December 19, 2012 at 8:48 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
No LGBT group at Catholic U.
Catholic University, CUAllies, Ryan Fecteau, gay news, Washington Blade

Ryan Fecteau spearheaded efforts to prompt Catholic University officials to recognize CUAllies. (Photo courtesy of Ryan Fecteau)

Catholic University of America announced last week it would not officially recognize an LGBT student organization.

Ryan Fecteau, a junior who is the first openly gay speaker of the D.C. campus’ Student Association General Assembly, told the Washington Blade that CUAllies submitted its proposal for formal recognition to administrators on Feb. 21. Dean of Students Jonathan Sawyer and Katie Jennings, director of campus activities, told Fecteau, who spearheaded the effort, in a Dec. 6 meeting the university had denied CUAllies’ request “out of fear that they would become an advocacy organization.”

“It is unfortunate the Catholic University of America is not providing space for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning of whatever to feel they are welcomed into the faith community on campus,” Fecteau said.

The university, which denied to officially recognize the group after it formed in 2009, told the Blade in a statement the two administrators who met with Fecteau “expressed their appreciation for the thoughtful and respectful way in which CUAllies had pursued its request for recognition.” According to the statement, the goal “articulated by CUAllies of fostering a safe and welcoming environment for all students is shared by the university.”

Catholic University President John Garvey on Dec. 6 met with 15 student leaders and seven administrators to “engage in dialogue with them on that topic and to share ideas about how the university can better demonstrate its support for all students, whether they identify themselves as heterosexual, gay or lesbian.” Fecteau stressed to the Blade that CUAllies did not discuss marriage rights for same-sex couples in their petition for formal recognition.

“In declining the request for official university recognition of CUAllies, the administrators indicated their belief that, in spite of the group’s stated intent to uphold Catholic Church teachings, it would be extremely difficult for that pledge to be honored over time,” the university’s statement read. “They pointed out that there is a fine line, easily crossed, between a group dedicated to education and support of individuals who identify themselves as homosexuals and one that engages in advocacy on behalf of a homosexual lifestyle.”

Catholic University’s decision to not recognize CUAllies came 24 hours after University of Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins accepted recommendations from the school’s Office of Student Affairs to expand support to LGBT and questioning students. This decision will include formally recognizing an LGBT student group as an on-campus organization.

“A lot of people were very, very shocked and I think that’s a very good thing,” Alex Coccia, a junior Africana and peace studies major at Notre Dame who prompted the effort, told the Blade. “It was definitely something that not many people were expecting.”

A handful of other Catholic universities have LGBT-specific clubs, student affairs offices and even resource centers. These include Georgetown University in D.C. and Loyola and DePaul Universities in Chicago.

“Despite the contradictory decisions announced last week, it is undeniable that progress is being made on religiously affiliated campuses across the country,” Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, said in a statement released after Catholic University administrators announced they would not formally recognize CUAllies. “Students at the University of Notre Dame and the Catholic University of America, among others, are doing incredible work to make higher education a more inclusive place for all. Campus Pride has worked over the years to assist these students and alumni to continually push forward and we are very proud to support them. We call on the Catholic University of America to recognize the value of these students’ efforts and the importance of ensuring their academic success, support, and safety on campus.”

Coccia also criticized the D.C. university’s decision.

“It’s really disappointing,” he said. “[CUAllies] essentially has the same purpose as what our group was and what the organization will be.”

As for CUAllies, Fecteau said the group and university officials have agreed to continue to discuss the possibility of formal recognition.

“We’re going to continue to have these conversations,” he said.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

  • Barrie Daneker

    The way to make change is via the Board and Alumni Association. By gaining Board member support and getting big $$$ donors to support a CUAllies group, it will put pressure on President Garvey and Dean Sawyer to finally agree. It’s time that CUA get with the program! There are many avenues to use. Pick campus, pick the Basilica, show the university that this decision can have negative consequences for the pocket of the university and the church and things will change.

  • brian

    First, thanks to Ryan Fecteau and CUAllies for continuing the fight on behalf of LGBT students at CUA. They are continuing the heroic efforts by their undergrad predecessors– which also includes a number of previous attempts by CUA’s Columbus School of Law students to get CUA recognition for a very tame, essentially educational organization– Gay/Straight Student Alliance.

    But given the near rabid bigotry and anti-gay hatred of the current Pope Benedict, I’m not surprised by CUA’s continued failure to honor its LGBT students and faculty with recognition of its LGBT student organization.

    Usually, I would agree with Barrie Daneker’s suggestion that going after this institution’s sources of funding is likely to get CUA’s attention– and more likely to bring needed change by CUA administrators. But in this instance, I think the demands of an outrageously homophobic pope is stronger.

    CUA’s unique ties to the Vatican is more determinative… at least while Benedict is still alive.

    The distinction that sets CUA apart from nearly all other Catholic institutions of higher learning in the U.S.– such as Fordham, Georgetown, Loyola/Chicago and Notre Dame– is that CUA is a *pontifical* institution– chartered in 1887 by Pope Leo hisself. Accordingly, CUA is far more tightly bound by official Vatican teachings– however bigoted– than administrators at other Catholic schools.

    BTW, CUA’s campus– just by the concentration of its particular educational specialties and schools (Theological College, Speech and Drama, e.g.)– has, IMHO, always skewed a bit higher to a gay student demographic than most other area campuses.

    I’m pretty sure CUA’s (relatively new) President John Garvey and Dean Jon Sawyer are well aware of their large number of LGBT students.

    I know Jon Sawyer and have communicated with him many times. He is so NOT a bigot, nor is he a homophobe. Most of Sawyer’s colleagues, I’m sure, are like him — good, caring professionals, working for an otherwise outstanding university — but very much constrained by its long-standing ties to an out-of-touch Vatican and its bigoted, homophobic pope.

  • Charlie Fontana

    How many times does the catholic church have to slap us in the face before we realize that they don’t want us? It’s an appalling institution from many perspectives, and one can very easily hold any of the beliefs that catholics do without being part of their corrupt, intolerant organization.

    I was born into a catholic family, and I’ve got a sister who’s been a nun for a very long time, but I had a parting of the ways with the pope about the time I hit the age of reason — long before Benedict occupied the throne.

  • Henry Huot

    As an ordained RC diocesan priest who resigned my ministry several years ago after years of prayer, discernment and spiritual direction, and who is still a RC, I continue to strongly believe that Catholic laity have an obligation to speak their truth on matters of morality, gleaned from their lived experience, to the ordained, including their bishops. I am not suggesting a subjectivism that leaves no room for information from magisterial teachings. But there must be an openness to dialogue by all parties, especially on issues where conscientious, faith-filled folk disagree. I think allowance for respectful dissent must be defended as an option, without the dissenters made to feel that they are being run out of the community of the Church. CUAllies should be applauded because, as LGBTQ students, some of whom may very well dissent from the magisterial teaching on homosexual lifestyle, they are lobbying respectfully for acceptance, and I might add, freedom of conscience. Or do the bishops no longer believe in it?

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