Awaiting hearing, Georgetown pro-marriage group draws support from Catholic leaders

Fr James Martin Wikimedia CC 40 Professor Robert George Wikimedia CC 20 CNA Fr. James Martin, Wikimedia CC 4.0 / Professor Robert George, Wikimedia CC 2.0.

A pro-marriage student group at Georgetown University has drawn support from prominent Catholic scholars, after a student petition accused the group of promoting intolerance.

Love Saxa is a pro-marriage student group at Georgetown, which faces an Oct. 30 hearing before the Student Activities Commission, an advisory body to the university's Vice President of Student Affairs.  

Fr. James Martin, SJ, author of "Building a Bridge," a book on dialogue between the Catholic Church and LGBT groups, said that he supports the right of "Love Saxa," to promote its views at Georgetown.

"Why should a student group that espouses Catholic teaching respectfully be defunded by a Catholic university? As long as Love Saxa treats LGBT people (both on campus and off campus) with 'respect, compassion and sensitivity,' as the Catechism requires, then they should be able to have their say on campus," Martin told CNA.

The group, which says it "exists to promote healthy relationships on campus through cultivating a proper understanding of sex, gender, marriage, and family among Georgetown students," has been accused by a student petition of violating university standards for student organizations by "fostering hatred and intolerance."  

Robert P. George, a professor of constitutional law at Princeton University and noted scholar of marriage and religious liberty, also voiced support for Love Saxa.

"The illiberal – even authoritarian – spirit infusing the effort to defund Love Saxa at Georgetown ought to be a matter of grave concern for honorable people across the ideological spectrum," he said.

"And on top of that, as Fr. Martin suggests, there is something approaching absurdity in the idea that at a Catholic university a group ought to be defunded for upholding and teaching the idea of marriage and the principles of sexual morality upheld and taught by the Catholic Church."

If Love Saxa is found to be in violation of university standards, as the student petition alleges, the commission could recommend that the university impose sanctions, including a loss of funding and access to university facilities.

A spokesperson for Georgetown University told CNA that such sanctions are only used as a last resort, and that groups in violation of university standards are first given opportunities to rectify violations.

"We strongly support a climate that continues to provide students with new and deeper contexts for engaging with our Catholic tradition and identity. Love Saxa is one of many groups operating on campus with positions that affirm the teachings of the Catholic Church. We also support a climate that is welcoming to all students and supporting of our LGBTQ communities," the spokesperson added.

As the complaint is reviewed by the Student Advisory Commission, Georgetown's spokesperson told CNA that "we encourage all students to follow our community commitment to open dialogue and mutual respect."

Martin also encouraged respectful dialogue, rather than conflict, at Georgetown.  

"Groups that oppose the point of view of Love Saxa should also be able to have their say," he told CNA. "For a true dialogue to happen around LGBT issues, especially at Catholic universities, all participants should be willing to, first, treat one another respectfully and lovingly; second, listen to one another with open minds; and third, be willing to learn from one another."

George also called for respectful conversation on the matter.

"The sheer, brute, undeniable fact is that reasonable people of goodwill disagree today about fundamental questions having to do with the nature and social purposes of marriage and with sexuality and sexual morality," he said.

"When reasonable people of goodwill find themselves in disagreement, even on issues of profound social importance and deep personal meaning, they engage each other in robust but civil and respectful discourse – they do not attempt to win cheap victories by smearing those who disagree with them as 'bigots' or 'haters'," he continued. "They recognize their own fallibility and do not try to immunize their beliefs from responsible criticism. They acknowledge that their deepest, most cherished, even identity-forming beliefs could be wrong. That motivates them to listen to critics, rather than trying to banish them."

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George added that as a Catholic university, Georgetown "does not present itself as a non-sectarian institution that maintains a stance of neutrality on moral questions currently in dispute among reasonable citizens."

"So it would be fully within its rights in declining to fund a group that promoted values contrary to its own," he said. "But, as Fr. Martin observed, it is Love Saxa that is upholding the values of Georgetown as a Catholic institution. It is those who are pressing Georgetown to defund Love Saxa who teach doctrines concerning marriage and sexual morality that are contrary to those of the Catholic Church."

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