Gay, Catholic, and American Discusses Marriage, Catholic Doctrine, Anti-Gay Discrimination in the Church
Greg Bourke, a named plaintiff in the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case that resulted in the legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States, published his memoirs through the Notre Dame Press on September 1, 2021. His memoirs, entitled Gay, Catholic, and American, span his lifelong exprience as an LGBT Catholic and culminate in his recent efforts to legalize same-sex marriage.
Bourke (ND ‘82) held a “Meet the Author” book signing event in the bookstore on October 1: an event for readers to speak to both Bourke and his civil spouse, Michael De Leon. Bourke will return to campus on November 19 for another book signing. This makes Notre Dame the only location on his promotional tour to host two events, both of which occur on game day weekends. Named a ‘person of the year’ alongside De Leon by the National Catholic Reporter in 2015, Bourke is a prominent figure in LGBT activist circles, and ND Press describes him as “an outspoken gay rights activist.”
In an interview with ND Press, Bourke shared his hope that his memoirs “will provide much hope and optimism … to many LGBT Catholics who long for acceptance and inclusion by the Catholic Church.” Bourke describes himself and De Leon as “lifetime practicing Roman Catholics” and cites the Holy Spirit as his inspiration for his memoirs. Devoted to service at his local parish, Bourke articulates the compatibility of being LGBT and being a practicing Catholic.
Bourke’s assertions partially reflect the teachings articulated by the Catechism of the Catholic Church; it states in paragraph 2358 that “[LGBT persons] are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives” and that “if they are Christians, [they are called] to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”
The USCCB document entitled Ministry to Persons of Homosexual Inclination further emphasizes this view: “While the Church teaches that homosexual acts are immoral, she does distinguish between engaging in homosexual acts and having a homosexual inclination. While the former is always objectively sinful, the latter is not.”
The convergence between Church doctrine and Bourke’s views continues in the discussion of how LGBT persons should be received by the Church. In an interview with the Rover, Fr. Terry Erhman offered a more theological perspective on how LGBT members of the Church ought to be received. He stated, “Catholic followers of Christ should unabashedly proclaim the truth of God’s wisdom concerning relationships of marriage and family, but they must also engage with charity and mercy those who disagree with them and live in a way outside of the Church’s teaching.”
In his interview with ND Press, Bourke remarked that he had been touched by the “compassion, empathy, and Christian love” present in the people he has encountered over the years.
However, Bourke’s memoirs—as well as his interview with ND Press—exhibit a divergence from official Catholic doctrine, which he deems “hostile” to LGBT Catholics. His vision for the Church emphasizes the ways in which he hopes to see change in doctrine surrounding same-sex marriage. Bourke hopes that his “book will further stimulate the discussion among Catholics about whether the Church should recognize and bless the unions of same-sex couples. This book certainly makes the strong argument that by all means it should bless those marriages.”
An official Responsum from the Vatican on the blessing of same-sex unions teaches that “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.”
Professor Gerard Bradley of the Notre Dame Law School emphasized to the Rover the unchangeability of Church doctrine regarding the acceptance of same-sex unions as marriages. He explained, “The Catholic Church teaches the moral philosophical truth about marriage, which is that marriage is the two-in-one-flesh communion of man and woman …There is no chance that the Church will repudiate this solemn, perennial set of teachings.”
Some members of the Notre Dame community have taken issue with ND Press publishing a book that promotes a view of marriage contrary to Church doctrine. Professor Bradley remarked: “Certainly ND Press was under no legal obligation to publish the Bourke book, and would have faced no legal repercussions whatsoever if it refused to do so on grounds that publishing the book was incompatible with the Press’s Catholic mission.”
Another source of criticism came from Bill Dempsey of the Sycamore Trust, an independent organization which works to protect Catholic identity of Notre Dame. Dempsey has written about passages in Bourke’s memoirs which relay exchanges between university President Fr. John Jenkins and Bourke, in which Jenkins expressed general congratulations for the triumph of the Obergefell case that legalized same-sex marriage despite its conflict with Catholic teachings on marriage.
In an interview with the Rover, Dempsey stated that the leadership of the university is “crucially important to the direction that the university is taking. And when you’ve got the president of the University of Notre Dame congratulating Bourke and saying that Notre Dame was proud to have him as an alumnus because of his Supreme Court litigation that legitimized gay marriage, I suggest that this university has a real problem.”
The University spokesperson, Dennis Brown, commented the following to the Rover: “The University of Notre Dame Press is deeply committed to the educational mission of the University and publishes the works of diverse scholars and experts, including works representing a broad range of Catholic thought. In pursuit of this goal, Notre Dame Press stands firmly behind the publication of Greg Bourke’s Gay, Catholic, and American, as it stands behind the recent publication of volumes representing opposing perspectives. The books published by Notre Dame Press demonstrate a profound and serious commitment to global Catholic thought and to scholarly inquiry central to the mission of Notre Dame and universities worldwide.”
In response, Professor Bradley expressed, “The University’s statement to the Rover in support of the Press’s decision to publish the book is most unfortunate, as it provides no reason in support of publishing the book.”
ND Press’ mission statement concludes with the assertion that its “books and authors are a powerful force for good in the world,” highlighting the Catholic identity of the university under which it operates. Similarly, the University’s mission statement begins with describing herself as a “Catholic academic community of higher learning.”
Notre Dame Press will follow the release of Bourke’s book with the publication of Stepmotherland by Darrel Alejandro Holnes in February of 2022, a book that ND Press describes as a “collection about coming of age, coming out, and coming to America.”
Greg Bourke, who initially agreed to an interview with the Rover to discuss his memoir, eventually declined to comment. ND Press and PrismND also declined to comment on the publication of Bourke’s memoir.
Mary Rice is a junior majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies and Theology. You can find her curled up in the PLS lounge with a cup of coffee, eagerly awaiting the first snowfall of the South Bend winter. Interrupt her daydreams of snow angels, ice skating, and hot cocoa to remind her that it’s only October at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit: University of Notre Dame Press