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Does Notre Dame fear the queers?

| Friday, April 6, 2018

Please note: We are not representatives of PrismND, and our opinions are not meant to be representative of any student organization’s views.

Last Monday, March 26th, we had the pleasure of attending Daniel C. Mattson’s talk, “Same-Sex Attraction and Catholicism,” hosted by Students for Child Oriented Policy (SCOP) and the Irish Rover.

Mattson is a noted Catholic writer and trombone player who spoke about his experience having attractions to other men and the difficulties he has faced in attempting to reconcile this with his faith. Fortunately, the repressive picture of sexuality painted by Mattson using twisted Freudian theories has no basis in biological, psychological, or sociological sciences, and Mattson has no background in any of these areas. Daniel Mattson subscribes to Leanne Payne’s Cannibal Compulsion Theory, which states that “[h]omosexual activity is often merely the twisted way a person tries to take into himself — in the mistaken way of the cannibal — those attributes of his own personality from which he is estranged. It is actually a form of self-love or narcissism.” Homosexuality, in Payne’s view, is more akin to a mental disorder than an actual orientation. Despite Payne’s poetic description of her theory, she, too, lacks any qualification in the field of psychology and any evidence for her claims. As the American Psychological Association confirms, homosexuality is not a mental disorder, and a broad range of genetic, developmental and hormonal factors are believed to contribute to sexual orientation.

Fans of Mattson need not despair over his lack of scientific expertise, however, because his central argument rests not on science (despite calling himself “science-minded” and a “rational thinker” multiple times in his lecture), but on his interpretation of Catholic doctrine: Individuals attracted to members of the same sex ought to live chastely in the hope that God will one day orient them toward an acceptable, heterosexual relationship. Despite Mattson’s confidence in his interpretation of Catholic doctrine, it would appear that actual theologians are not totally in agreement. This is demonstrated in Church 2011, a memorandum signed by 260 Catholic theologians, which advocates for greater acceptance of same-sex relationships. It argues that the Church’s teachings do “not require the exclusion of people who responsibly live out love, faithfulness and mutual care in same-sex partnerships.” It is clear that there is much to discuss on this topic, and we believe that there is no better place to have this theological and political debate than America’s preeminent Catholic university.

Unfortunately, this debate is not occurring on our campus. While groups like SCOP are permitted to host lecturers like Mattson who have unconventional qualifications and are in favor of a traditional interpretation of Catholic theology, PrismND, Notre Dame’s LGBTQ student organization, is not permitted to invite speakers with opposing views. According to Beloved Friends and Allies, Notre Dame’s pastoral plan creating PrismND, “in all such programs and initiatives [of the organization], due consideration is to be exercised so as to avoid any political or social activities that might compromise Notre Dame’s Roman Catholic allegiance and commitments.” Basically, this “beloved” group is not allowed to speak out against current Catholic doctrine on LGBTQ issues despite there being a very real debate about this within the Church. This is rather curious, given the fact that other student groups have hosted lecturers to speak specifically in support of views contrary to Church doctrine. This is a double standard that restricts the speech of one group of students while affording such freedom to other organizations.

Of course, PrismND does not need to be the voice which offers this counterargument. If the (only) current LGBTQ student organization is unwilling to speak out on this issue, another group ought to be formed which will. It is quite possible, and understandable, that some members of PrismND may believe strongly in the current Church doctrine and wish for the organization to remain apolitical. This is fine, as long as students with other views are permitted to organize to voice them; however, Notre Dame has persistently smothered such efforts of student expression. This clearly has a chilling effect on individual student speech to the extent that, we must admit, we were nervous about writing this article. This culture of censorship is unbecoming of a top-tier university.

The ability to engage in this type of dialogue is crucial to the proper functioning of any university. Vice President Mike Pence had this to say about the importance of open debate on college campuses in his commencement address at Notre Dame last year: “As you, our youth, are the future, and universities [are] the bellwether of thought and culture, I would submit that the increasing intolerance and suppression of the time-honored tradition of free expression on our campuses jeopardizes the liberties of every American.” Though the vice president has not been particularly supportive of LGBTQ individuals, we believe wisdom can still be found in these words.

University President Fr. John Jenkins expressed a similar idea in his 2017 Letter on Diversity and Inclusion: “We cannot be afraid to talk openly, in ways that are both honest and respectful, about the opportunities and challenges, hopes and anxieties, before us . . . Much good work has been done, more remains to be done. Let us do it together.” We urge the administration to heed these words and remove the unjust restrictions on LGBTQ student speech.

The importance of this subject cannot be overstated: Rhetoric has power. The rhetoric of people like Mattson creates a culture of exclusion and repression, which contributes to dangerous statistics like these:

  • LGB youth are almost five times more likely than their heterosexual peers to attempt suicide (CDC, 2016).
  • LGB youth contemplate suicide at three times the rate of heterosexual youth (CDC, 2016)
  • LGB youth with unaccepting families are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide than those who are supported by their families (Ryan et. al, 2009)
  • Every instance of LGBT victimization (including physical and verbal abuse) increases, on average, the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times (Mustanski et. al, 2010)

Though we believe the opinions expressed by Mattson to be harmful and glaringly unsupported, we understand that he has a right to express them on our campus. All we ask is that those who are most affected by these opinions be allowed to do the same.

If you are an LGBTQ person experiencing thoughts of suicide or struggling with self-acceptance, contact the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or www.thetrevorproject.org.

Additionally, if you would like to donate to the Trevor Project to assist in this life-saving work, you may do so here.

Also, on-campus resources are available to help such as the University Counseling Center, the Gender Relations Center and SpeakUp.

We can be reached [email protected] and [email protected]


Michael O’Dea


Mary Szromba


Mar. 28


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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