmeyer

      You TFP Student Action people are psychos. Stop shoving your stupid beliefs down everyone’s throat. You guys are against abortion, but support war? What is wrong with you?

  • It is surprising, to put it conservatively, to see Mr. Bergen call upon
    “Pope Francis’s own vision,” since the Pope’s opposition to same-sex marriage has been strong and consistent. He characterized an Argentinian bill as “an attempt to destroy God’s plan,” a “‘move’ of the father of lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.” He has not deviated from that position as Pope.

    • Alum

      I agree, the Pope has also been extremely contradictory in the use of his language towards LGBT Catholics, but there is far more to extract from this article than just the closing statement.

      • JL

        Hijacking Catholic concepts of mercy and inclusion and bastardizing them for the author’s own agenda is the characteristic hallmark of this entire piece. If “faithful Catholic” can mean what he claims it means, then it means nothing.

      • NDaniels

        The pope has been contradictory in the use of his language towards those beloved sons and daughters who have developed a same-sex sexual desire/inclination/orientation because he dismisses the physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual harmful nature of same-sex sexual relationships that he defines as being “private”, that do not include children, and are not called marriage.

        In fact, “Page 117, of the pope’s book, On Heaven and Earth, in regards to same-sex unions
        “If there is a union of a PRIVATE NATURE, THERE IS NEITHER A THIRD PARTY NOR IS SOCIETY AFFECTED. Now, if this union is given the category of marriage and they are given adoption rights, there could be children affected. Every person needs a male father and female mother that can help them shape their identity. – Jorge Mario Bergoglio
        Approval of same-sex sexual unions is approval of same-sex sexual acts.
        Prior to being elected pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, by condoning same-sex sexual acts in relationships that he referred to as private, did not include children, and were not called marriage, and thus denying that God Is The Author of Love, of Life, and of Marriage, denied The Divinity of The Blessed Trinity.

  • Alum

    beautiful piece and very well-written, Jack! proud to be part of the ND family as well as an LGBT ally from GALA. your honesty and authenticity in composing this is exactly what Fr. Ted would have wanted.

  • JL

    Question: Would the Observer publish an article called “My life as a denier of gravity and a legit physicist”? Why not? If a Catholic school newspaper can treat Catholic moral theology as some relativistic, subjective field determined by personal whims and preferences, why can’t they do so with science?

    • João Pedro Santos

      Are you saying that Catholicism is a bigotred religion?

  • NDaniels

    Identifying oneself or other persons according to sexual desire/inclination/orientation, which is a direct violation of God’s Commandment regarding lust and the sin of adultery, demeans the Dignity of every human person, who is not, in essence, an object of sexual desire/inclination/orientation, but a beloved son or daughter, worthy of being treated with Dignity and respect in private as well as in public. The sexual objectification of the human person has led to physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual suffering. It is time to heal those wounds, and learn how to develop healthy and Holy relationships and friendships that are grounded in authentic Love.

    The marital act is Life-affirming and Life-sustaining, and can only be consummated between a man and woman, united in marriage as husband and wife.

    Men and women are designed in such a way that it is not possible to engage in same-sex sexual acts without demeaning our inherent Dignity as beloved sons and daughters. The desire to engage in a demeaning act of any nature, does not change the nature of the act. No one should be condoning demeaning sexual acts of any nature including between a man and woman united in marriage as husband and wife.

    Why not tell those men and women who have developed a same-sex sexual attraction the truth? It is because we Love you, and respect your Dignity as a beloved son or daughter, that we cannot condone the engaging in or affirmation of any act, including any sexual act that demeans your inherent Dignity as a beloved son or daughter. The desire to engage in a demeaning act of any nature, does not change the nature of the act. We Love you, and because we Love you, we desire that you will always be treated with, and will always treat others with Dignity and respect in private as well as in public. We will not tolerate the engaging in or condoning of sexual behavior that does not reflect the upmost respect for the human person.

  • Sarah Cohen

    There are jewish schools who will fire a teacher for the wrong color socks- I thik it is ridiculous for you to complain that a Catholic school will not hire your openly lesbian daughter in law. Why does everyone have to agree with you? You dont like the Catholic Church- open your own church. Even if you did reform the Catholic Church & this Pope or the next Pope openly said that gay marriage was tottally acceptable, not at all sinful & gay couples can receive communion, I think by then many catholics will rebel & start a new catholic church or something like that that you will complain about. There is a Hasidic Sect in Jerusalem that 50 years ago the Rabbi died & about 30 of his followers decided his son-in-law was not on a high enough level of piety and they voted to break away from the rest of the group and chose the Rabbis granddaughters husband to be their new leader. There have been situations the opposite. I dont know the exact dynamics or belief of the Catholic Church but if our objective is to change other people or control society to your definition of morality and social justice then you sound authoritarian & delusional. If it is the money of the Catholic Church then at least be honest that it has nothing to do with religion or g-d but that LGBT community is greedy & want control of the assets currently in the hands of the Church. Good Luck with that.