Report challenges Jesuit universities’ 'sexual diversity' conference

A new report by the Cardinal Newman Society says a conference series hosted by two Jesuit universities appears to question and even undermine Church teaching on sexuality and marriage.

Many of the conference talks are “clearly shown” as a “vehicle for dissent,” society president Patrick Reilly told CNA on Dec. 6.

Reilly helped produce a report critiquing the fall 2011 “More Than a Monologue” conference series on “Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church.”

The series was the result of cooperative efforts by Fordham and Fairfield Universities—both Jesuit Catholic colleges—as well as non-denominational schools Yale Divinity School and Union Theological Seminary.

Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut had expressed concern about the conferences when they were announced, and the presidents of Fairfield and Fordham Universities promised that they would not be used as “a vehicle for dissent.”

Members of the Cardinal Newman Society, however, say that the universities violated this promise.

After reviewing public online videos of the Fordham and Fairfield conferences, the society issued its report on Dec. 6 outlining instances where the conferences demonstrated a “general theme of disdain” for Church teaching and hierarchy.

The report observed that the event hosted by Fordham in September featured speakers advocating acceptance of gay “marriage” and sex changes, while disparaging priests who refuse to attend same-sex ceremonies.

Criticism of Church hierarchy was present throughout much of the event, with speakers citing “medieval closed-mindedness” and a “controlling patriarchy,” the report said.

The analysis also claimed that New York City priest Fr. John Duffell suggested that a gay man should lie about his past homosexual actions in order to enter the priesthood.

The Cardinal Newman Society said that the October event held at Fairfield University posed similar problems.

One speaker referenced the “privileged ruling class” in the Church and argued that if “the bishops won’t send us priests, we should ordain our own.”

Other participants criticized Church teaching that homosexual inclinations are “disordered” and said that the Church does not respect lesbian nuns who wish to become priests.

The report also expressed concern over conference organizer Paul Lakeland’s defense of a fake “CatholiQ Mass”—the Q standing for “queer”—that was celebrated during the Union Theological Seminary conference.

Both Jesuit universities, however, dismissed the report.

“The Cardinal Newman Society misses the pastoral dimension of what was a thoughtful, reflective, respectful and civil event,” said Bob Howe, director of communications for Fordham University.

“From the University’s perspective, the participants declined to promote the changing of church teachings, either by guile or misrepresentation,” Howe told CNA Dec. 6.

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He added that the conference sessions were introduced “with extended and authoritatively stated church teachings.”

Society president Pat Reilly countered that the video record of the event “speaks for itself.” He cited instances of the speakers’ dissent from Church doctrine and insisted that the “examples are neither pastoral nor respectful of Church teaching.”

Martha Milcarek, assistant vice president for brand management and public relations at Fairfield University, maintained that “the position of the Church was fully and fairly presented” at the conference.

She told CNA that participants were presented with “all of the relevant documents of the Magisterium relating to this issue.”

Milcarek acknowledged that the conference participants were not all in agreement with Church teaching, but said “the discussion of disagreement is part of what Catholic universities exist for.”

Reilly disagreed in his comments to CNA, saying that the “purpose of a Catholic university is to teach and explore the truth, which is rooted in faith.”

“Simply pointing to Church teaching and then presenting speakers to undermine that teaching is not a discussion,” he said, but “a heterodox monologue.” 

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