A Conference Misconceived and an Opportunity Missed

On October 19 and 20, a conference for Catholic college faculty and administrators will be hosted at DePaul University on the topic of ministering to gay and lesbian students in Catholic colleges and universities. Called the "Out There Conference," this program is coordinated out of Santa Clara University in California and has as its stated purpose to discuss how to be pastorally present to homosexually-oriented young people.

That is a good purpose. Young people who identify themselves as gay and lesbian have particular challenges and special needs that call for a pastoral approach that can assure them they are loved by God and give them the means of grace needed to live chastely. There are sometimes psychological problems of self-rejection and social problems of how to find their way as disciples of Jesus Christ and responsible members of society. Sometimes they experience personal prejudice because of their sexual identity, and finding true friendship and the opportunity to share who they are become difficult. All of these topics call for collective reflection and a particular sensitivity on the part of those who minister to students with same-sex inclinations.

Unfortunately, while it seems that some of the conference talks will respect and apply Catholic moral teaching, the descriptions of other talks seem to press the case that the Church should change the moral law or that people should ignore Church teaching and form into groups that reject the magisterium of the Catholic Church. To the extent that this is true, the purpose of the conference moves from reflection to advocacy in the name of being "pastoral." My concern as pastor of this Archdiocese is that some speakers at this conference intend to justify behavior that brings people's salvation into jeopardy. Some, in discussing what constitutes a sympathetic and encouraging pastoral outreach to people with same-sex inclinations, say that you cannot truly accept persons unless you also accept without moral judgment their sexual activity. But isn't it odd to demand that, in the name of respect or inclusion, someone must agree with everything someone else desires to do? No one can demand that those who understand as true the moral teaching of the Church must give up their own convictions in order to respect or befriend someone who is gay or lesbian. In any other area of human experience, such an attitude would be seen as clearly unfair and self-righteous.

A pastoral outreach to homosexually oriented men and women is based on two truths: (1) every person must be respected, and (2) acting out sexually with a partner of the same sex is objectively mortally sinful. This second truth doesn't depend only on Scripture or even on official Church teaching. Non-Christian and even non-religious peoples understand that the sexual complementarity of men and women is built into the morphology of our bodies and into the very purpose of sexual acts.

Most people understand that between an inclination and an act there is a free decision, if it is a human act. Because of good habits and the power of God's grace, people can live with even very strong inclinations and not act out. To say otherwise is to be a determinist and bring the basis of our common life as well as the whole economy of salvation into question. Everyone experiences some form of sinful inclination; not everyone acts out. The inclination is to be met with understanding and sympathy; the action is to be met with correct judgment and then forgiveness.

My hope, in the days ahead, is that the participants in this conference will come away with a deeper desire to love and respect gay and lesbian students and a clearer understanding of homosexual behavior and the moral law that governs it. Then the conference will be genuinely supportive of authentic campus ministry. In every area of human behavior, campus ministers need to search for faithful ways in which to assist young adults toward salvation and the eternal happiness it promises. That's the purpose of all ministry in the Church, because it's the purpose of Jesus Christ's self-sacrifice on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. God bless you.

Francis Cardinal George, OMI

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Cardinal Francis George is the Archbishop of Chicago.

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  • Guest

    Cardinal George shows a wonderful understanding of the challenges faced by gay and lesbian Catholics and the Church's teaching that is applicable to them (as well as the rest of us).

    However, he doesn't show the same level of understanding about the obligations of Catholic universities as he discussed the sponsors of the "Out There Conference". DePaul University is presenting speakers whose intent is to advocate conduct directly contrary to Church teaching, while maintaining that it's principal "distinguishing marks" are its "Catholic, Vincentian, and urban character."

    It is likely that some of those attending the program at DePaul, which the Cardinal says is coordinated out of Santa Clara University ("a Jesuit, Catholic university") will be at least confused about Church teaching, but probably misled about moral law as taught by the Church.

    When will the Cardinal and the other bishops start "calling a spade a spade" about "Catholic" colleges and universities that present programs and speakers that aren't Catholic? The faithful and the public are being misled about the Faith, and our shepherds are not speaking out or disciplining the offending institutions despite their clear obligation to do so.

  • Guest

    I think it is great that Cardinal George is doing this. There may come a time when Universities like DePaul will need to stop calling themselves Catholic. That time may be soon. That is the amputation solution. We need to try some bandages first. Maybe try and clean the worst wounds and maybe the limb will heal. This seems to be what the Cardinal is doing. It is a great improvement over doing nothing. Let's give it a chance to work. DePaul has to deal with this:

    My concern as pastor of this Archdiocese is that some speakers at this conference intend to justify behavior that brings people's salvation into jeopardy

    That is a pretty strong rebuke. Can they ignore such strong word from the church and still be Catholic? The professors might be beyond asking that question but many students will not be.

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