An official from the Jesuit-run Santa Clara University in California told Catholic News Agency that hosting a two-day long conference, on how to promote opportunities for gays and lesbians at Catholic colleges is “the Catholic” way to act as opposed to highlighting the intrinsic immorality of homosexual acts.
As the Vatican prepares a document reiterating its stance, particularly against homosexuality in seminaries, the aim of the conference entitled “Out There” was to highlight scholarships and student affairs being created to cater specifically to gays and lesbians at Catholic institutions.
The conference brought together representatives from the Universities of Georgetown, Loyola Marymount, Gonzaga, Fordham, DePaul, La Salle, Marquette and Emory, as well as Boston College, and College of the Holy Cross. Out of the plus 40 Catholic universities represented, thirteen were Jesuit institutions like Santa Clara.
Some 150 attendees were invited to choose from workshops like, "Curriculum and Same-Sex Marriage in a Jesuit University" and "Can I Be Gay and Catholic?"
The dean’s office and Santa Clara’s campus ministry helped finance the event, which was organized largely by English professor Linda Garber.
The Bay Area Reporter, a local gay & lesbian publication, celebrated the event reporting:
“Queers and Catholics converged upon Santa Clara University over the weekend for a watershed conference, marking the first-ever large-scale LGBT event at the Jesuit University.”
Keynote speaker Mark Jordan, a theologian from Emory University and self proclaimed gay man, told the Bay Area Reporter the conference served a purpose that was more than academic.
"This conference was a discovery for a lot of people, first of all in how many of us [LGBT and LGBT-friendly Catholics] there are," Jordan said.
"But to see that people have been improvising solutions, and have the chance to come together and compare improvisations was important," he added.
Jordan acknowledged that the religion is exclusive of gays and lesbians in many ways, and in particular that the Catholic Church’s newly chosen Pope is alienating to many.
"[Choosing Ratzinger as pope] is a catastrophe. I felt kicked in the stomach," he said.
“But that doesn't mean that LGBT people can't be Catholic, even if the institution does not formally welcome them,” Jordan said.
"The Catholic tradition is bigger than the church, it's bigger than the boundaries of the institution, and has more to offer to queer people than just a place in the institution," Jordan said.
"So if the institution alienates us, we take the tradition with us outside the institution," he said.
Jordan believes Catholic authorities likely won't change church doctrine to be fully inclusive of LGBT people for several hundred years, so contemporary queers should instead focus on "horizontal" change – working at the level of Catholic people instead of butting heads with the hierarchy.
Lisa Millora, who is the University’s Assistant Dean for Student Life and one of the co-organizers of the event, told CNA that, although the coincidental timing of the new Vatican document wasn’t planned, “it is important.”
She said that the overall importance of the conference was that it dealt with what she called, “an invisible minority, who face an oppression and tension different than racial minorities,” for example.
Primarily, the job of her office, she said, “is to remove any obstacles to a student’s education.”
As a Jesuit University in the Catholic tradition, she added, “We need to pay attention to social injustices, no matter how uncomfortable they are for us.”
Joseph Winter, a professor at Loyola, said that his school is seen as very progressive, and even offers housing to LGBT couples.
At Saint Louis, there is not much proactive administrative support but neither is there opposition, said Ken Haller, a professor and pediatrician.
Haller, the former president of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, said he is often asked whether he is still a Catholic.
"I answer 'yes,'" he said. "I'm a pediatrician, and being gay and being Catholic both call me to that job, to see the person in need and serve that person."
Santa Clara University describes itself as “a comprehensive Jesuit, Catholic university” located in California's Silicon Valley, which offers its 8,213 students “rigorous undergraduate curricula in arts and sciences, business, and engineering, plus master's and law degrees.” As California's oldest higher-education institution “it demonstrates faith-inspired values of ethics and social justice.”