Catholic university in New England 'affirms support' for LGBT persons

Sacred Heart University Credit: Wozzie/Shutterstock.

Sacred Heart University held a rally celebrating LGBT students last month after the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said the Church hasn’t the power to bless same-sex unions.

“While the Vatican’s decision on same-sex marriages disappointed the LGBTQ+ community and its allies, Sacred Heart leaders say the University remains steadfast in its support of LGBTQ+ individuals,” read a statement from the Catholic university located in Fairfield, Conn., immediately west of Bridgeport.

SHU staff, including president John Petillo, spoke at the March 29 rally.

“Sacred Heart is a community of faith, which will continue to welcome and respect each and every person. Driven by our Christian mission, we will continue to be a community of welcome and respect. Together, and only together, can we grow in the richness of God’s gifts and love,” said Petillo.

The chair of Catholic studies and associate dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, Michelle Loris said, “Not every Catholic university would hold an event aimed at celebrating and affirming the LGBTQ community. But our University is distinct and unique. It stands for inclusivity and embraces all people with love. It stands against any form of hatred or prejudice, no matter the source.”

SHU’s Protestant chaplain and senior minister at the United Congregational Church of Bridgeport, Sara Smith, supported the university’s actions, saying, “As an out lesbian clergy, I am very proud of the statement SHU is making. Dr. P, it could very well save lives.”

“I want the LGBTQ students to hear it from me—I know the hearts of these people who have spoken, and they are sincere. They are the beginning of safe zones and allies that will be created here on campus for all of you.” Smith called on participants in the event to join her in proclaiming to the LGBTQ+ community, “You are created and loved by God—as you are,” the statement said. 

Sacred Heart has numerous resources for LGBT students. Its counseling page for LGBT resources reads: “Here at the Sacred Heart University Counseling Center, we embrace a positive view of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) identities and relationships by producing a safe space where people are free to express who they are without fear of reprisal.”

Among the off-campus resources to which LGBT students are referred is the Circle Care Center in Norwalk. Conn., a primary care practice. Their services include hormone replacement therapy, referrals to surgeons for gender transition surgery, which they call “gender confirmation surgery.” 

CNA asked the university multiple questions about their actions and stance on Church teaching in relation to LGBT issues, particularly on SHU referring students to organizations that offer services in hormone replacement therapy and gender transition surgery. 

SHU told CNA, “Sacred Heart University stands in solidarity with ALL of our students especially those who have been marginalized in society such as our LGBTQ+ community. Consistent with our mission and core values, we welcome and minister to ALL of our students who are ALL made in the image of God, and we stand squarely in the Catholic tradition to respect the inviolable dignity and worth of every human being.”

Sacred Heart University calls itself  the “most forward-looking Catholic university in the country.” It was founded in 1963 by Bishop Walter Curtis of Bridgeport.

Petillo, who has served as the university’s president since 2011, previously served as chancellor and CEO of Seton Hall University and its Immaculate Conception Seminary, and chancellor for administration for the Archdiocese of Newark.

The CDF issued a “Responsum ad dubium” March 15 replying to the question, “does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” The doctrinal congregation answered, “Negative”, explaining its reasoning in an “explanatory note” and accompanying commentary.

“In order to conform with the nature of sacramentals, when a blessing is invoked on particular human relationships, in addition to the right intention of those who participate, it is necessary that what is blessed be objectively and positively ordered to receive and express grace, according to the designs of God inscribed in creation, and fully revealed by Christ the Lord,” the CDF explained.

“Therefore, only those realities which are in themselves ordered to serve those ends are congruent with the essence of the blessing imparted by the Church,” the congregation said.

“For this reason, it is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage (i.e., outside the indissoluble union of a man and a woman open in itself to the transmission of life), as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex.”

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