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On Moral Communities: Collegeville II

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Oct 08, 2010

In reading my commentary on the scandal at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN (Wolves among the Sheep: The Collegeville Affair), some may conclude that I stretch things a little when I suggest that it is likely that the students have been misled concerning the issues at stake (gay marriage, homosexual behavior, protesting Church teaching, etc.) by some who serve at the Catholic colleges in question (the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University).

So let’s look more closely at what can be gleaned on this precise point from the news reports. First, after Archbishop Nienstedt refused communion to the students who approached wearing rainbow sashes in protest of Church teaching, the spokesman for St. John’s University, Michael Hemmesh, told the press that school officials had no comment. What? No support for the archbishop? No reiteration of Catholic doctrine? No comment at all on the behavior of their own students?

Second, the apparent spokesman for the students, Elizabeth Gleich, told the press that the students’ complaint is with the Church’s hierarchy, and with Nienstedt in particular, and not with the colleges: “We have found a welcoming community here. The last thing we want to do is create something divisive within our community.” Now let us speculate for a moment on what the difference between the hierarchy and the colleges might be. Is it that the hierarchy is constantly saying hateful things about those with homosexual inclinations? Does the hierarchy seek to drive those with homosexual inclinations out of the Church?

No, it is difficult to see any other possible conclusion than that the hierarchy upholds Catholic teaching and the colleges in question do not. In other words, the hierarchy teaches clearly that homosexual inclinations are disordered, that homosexual acts are sinful, and that gay marriage is a contradiction in terms which can only undermine the Church’s teaching on life, love and the sacrament of matrimony—even while welcoming those with homosexual inclinations and supporting them in their efforts to live chastely as Christ demands. But if this is so, then the colleges must teach something to the contrary, or at least remain silent in order to make gay and lesbian students, and their supporters, feel more comfortable with their inclinations and their sins.

Now it also turns out that Gleich is identified as a theology major at St. John’s University and as Vice President and a board member of People Representing the Sexual Minority (PRiSM), a gay advocacy group at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University. Thus, one of the clubs at these ostensibly Catholic schools (a club currently listed as such on the CBSJU website) is an advocacy group for gays. This situation is hardly uncommon, but what does it imply about university patronage?

Recent polls have shown that American Catholics favor same-sex unions of one type or another by more than three to one. This is, after all, the new cultural norm. Yet the Catholic hierarchy has made clear that this is incompatible with Catholic doctrine. In a highly relevant related matter, a study conducted by researchers at Mississippi State University earlier this year suggested that coeds were more promiscuous at Catholic colleges than the secular norm (and markedly more promiscuous than at evangelical schools). (Note: This would not have been the case at the newer crop of Catholic colleges which been deliberately founded or transformed over the past 40 years  to put “Catholic” back into Catholic education.) Is there a pattern here?

Tellingly, the Mississippi State researchers concluded that “moral communities” exercise some restraint on sexual activity, but that “our findings might instead suggest that not all religiously affiliated colleges and universities constitute ‘moral communities.’” Somebody, then, is repeatedly sending contrary signals to Catholics, including students at Catholic schools. Even given mainstream media support for gay marriage, we would be very foolish indeed to conclude from the Minnesota episode that there are not a considerable number of such “somebodies” in Collegeville.

I’ll close by reminding everyone what this is all about. It is not a question of enforcing Church “rules” for their own sake. The question is simply this: Who really demonstrates love? Is it the person who conceals reality to accommodate those who flee from God into various unrealities of their own devising? Or is it the person who offers patient correction in an effort to bring the lost home to Christ? We might also ask which approach is easier and which approach leads to true happiness and eternal life. The answers are seldom the same. Catholic colleges that cannot articulate the difference effectively, both in the classroom and in the larger ambience of community life, are in serious need of reform.

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  • Posted by: bnewman - Oct. 11, 2010 10:46 PM ET USA

    There is an aspect here which reminds me of the other topic:“Open to Discussion.” The point of a Catholic University is to express and teach freely the orthodox Catholic understanding within a catholic community: there are numerous secular non-catholic universities available satisfying the student request. The implicit aim of the students is to repress expression of the orthodox catholic position entirely.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Oct. 11, 2010 9:00 AM ET USA

    Sadly, the false understanding of freedom demonstrated by those who oppose Church teachings permeates our society and culture. It has reached a level of absurdity. Confusion and disorder have become hallmarks of modern thought and behavior, and even the Natural Law is a foreign concept among many "Catholics." As the intellect has been stifled by emotion among communities at Catholic colleges, well-ordered thought has become a scarce commodity an true love has been lost in the process.

  • Posted by: bnewman - Oct. 08, 2010 10:50 PM ET USA

    Excellent essay tackling a serious issue. There are 2 aspects: (1)the student formation before College; (2)The College itself. I don't think a "catholic" college should be recognised as such without accountablity. The College can't do everything but students should not graduate knowing less about orthodox catholicism than when they entered: at least on a statistical basis. This can be measured. Is it possible to disqualify a College from naming itself catholic if it fails this test?

  • Posted by: Justin8110 - Oct. 08, 2010 7:44 PM ET USA

    What we need is leaders in the Church who consistently proclaim as well as live what the Church teaches. At the same time we can't expect those outside the Church to sympathize with us. if anything I think the culture at large--not just here but worldwide--is becoming more militantly anti God and anti Catholic and by lacking leadership and "walking the talk" we just become a laughingstock and a target for attacks from heretics within and enemies without.

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