With Solidarity Sunday two weeks behind us, we might ask, “As a Catholic university, how can we love the homosexual members of our community with the same love that Christ taught us? Is the Spirit of Inclusion statement enough of a response to homosexuality at Notre Dame?”
The Spirit of Inclusion statement is one of welcome; it is a universal invitation to become part of the Notre Dame community. It reads, “We welcome all people, regardless of color, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, social or economic class, and nationality, for example, precisely because of Christ’s calling to treat others as we desire to be treated.”
The statement is accompanied by a letter, and together they may be read as one document. The letter explains the university’s reasoning for including “sexual orientation” in its welcoming statement but not in its non-discrimination clause.
Nevertheless, it is still argued that the university should add the phrase “sexual orientation” to its non-discrimination clause in order to truly love homosexual students, faculty, and employees as beings created “in the image and likeness of a loving God,” (for example, see “Living up to the Spirit of Inclusion at ND” in the Observer’s Nov. 16 issue).
One can also argue the opposite, that we do not need to add the phrase if we are to love homosexual members of our community as they deserve to be loved. When we consider the homosexual person a child of God with inherent dignity, we can see that this dignity entitles each person to a love that looks at his or her whole person.
Part of loving each other holistically involves realizing that the call to “inclusion” is a call to conversion. In the gospels, Christ invited to himself the poor, the sick, the outcast, and the sinner. He forgave the sinner while commanding the sinner to “sin no more” (John 8:11). The Spirit of Inclusion statement illustrates this call to conversion by highlighting the Church’s teaching that “all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are called to live chaste lives in accordance with their vocations as single people, married couples, priests or religious.”
Chastity is one of the greatest forms of holistic love. It shows respect for a man or woman in his or her entirety, whether as a friend, a girlfriend, a husband, a colleague, or an employer. Practicing chastity helps us not to see our companions on the “common journey” as merely sources of physical pleasure. Instead, chastity helps us see all people in our lives as those who help us attain salvation. All of us are capable of using our freedom to live chastely. As the statement points out, Notre Dame encourages this attitude through such student life policies as parietals and single-sex dorms.
Though chastity links our bodies and our sexuality in a holistic way, part of the problem of encouraging chastity, whether for homosexual or heterosexual persons, is that we live in an environment where chastity is considered silly or foolish. Though student life policies encourage chastity, casual sex is not absent in our campus community. Outside the community, the media often promotes an attitude that sexuality is not something to be taken seriously.
In response to this attitude, Catholics who promote the Church’s teaching on chastity need to practice what they preach. Catholic author and columnist Melinda Selmys, now a wife and mother who lived a lesbian lifestyle as a young adult, described one of the biggest frustrations of young homosexual persons:
“In a lot of cases I think that homosexual young people are genuinely scandalized: they see that the standard for chastity amongst their heterosexual peers is low to non-existent, and it’s only natural to feel resentment. In a lot of cases, teachers and other role models with the Catholic world are divorced or living common-law, young Catholics routinely use contraception and rarely remain chaste until marriage, and in most cases no one will talk about these issues—they’re considered too personal and delicate.”
What’s the solution to this hypocrisy? “By far the most important thing for heterosexual Catholics to do,” says Selmys, “is to provide a consistent example of chastity, to show, instead of telling, how it is to be done. In a chaste environment, the call to self-restraint can’t be construed as hypocritical or discriminatory.” She adds, “One’s own struggles to be pure provide the best possible jumping-off point for sympathy and compassion towards those who have the difficult cross of homosexuality to contend with.”
At our Catholic university, we should respond to homosexual students, employees, and faculty not by adding “sexual orientation” to the non-discrimination clause, but instead by welcoming them into a community where we should promote greater standards of chastity for all. We need to encourage the Church’s view that sexuality must be taken seriously if the human race is not only to continue, but also to know, love, and serve God.
But if we claim that adding “sexual orientation” to the non-discrimination clause encourages a non-holistic approach to homosexual students, shouldn’t we say that adding phrases like “disability” and “race” does the same for disabled students or minority students?
The distinction between homosexuality and race, gender, or disability comes when we consider the relationship between sexual orientation and sexual activity.
Disability, race, and gender also produce certain tendencies, but those tendencies do not corrupt actions resulting from them. I might sound confusing, so please bear with me. As a hearing impaired person, my lack of hearing impacts my ability to listen in class or participate in discussion, but my act of participation is not distorted or corrupted when I ask that questions be repeated.
Sexual orientation is a tendency toward sexual action. The sexual act has a procreative and unitive aspect between a man and woman; this is supported by Sacred Scripture and Tradition (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2363-9; Gen. 1:27-28; Lev. 18:22; Matt. 19: 4-6; Eph. 5:25-33; 1 Cor. 7:2-3). To act sexually on a same-sex tendency is to distort God’s procreative and unitive purpose.
The Church distinguishes between same-sex orientation and acting on that orientation. As the Catechism tells us, “[M]en and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.” (2358). Only acting on a same-sex tendency is considered sinful, not the tendency itself.
Though the Church and the university distinguish between sexual orientation and sexual activity, civil courts do not recognize this distinction. The statement informs us that adding “sexual orientation” to the non-discrimination clause would subject the university’s interaction with homosexual members of its community to the governance of local civil courts, which link “what we [the university] regard as two distinct concepts—homosexual persons and homosexual conduct.”
Notre Dame’s non-discrimination clause refers to institutional discrimination, not harassment. As the Spirit of Inclusion statement tells us, Notre Dame’s harassment policy protects homosexual members of its community from offensive treatment.
Institutional discrimination includes discrimination in “employment, educational programs, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, athletics, recreational, and other school-administered programs,” as listed on the website for the Office of Institutional Equity. And in this sense, the university does not appear to discriminate against homosexual persons. In accord with the Spirit of Inclusion statement, the university continues to welcome homosexual students and faculty members into its community.
Since the non-discrimination clause refers specifically to institutional discrimination, it is unclear how effective adding “sexual orientation” to the non-discrimination clause would be. To add the phrase to the clause would risk the university’s freedom to promote the Church’s teachings about sexuality, most importantly that sexuality is God’s gift to us for creating new life.
As human beings created in God’s image, we all have a higher calling to chastity, to love others holistically by encouraging each other to practice sexuality the way God intended us to use it. In that regard, the Spirit of Inclusion statement is an appropriate response to all members of the Notre Dame community, because it invites all of us, heterosexual or homosexual, to become “brothers and sisters through Jesus Christ on a common journey back to the God who created us.” Only by realizing that our journey of inclusion and conversion at Notre Dame is “common” can we do as the Spirit of Inclusion suggests, namely, “act in accordance with…a higher standard—Christ’s call to inclusiveness, coupled with the gospels’ call to live chaste lives.”
Contact Gabby at firstname.lastname@example.org.