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‘Students don’t trust Campus Ministry’: Tensions at Catholic university over LGBT event

Student government has taken steps to ensure organization is in line with Catholic faith

The student government of a Catholic school in Texas has agreed to allocate funds to host two LGBT events on campus, but only with conditions in place to ensure the events would fall in line with Catholic teaching.

Numerous Catholic universities in recent years have hosted LGBT events and organizations despite the Catholic Church’s defining homosexual acts as “intrinsically disordered”. Georgetown University, for instance, has a robust LGBTQ Center which hosts events such as Coming Out Month and Gender Liberation week. Marquette University offers gender and sexuality courses that celebrate “the queer self” and critique masculinity. The university even hosted an LGBT dance in a building that reserves the Eucharist despite nearly 20,000 signing a petition to condemn to event.

The University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, will soon host some LGBT-centric events on its campus. But student representatives there have taken steps to make sure that the events do not violate the tenets of the Catholic faith.

Controversy over proposed events

In a phone interview, former Student Government Association president Gregory Pirolli, who graduated this year, told The College Fix that the controversy surrounding the funding of these events began when the school’s Diversity and Inclusion Organization, created earlier this year, was denied student government funds for two LGBT events. The diversity organization could not say what these events would consist of, as they had not yet been fully planned. The student government was reluctant to approve funding for events that may have violated church teaching.

“We can not just blindly approve something,” Pirolli said.

Pirolli said the student chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Organization had reportedly spoken to campus ministry who found no problem with the proposed events having LGBT themes.

“From her angle she was doing everything she needed to do. If I were in her position, I’d have the same frustration,” Pirolli said. He claimed that numerous students on campus are suspicious of the school’s campus ministry, allegedly run by a progressive-minded priest.

“The problem is students don’t trust campus ministry,” Pirolli said.

Ex Corde Ecclesiae

Pirolli said the student government makes its decisions based on the papal document Ex Corde Ecclesiae, written by Pope Saint John Paul II. That document, promulgated in 1990, states that “any official action or commitment of [a Catholic] University is to be in accord with its Catholic identity” and that “Catholic teaching and discipline are to influence all university activities,” though it does state that “freedom of conscience of each person is to be fully respected.”

Pirolli said he ordered the chair of Catholic Identities Committee to determine how the proposal should be handled. Ultimately the student government made the decision to deny the organization any funding for the event.

Following the denial of funds, Pirolli said the university’s lawyer spoke to him and other members of the student government in a closed meeting, where they were told they were “being discriminatory.”

A subsequent mediation effort between the student government and the head of the Diversity and Inclusion Organization ended with the student government agreeing to fund the events. The government stipulated, however, that the chair of the Catholic Identity Committee and one member of campus ministry must sit on the events’ planning committee to ensure they will remain in line with the Catholic faith.

“As it is written now, it is going to be a Catholic event,” Pirolli told The Fix.

School silent on controversy

The school’s media relations department did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Samaria Herbert, the vice president of the Diversity and Inclusion organization, and Amanda Villanueva, the dean of students, also did not respond to requests for comment.

Pirolli did not wholly disavow attempts to engage the LGBT community on the Catholic school’s campus. “We do have an LGBT community on campus that does need reaching out to and there are good ways to do that,” he said.

He said that he “hopes the event is good” and that he knows several strong Catholic speakers have been recommended. But Pirolli added that there are “safeguards” in place to ensure that the integrity of the school’s faith is not threatened. “The plan going forward is, if the event turns out to be bad, if the planning doesn’t work out, if the event itself goes downhill…it will go to the school’s judicial council,” he said.

Ultimately Pirolli expressed doubts about the direction of the school. “My Catholic faith has flourished here but I am worried about the future,” he said.

MORE: Georgetown’s robust LGBTQ Resource Center

MORE: Catholic university to host LGBT ‘Pride Prom’ in campus ballroom

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About the Author
Maria Lencki -- Franciscan University of Steubenville