On March 24, CalCatholic published a press release from the Jesuit Santa Clara University announcing the appointment of Kevin O’Brien, SJ, as the new Dean of their School of Theology. Prior to his appointment, Fr. O’Brien had served as the Vice President for Mission and Ministry at the Jesuit Georgetown University.

A CalCatholic commenter immediately pointed out: “Last year, Dean O’Brien was a keynote speaker at IgnatianQ. ‘IgnatianQ: The Ignatian LGBTQ & Ally Conference is a student-led conference that focuses on the intersections of faith, sexuality, and social justice in a Jesuit campus context. IgnatianQ hopes to educate the whole person by creating safe spaces for dialogue, reconciliation, understanding, growth, and community building. The conference provides students with the opportunity to build their support network with students at Jesuit institutions all over the country as they continue LGBTQ work at their respective schools.’”

In a March 26, 2015 article promoting the IgnatianQ LGBTQ & Ally Conference, the Georgetown Voice quoted Fr. O’Brien’s endorsement: “Vice President for Mission and Ministry Fr. Kevin O’ Brien will give an opening address and prayer at the conference. ‘Campus Ministry supports the IgnatianQ conference because of its mission to deepen the faith lives of participants and build community across Jesuit universities.’” According to the Georgetown Hoya, the weekend included the 10th Annual Genderfunk Ball.

The orientation of the conference was homosexuality, not Catholicism. As the quoted mission statement says: “The conference provides students with the opportunity to build their support network with students at Jesuit institutions all over the country as they continue LGBTQ work at their respective schools.”  To unpack the sentence: the purpose of “build(ing) their support network,” the very reason for “the support network” was to “continue LGBTQ work.”  Not Catholic work. LGBTQ work.

So, if Fr. O’Brien wanted to “deepen the faith lives of participants” he had his work cut out for him. An indispensible first step would have been to re-orient the students’ perspective within Catholicism, not homosexuality. A clear statement depicting the actual, existing dis-orientation was given by Kaitlin Campbell, writing on March 27, 2015, in dotCommonweal.  She reported from the first IgnatianQ Conference, held at Fordham University in 2014:

“The talk that received the most negative reception from the student attendees was the talk that presented official church teaching on homosexuality—‘Unapologetically Catholic & Christian.’ Right off the bat: ‘We are a Catholic University, what we do is follow the gospel of Jesus Christ and we do not apologize. It’s a venerable feat that we can get together for something like this.’ To begin a talk like this suggests that the participants of IgnatianQ were gathering together to demand an apology from the church for following the gospel of Jesus Christ. If in fact there were any demand for apology (and there wasn’t), it would be that the church apologize for not following the gospel of Jesus Christ. “

When faced with an orientation that judges the Church on how it conforms to homosexuality, rather than the other way around, it would seem to be the job of priests to correct the dis-orientation, and to teach students that “we are not here to save the Church; the Church is here to save us.”  But that of course requires priests who are properly oriented themselves, and accept and proclaim Church teaching on the sinfulness of homosexual acts.  There is no evidence that the institutional Jesuits at either Georgetown or Santa Clara have asserted that homosexual acts are sinful.

Fr. O’Brien will be joining the Jesuit Community at Santa Clara, whose rector is Fr. Michael Zampelli, SJ. In 2010, CalCatholic reported:

“On October 26, 2005, at an SCU seminar titled ‘Is Tolerance Enough: Catholic Universities and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Issues,’ Fr. Zampelli expanded on the theme of ‘problematizing particular kinds of relationships.’ He said, ‘Those of us who identify as lgbtq have a particular fix on the world, and what we have come to understand about ourselves, our society, our religions, our scholarly disciplines, from this particular perspective makes an invaluable contribution to the store of knowledge.’

Tolerance of homosexuality in the priesthood, said Fr. Zampelli, ‘must be a temporary state of affairs that includes an acknowledgement that we are ‘on the road,’ that understanding more and becoming more understanding takes time.’

Fr. Zampelli also suggested that homosexuality must be celebrated, not just tolerated. ‘In this case, tolerance is unacceptable,’ he said. ‘Why? Because, I believe deeply (along with Paul in Corinthians) that ‘I am what I am by the grace of God.’ And I believe that I have particular gifts deriving precisely from this blessed but marginalized way of being in the world. What I see clearly now is my own desire: I want to be a subject sought out and valued.’”