The following comes from a June 18 story, “Being Gay at a Catholic University,” on the Religion & Politics website.
Behind a large wooden cross at the entrance of Santa Clara University is a church built in 1777, one of the original 26 missions in California, a series of churches and schools built in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by Franciscan priests and brothers as centers to convert others to their Catholic faith. This particular church sits at the heart of a Jesuit college that today educates just over 5,000 students.
On campus, I met Max Silva and Amanda Dewey in the Rainbow Resource Room. The room’s mission is to “educate the greater SCU community and empower Santa Clara students, faculty, staff, and alumni who self-identify within the wide spectrum of sexual orientations and gender identities.” Fliers abound highlighting upcoming events: Devin’s Rainbow Book Club, Lizzie’s Queer Politics Discussion, Transgender Day of Remembrance, Safe Space Training. Near the door are a variety of pamphlets about various LGBT issues. Copies of gay magazines, including Out and The Advocate, lay on the table.
Silva, a rising junior, came out in high school in Santa Barbara. Raised nominally Catholic, he didn’t dive into his faith until he enrolled at Santa Clara, exploring what it meant to be gay and Catholic. He leads a group called GASPED (Gay and Straight People for the Education of Diversity), which he views as a sort of social justice ministry, offering diversity education to the campus community.
Of being out at a Jesuit school, he said, “It really does come down to the school’s Jesuit philosophy and its Jesuit ideals. It focuses on Catholic social teaching, especially the social justice aspect, instead of focusing on the sexual ethics and homosexuality aspect.” The school, he said, approaches these issues from the “very Jesuit idea of educating the whole person, discerning your experience of Catholicism in an educated way.”
Dewey, who graduated in May, brought the Vagina Monologues to campus and chaired GALA, a student group for LGBT students and their allies that hosts social events such as the Queer Prom and Drag Show. When she enrolled at Santa Clara, she discovered a tradition of social justice that supported her eventual decision to come out as a lesbian last year to family and friends. “I had a really negative view of Catholicism until I fell in love with a Jesuit school and had to go here,” she said.
I asked them if they have experienced any blatant homophobia on campus, and they shrugged. Dewey said the Jesuit character of the school actually encourages a safe space for sexual minorities on campus.
Paul Crowley, a Jesuit priest from Berkeley, California, teaches Santa Clara graduate students twice a week. He says he is by no means an activist, but instead a systematic theologian (think dense, difficult to understand, Germanic musings about God) who has tip-toed into the conversation surrounding Catholicism and homosexuality, much to the chagrin of officials in the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
In 2004, Crowley published an article in the Catholic journal Theological Studies entitled “Homosexuality and the Counsel of the Cross.” He concluded that being gay isn’t a problem for the church to contend with, but “an invitation to a different way of looking at things, and toward a deeper embrace of the very gospel that threatens to subvert our most cherished notions about the God whose name is Love.” Years later, the Vatican demanded that he issue a clarification that upheld church teaching.
Crowley, like many others I interviewed, said that today’s students have moved past the bishops’ teaching on homosexuality. “Students themselves have changed so much, and there’s a deeper sense of comfort with and openness to LGBT students and diversity in general, where everybody is a little bit different and it’s just fine,” he said.
In his experience, they no longer question whether homosexuality is morally acceptable; they scoff at church teaching on the issue when it’s presented in class; and some just can’t wrap their heads around why the church wouldn’t encourage two gay or lesbian individuals to marry, given the stability it offers and the conservative nature of the institution in general.
“When I teach my human sexuality course, I give my students the official church documents, first without commentary, to read and then come back to class to discuss. They return and ask, ‘Is this serious? Do they really mean this?’ They just can’t believe it. That’s almost the universal reaction,” he said. But it wasn’t just students pushing for change. “There were students and faculty pushing along this change, sure,” he said, and there was also “encouragement from some of the Jesuits, too.”
To read the larger original story, click here.