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Katie van Schaijik

How should a Catholic university treat gay alumni?

Sep. 11 at 12:43pm

A friend alerted me to this NPR story about our alma mater, Franciscan University.  A facebook group of gay alumni complained to the university about the official description for a sociology course on deviant behavior.

Here's the description:

The behaviors that are primarily examined are murder, rape, robbery, prostitution, homosexuality, mental illness and drug use.

According to fellow alum, Greg Gronbacher, he and another alum contacted the school and asked them to change the description.

The university's attorney responded instead with an email warning them not to use the university's name or logo in their activities.

A few thoughts.

I think NPR and Greg are being needlessly inflamatory when they claim that the description lumps homosexuality with rape and murder.  I mean, for goodness' sake.  Calling all those things deviant doesn't suggest that they're all equally evil.

I also think it's terrible and alarming the that the University's accreditation is now at risk simply because it adheres to Christian moral principles.

But, that said, I also want to say that, if press accounts are true (LifeSiteNews is also covering the story), I think the University badly mishandled the matter.

According to its Catholic identity and mission, Franciscan University teaches that homosexual acts are objectively disordered, while those those burdened with same-sex-attraction are to be treated with "respect, compassion and sensitivity."  

But, is responding to a reasonable complaint by having a lawyer send a warning about use of their name and logo a good way to show compassion, respect and sensitivity?

Wouldn't the University have done so much better if it had rather responded more personalistically—by agreeing that the course description was too abrasive and promising to change it?  Couldn't they have reached out to the dissaffected alumni?  Or at least expressed some regret about the dissaffection?

The extent to which PR concerns and lawyers tend to dominate even Catholic institutions is extremely depressing.


 

Daniel Romeyn Davis

I was initially outraged at FUS when I heard about this class description. Even if you strictly adhere to Catholic moral teaching, that does not warrant the labeling of homosexuality as a devency on the level of those other things listed. However, the real problem here, as has been explained to me by a Social Work student who is the professor who teaches the course's assistant, is that deviancy is any going against the general norm and order of things; and does not imply and qualitative judgement on those actions. He explained how Franciscan students are largely "deviant" according to general standards as we have such low rates of pre-marital sex, drug use, etc...

So although it was idiotic for the course description to include homosexuality in that list of percieved social deviancies, it is time to move past this issue as the problem stems from an inherent misuse of the technical words used by memebers of the field. 

#1 - Sep. 12 at 9:53am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

The question, though, is how to move beyond it.  

#2 - Sep. 12 at 10:26am | quote

 

Anthony

Katie,


Just a few thoughts on the matter from a fellow alumni (FUS class of '07)...

My friend's father, Tom Sofio is the director for public relations at Franciscan (http://www.linkedin.com/pub/tom-sofio/1b/9a2/255) and I was able to get some clarification on how things transpired.

The alumni who contacted the university with questions and hurt feelings regarding how homosexuals were being categorized in particular courses were in fact treated with dignity and respect and the matter was being looked into carefully. Within the course of that time the issue was also brought to the attention of the media who went ahead with the story as we now know it. Within the context of the media attacking Franciscan is the point at which the University took a defensive posture and issued the legal statement that you made reference to.


Hopefully yes, a more personalistic approach can be achieved by all parties.

Anthony

#3 - Sep. 12 at 7:02pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Anthony, thanks for chiming in.  But I don't quite see how personal assurances that the alumni in question were privately being treated respectfully resolves anything. 

I understand that there's always more to a story like this than the public can know.  But I am speaking about its public aspect.

There are two key "items", as far as I can tell.

1) The course description 

2) The threat of legal action against a facebook group of gay alumni.

FUS can't control what its alumni do or how the media will portray it.  But it does control its own response to such things.  It apparently responded badly.

Now it's gotten itself into a position where doing the right thing will look like backing down in the face of pressure from gay rights activists.

I still think they should do the right thing.  What about publicly agreeing that the course description must be and will be changed?  What about retracting the threat of legal action and asking the responsible administrator to issue an apology for that?  What about a public apology to the alumni in that group and a pledge to be more receptive to their legitimate concerns in future?

#4 - Sep. 12 at 9:45pm | quote

 

Anthony

Katie,

I agree that however well the university may have treated the alumni in private, there are public issues that do need to be resolved with how they addressed the alumni on Facebook and perhaps inviting them to the school to talk through the issue would be a more constructive approach. What do you think about getting them to work together?

On the same token, it may be an oversimplification to reduce Franciscan's response to whatever legal action they told a group on Facebook. That is, in the NPR article the school addresses the issues through the lens of Catholicism:

"In a written statement to NPR, the school says, "Franciscan University follows Catholic Church teaching in regard to homosexuality and treats homosexual persons with 'respect, compassion, and sensitivity' (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2358) while holding homosexual acts as 'intrinsically disordered.' "

I think it's important to note that Franciscan didn't just 'release the attorneys' on a Facebook group. And, if the University practices what it preaches then it should be able to make the distinction between the homosexual act and it's categorization of being intrinsically disordered and caring for the person in a loving way.

#5 - Sep. 13 at 1:30am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

I thought that the written statement made matters worse.  It came across as a self-justifying non-response.  

Having a policy to treat others respectfully is no guarantee that you actually do treat them respectfully.  The issue in question was very concrete.

They should have spoken to the media.  Failing that, they should have written a much better and more complete statement, including concrete responses to the issue at hand.

Same goes for the defense of the course description. It's fine to explain that "deviant" was meant in a technical sense, but that should have been followed up immediately with, "Nevertheless, we agree with the alumni making the complaint that the description as written is needlessly abrasive and not in keeping with our commitment to treating those with SSA with compassion and sensitivity. It will be changed.  We're grateful that they brought it to our attention."

Their defensiveness is this matter is depressing.  It is unworthy of a Catholic University, especially one animated by the spirit of St. Francis.  It is also bound to backfire.

#6 - Sep. 13 at 9:24am | quote

 

Anthony

I didn't interpert Franciscan's written response in the same way. NPR may not have any concept of what catholic social teachings are regarding homosexuality and I think it's an important first step to let the media know the premise that is the university's springboard for action.

Perhaps I suffer too greatly from optimism but I certainly hope that the university ministers to those with same sex attraction with as much finess as they would any other person on campus.

How should the defination be changed such that it is neither abrasive nor insensitive?

#7 - Sep. 13 at 12:39pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Anthony, Sep. 13 at 11:39am

I didn't interpert Franciscan's written response in the same way. NPR may not have any concept of what catholic social teachings are regarding homosexuality and I think it's an important first step to let the media know the premise that is the university's springboard for action.

 Well okay.  But what NPR and those gay alumni are seeing so far is non-action. 

Anthony, Sep. 13 at 11:39am

Perhaps I suffer too greatly from optimism but I certainly hope that the university ministers to those with same sex attraction with as much finess as they would any other person on campus.

 Being (I gather) older and having had many bitter experiences, I don't share your optimism in this regard.  Nor, again, does their private treatment of the individuals involved resolve the public issue.

As for the rewording of the course description, I lack the competence to know how it might be done.  That it can be done, I have no doubt.

#8 - Sep. 13 at 1:14pm | quote

 

Gregory Gronbacher

I am impressed with the level and tone of respect in the above conversations. I am happy to engage and answer any questions. 

When we found the course description, several of us contacted the University. Some phoned, some went to campus and visited with professors and left notes. Some emailed. There was no response from the University.

We then sent the University the press release. That got a response, a legal one. 

The good news is that Mike Hernon did call us eventually and we are in dialog with the school. I take them at their word when they say that the course is being taught in a manner that affirms the dignity of gay people. And I take them at their word that they will seriously discuss and consider changing the course description.

No one is asking for an apology and no one expects the school to teach anything contrary to its Catholic identity and heritage. 

Our request was for the course description to be changed - a description that can easily be construed as offensive to many and that sadly lumps homosexuality in a list with some very horrible things. 


#9 - Sep. 14 at 10:42am | quote

 

Gregory Gronbacher

As for deviant - i fully understand that the word has several meanings across contexts. It can mean "not in accord with the statistical norm." Clearly, homosexuality fits this usage. 

But deviant can also be used morally - which would be in accord with Church teaching in regard to homosexuality.

Also, deviant can be used in a social work and mental health context to mean behavior that is psychologically diseased. 

The vast majority of mainstream mental health associations and professionals would disagree with classifying homosexuality in terms of the last distinction. And they would be backed up by hundreds of valid, repeatable, reliable studies showing this. 

The point in claiming offensive is simple - how would one feel if we placed "attending daily mass" or "having more than 2 children" in the same list as murder, rape, prostitution, and drug abuse? 

One sends a message when one places something in a list with such things. And that message is not merely that these things are outside the statistical norm. 

This may have been an oversight or accidental. I am sure the University is not teaching hate. 

#10 - Sep. 14 at 10:46am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Gregory Gronbacher, Sep. 14 at 9:46am

The point in claiming offensive is simple - how would one feel if we placed "attending daily mass" or "having more than 2 children" in the same list as murder, rape, prostitution, and drug abuse? 

Greg (or do you prefer Gregory?), you're very welcome here.  

I agree, as you can tell from above, that the term "deviant" is offensive and ill-advised.  

But I can't agree with this analogy.  Deviant, in the context, clearly means abnormal, not "above average" or "exceptional."

Catholics hold (with likewise lots of empirical evidence, not just philosophical and doctrinal evidence) that SSA is disordered, not just that it occurs less frequently than heterosexuality.

PS  Good for Michael Hernon!

PPS As a concerned fellow alum, I do look for a public apology from the University, and a public retraction of the threat of legal action.

#11 - Sep. 14 at 11:19am | quote

 

Gregory Gronbacher

Thanks Katie,

I like Gregory, but will answer to George, Jeff, Craig, etc. :)

My analogy was used strictly in the statistical sense, as the University is claiming it is using it. 

I think we would have to consider any empirical evidence offered in a case by case basis. And we must be aware that statistics can be tortured to confess to anything. 

My own reading and research leaves me convinced that gay people are no less mentally healthy or functional in society than any one else due to their sexual orientation per se. 

I fully understand that some may read other studies, find them valid and reach different conclusions. 

I totally understand and have studied at great length the Church's teaching - I get it. I just don't agree. 

Time will tell how this plays out. Their legal action may have been ill timed. Everyone makes mistakes. 


#12 - Sep. 14 at 11:27am | quote

 

Gregory Gronbacher

I should add - I have tried my best to insert Personalist principles into this ongoing engagement as it unfolds. 

Many in the Facebook group are upset and anger leads to saying things that one may not have wanted to say in saner, less heated times. 

I have tried to remain fair, open, and affirming of the dignity of all involved. My education and immersion in Personalism has, and continues to, serve me well. 

#13 - Sep. 14 at 11:29am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Gregory Gronbacher, Sep. 14 at 10:27am

My analogy was used strictly in the statistical sense, as the University is claiming it is using it. 

If the University is making that claim, then I think it's being less than forthright.  

I think we would have to consider any empirical evidence offered in a case by case basis. And we must be aware that statistics can be tortured to confess to anything. 

I agree.  What proofs and evidences we find convincing has mainly to do with what Newman called "antecedent probabilities."  If we're already persuaded that SSA is a disorder, then we will tend to find the empirical studies confirming the point convincing.  Likewise, if we are personally invested in the hope that it's normal and healthy, we will find empirical studies that confirm that point credible.

Goes to show the limits of empirical studies, no?

#14 - Sep. 14 at 11:38am | quote

 

Gregory Gronbacher

Much of this engagement has made painfully clear to me how polarized our culture is on this and many other important issues. 

Emotion often gets the better of many and given the inability of many to seriously reason and engage in protracted discourse, the results are not pretty. (The results of the collapse of our education system writ large.)

The extent to which people resort to name calling, personal attacks, and the like is so sad. 

Because I have taken a side in this issue, I have been told that I hate God, am damned, a baby killer (I'm firmly pro-life), a reprobate, a hater, and so on. Its par for the course when one steps into the public eye. I'm not shocked, just saddened. 

Let me state so as to be clear  - the University has not attacked us and is talking to us. I am not accusing them of any of the above.

My comments refer to the many side conversations and responses I have received from those who have joined in the fray. 

It is sad when people who claim to be committed to truth, God, love and the like - are incapable of affirming the dignity of those they disagree with. 

#15 - Sep. 14 at 11:43am | quote

 

Gregory Gronbacher

I should add, that those on the "liberal" side aren't often any better - failing to extend "tolerance" or appreciate "diversity" when it comes to those who disagree with them. 

When someone who agrees with me on gay marriage finds out I am also pro-life and fairly conservative on many issues, they usually first pause, and then they either dismiss me or attack me. 


#16 - Sep. 14 at 11:59am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Gregory, it stinks that you've been attacked left and right.  May God sustain you in your efforts to remain a force for peace and good!

And may He help all of us live and act and speak with more of His perfect charity.

#17 - Sep. 14 at 10:03pm | quote

 

Devra Torres

 To Gregory: I need to be brief--big translation deadline coming up--but I've got to take a second and make 2 points:

  • I love that: "Statistics can be tortured to confess to anything"!  Well put!
  • Are you familiar with Steve Gershom's blog ("Catholic, Gay and Feeling Fine")? He's gay and does agree with the Catholic teaching and brings a perspective to the whole question that I haven't seen anywhere else.  He doesn't argue his point so much as describe his experinece.

#18 - Sep. 15 at 3:08pm | quote

 

Gregory Gronbacher

Katie, thank you for the encouragement, but I don't really feel attacked. I am more amazed at the rigidity and conformity to ideology on the part of some, but certainly not all. 

Devra, I will check out Steve's blog, thanks. My theology is no longer Catholic, in a strict sense, but it certainly has touch points. And, although I disagree with certain conclusions, I find a natural law - theology of the body approach a useful and rich way to frame thegeneral discussion.

Peace to you both,

Gregory

#19 - Sep. 15 at 8:56pm | quote

 

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