SOUTH BEND, December 7, 2012, (Cardinal Newman Society)—In what the University of Notre Dame’s student newspaper is calling “a historic decision,” the university announced plans for a university- recognized homosexual student organization as well as a full-time student development staff position focused on LGBTQ issues.

The announcement was made as the result of a long review of the university’s policies. According to the student newspaper, Fr. John Jenkins, the president of the university, said that the plan “grows out of our mission as a Catholic university” and is “directed by that fundamental mission in a profound way.”

But although the plan describes the student organization as acting consistent with Catholic teaching, Fr. Jenkins seemed to indicate some doubt about how closely it will be regulated:

Jenkins said the organization’s roots in Church teaching had a broad practical impact, but these roots are not meant to serve as a basis for limitations the University could theoretically impose on the group. “It’s a rich teaching about the role of sexuality, about intimacy, about human relations, about responsibilities to the community, about relationships to the Church,” Jenkins said. “To put this in a ‘Well you can do this, you can’t do that,’ is to distort the issue.”

Moreover, at least one Vatican official has expressed reservations about a Catholic college organizing any student activity centered on homosexuality. In 1992 Cardinal Pio Laghi, then-Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, opposed a homosexual club at Seattle University: “At a Catholic university, support can be given only to Catholic teaching on homosexuality and Catholic pastoral practice to help homosexual persons morally, ascetically, and spiritually…The university’s responsibilities towards homosexual persons, doctrinally and pastorally, should find their expression in courses in Catholic theology.”

The Notre Dame plan, titled “Beloved Friends and Allies: A Pastoral Plan for the Support and Holistic Development of GLBTQ and Heterosexual Students at the University of Notre Dame,” details the establishment of a “new support and service student organization for GLBTQ students and their allies,” as well as a new advisory committee and the establishment of a full-time student development staff position focused on GLBTQ issues, according to a December 5 university press release.

The main changes are that the university will:

- Establish a new support and service student organization for GLBTQ students and their allies that will produce activities consistent with Notre Dame’s Catholic allegiance and commitments. Though not a club or a political advocacy group, the organization will be open to any student.

- Launch a new advisory committee composed of designated undergraduate and graduate students, staff and faculty, to replace the Core Council and provide guidance to the vice president for student affairs on questions, concerns and needs of students in the Notre Dame community who identify as GLBTQ.

- Appoint a full-time student development staff member who will oversee awareness and education programs for all students that will emphasize Notre Dame’s goal of inclusion, share Church teaching and encourage thoughtful campus dialogue. This individual will participate as a member of the new advisory committee and serve as a liaison between GLBTQ students and campus offices that already provide support, such as the Gender Relations Center, Campus Ministry, the University Counseling Center, and the Institute for Church Life. The staff member also will serve as the appointed adviser of the new student organization and work closely with its elected student leaders, and meet regularly with selected theological and pastoral consultants. The hiring process for this position will begin immediately, and student leaders will play a role in the selection.

“I think if people look carefully at what we’re doing and really, in a thoughtful way, evaluate it, I think thoughtful people will see that this makes sense,” reportedly said Fr. Jenkins. “It makes sense for a Catholic university like Notre Dame to provide such structures to serve their students effectively.”

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The plan emphasizes, according to Notre Dame’s website, the “respect, compassion and sensitivity” due to all, and calls Notre Dame students to cultivate chaste relationships and to support one another in friendship. The entire pastoral plan is available by clicking here.

Notre Dame administrators have long rejected proposals to add sexual orientation to the university’s nondiscrimination clause or to allow an officially recognized gay student organization, citing a conflict with Catholic teaching.

Earlier this year, The Cardinal Newman Society reported that the Notre Dame Student Senate passed a nearly unanimous resolution requesting that the university approve the application. It had reportedly been the fourth application in the last six years.

The process of review which resulted in these changes included, according to the university, a “careful review of Catholic doctrine and teaching, listening sessions with members of the Notre Dame community, and consideration of structures present at peer Catholic institutions.”

Reprinted from the Cardinal Newman Society.