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Catholic Notre Dame announces services for gay students
Mia Lillis says Notre Dame failed to provide a welcoming environment for gay students.
December 7th, 2012
10:37 AM ET

Catholic Notre Dame announces services for gay students

By Moni Basu, CNN

(CNN) – Mia Lillis knew that she was gay when she was 12. She felt lucky to attend a public high school in Austin, Texas, that was highly supportive and had a gay student alliance. Then she arrived at the University of Notre Dame.

She enrolled there because Notre Dame's reputation as a premier Catholic school appealed to her family. But from the very first day, Lillis was scared.

She searched for a gay and lesbian student organization. There was none. She sought out literature for gay students. Again, nothing.

"It gave me the impression that Notre Dame didn't care about queer students," said Lillis, 20. "It was pretty intimidating."

She went back in the closet. She even considered transferring. "I would say a lot of gay students think that way," she said.

But this week, Lillis celebrated after Notre Dame announced that it will create services for students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning, as in those who are still figuring out their sexual identity.

After a five-month review process, Notre Dame made the recommendations in a comprehensive pastoral plan that the university said is grounded in its Catholic mission.

“As articulated in the university’s ‘Spirit of Inclusion’ statement, Notre Dame’s goal remains to create and sustain a welcoming and inclusive environment for all students, and I am confident that this multi-faceted, pastoral approach represents the next step in advancing our efforts toward this aspiration for our GLBTQ students," said the Rev. John Jenkins, president of the university.

The university said it will create a student organization that will offer support and services to GLBTQ students and form an advisory committee to provide guidance on such matters.

It will also appoint a full-time student development staff member to oversee new programs and ensure that they help emphasize Notre Dame's goal of inclusion.

"Rooted in Catholic teaching on sexuality and gender identity, the plan emphasizes the 'respect, compassion and sensitivity' due to all, and calls all Notre Dame students to cultivate chaste relationships and to support one another in a community of friendship," said a university news release.

Lillis said the actions were huge for a school that has not been welcoming to gay students and has often found itself atop national lists of gay-unfriendly schools. Too bad, she said, because she found the students to be accepting of her. But they had not been afforded the channels to vocalize their thoughts. The climate was one of silence on gay issues.

Alex Coccia, who helped spearhead the student effort to change things at Notre Dame, said a new environment will be especially a big deal for questioning students.

"People need to have a safe environment to go through that process especially in college, which is a trying time for everybody," said Coccia, 21.

Coccia has been involved in bringing change to Notre Dame for a while. He is part of a coalition called the 4 to 5 Movement – named for data that say four out of five Americans between the ages of 18 and 30 support gay civil rights - that raised a gay-unfriendly profile of Notre Dame on social media.

A video posted on YouTube highlighted Notre Dame's treatment of gays, including its refusal several times to authorize a gay student organization and to exclude sexual orientation in its non-discrimination clause.

Conservative Catholics oppose the idea of a university that espouses the values of Catholicism catering to homosexuality.

The Sycamore Trust, which says its goal is to protect the Catholic identity of Notre Dame, expressed concern on its website, saying the university's support of a gay club "would give grave scandal damaging to the church, to the university, to students, and to other Catholic institutions and would establish a potential source of serious mischief within the school."

It went on to say, "Surely it is predictable that a group whose organizing principle is same-sex attraction is likely to be a forum, overt or covert, for opposition to the Church’s teachings about homosexuality. It may also become an instrumentality in the student 'hookup' culture."

Others were more accepting.

Kevin Rhoades, the bishop of the Indiana diocese where Notre Dame is located, said the university's plan affirms Catholic teachings that men and women with homosexual tendencies “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”

Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter wrote that Notre Dame's decision was not just the right thing to do but a courageous act.

Karl Abad said Notre Dame has taken a big step.

"I have no idea how the future debates about the moral issues raised by homosexuality will play out, but I do know that Notre Dame is here insisting on the fact that, whatever our theological views on human sexuality, we also have a Christian obligation to 'create a community where all may flourish and feel welcome, where we aspire to an even deeper understanding and appreciation of Catholic teaching, and where the human dignity of each Notre Dame student is valued,' " Winters wrote. "That, too, is part of our Catholic moral tradition."

Openly gay student Karl Abad, 21, said he hoped prospective students will no longer have a fear of enrolling at Notre Dame like he did.

"We now will have a place where gay students can get together," he said. "I am expecting a lot more student involvement in terms of gay issues."

He said GLBTQ students will no longer have to go underground to seek support.

He applauded the university's decision, acknowledging the difficulty in balancing a Catholic identity with policies that are inclusive of gay students. In that respect, he said, Notre Dame has taken a giant step.

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Filed under: Discrimination • Gender • Sexual orientation • Who we are
soundoff (68 Responses)
  1. KBM

    I went to Loyola University New Orleans from 2002-2006 and the school had LGBTQ groups that I was able to get involved in. The school also supported student members of the LGBTQ community. I was raised Catholic, and I do not agree with every stance the Catholic church has, which is why I am no longer a practicing Catholic. However, I can say with pride of my alma mater that I was supported throughout my college experience as were other members of the LGBTQ community.

    December 11, 2012 at 3:14 am | Report abuse |
    • gerald

      Imagine the world we would have if everyone who had a pet sin didn't agree with everything the Church taught. Men who are tempted to cheat on their wives didn't agree with the Church on that. Those who loved por.nography didn't agree with the church on that... Why there wouldn't be any sin left at all. No I think you better search a little deeper if you disagree with 2000 years of Church teaching because it's "your sin". Trust not in your own understanding it says in prov. 3:5.

      December 11, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Alec

    Perhaps I'm wrong, but it seems Ms. Lillis's fears were unfounded. The university is going to form a new student organization, something that's hardly surprising. I just don't see how this is a big deal.

    December 10, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
  3. TheGreenMan

    Because of my national socialist upbringing I was hoping that the "service" offered would be Euthanasia .

    December 10, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • profprog

      Do you need a passport to travel to Euthanasia?

      December 10, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Billy

    The Catholic compromising its principles for money? Go figure. Next they'll allow adultery support groups to keep enrollment up.

    December 10, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • ARTHUR JUNCKER

      You guys are Catholic christians? Here's an insight.

      December 10, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Susanna

    Sad that people can hate a religion. I went to parochial school for 12 years. I was taught NEVER to judge another. To be accepting of everyone. Bullying was non existant. I suppose everyone sees a different slant on reality. This is my slant. I love living life according to what I learned. I love my church.

    December 10, 2012 at 10:08 am | Report abuse |
  6. xX420noscope#$WAGXx

    II believe that if we allow gays to do this we will have more rapists!

    December 10, 2012 at 8:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Susanna

      Does this comment make any sense at all!?

      December 10, 2012 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
  7. Chris

    Nope

    December 10, 2012 at 8:37 am | Report abuse |
  8. ma & pa

    Hate has nothing to do with it, unless you're talking about those who sneer, saying "breeders" as if it were a dirty word, at happy mothers and fathers and their naturally begotten children. These sneering ones seem to forget they wouldn't exist except for the Natural, normal, activities of one male and one female couple, committed to one-another.

    December 10, 2012 at 2:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Carrie

      Naturally begotten children... what a disgusting thing to say. Main point of the article aside, there are thousands of children in this world who are here only through artificial insemination – and they have one mother and one father. Are they unnatural?

      December 10, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  9. pnm9pnm

    better better best maybe that can help yet thats being dune,.pnm,.

    December 9, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
  10. bcool

    @Jon thats not what catholics are like

    December 9, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  11. bcool

    wow

    December 9, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Michael4yah

    Gods law. Not man's. As modern Babylon becomes more apparent I hope that others will see the reason for God's LAW. An unrepentant society has no future. We are about to find out just how wrong this country has become.

    December 9, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lisa

      Or maybe you'll find out how wrong you are and give up bigotry against others.

      December 9, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
  13. bronson2014

    this is not helpful.

    December 9, 2012 at 10:02 am | Report abuse |
  14. bronson2014

    I went to ND. though I think the school is very welcoming, i think this is a good thing to be officially welcoming. really, I don't think it makes much of a difference.

    December 9, 2012 at 9:57 am | Report abuse |
  15. Lancero

    Wonderful! Now how about a support group for the girls raped by football players?

    December 9, 2012 at 9:31 am | Report abuse |
    • bronson2014

      you don't have any idea what you're talking about.

      December 9, 2012 at 10:02 am | Report abuse |
  16. TexMan

    How stylish.

    December 9, 2012 at 5:56 am | Report abuse |
  17. krehator

    I demand to be treated equally no matter how different I am. Let's see how different I can be...

    December 8, 2012 at 10:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Billy

      If people want to be treated equally treat them equally, dont make support groups, if they can make a gay support group isn't it fair to make a support group for being straight. I have nothing against the gays they can believe what ever they want to it really isn't any of my business. I'm just saying that we should treat people equally by giving advantages to everyone.

      December 10, 2012 at 10:24 am | Report abuse |
  18. Mary Jane

    It's a disease that should be treated with medication isn't that the answer for everything in this country?

    December 8, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mo Jo

      Is that disease you are talking about religion? I don't think there is a medication for that one, yet. But you can get rid of it by realizing that fantasy lands and super natural powers don't exist. God is the explanation for everything and nothing.

      December 8, 2012 at 11:56 pm | Report abuse |
      • Steve

        Yep, so says you right? Mo Jo master of what? Nothing?

        December 9, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Surakij Vuthikornpant

    I will not review anything to CNN anymore.Because lo*sy censorship is wasting my time.

    December 8, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
  20. Jon

    Typical catholic, hate filled and venemous.

    December 8, 2012 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Michael4yah

      Jon. It sounds like your intolerance is showing. Hate? Say what you will, its only words.

      December 9, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • bcool

      dude catholics aren't like that

      December 9, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  21. Paul Allen

    Roman catholicism has nothing to do what soever with Apostolic Christianity found in the Book of Acts "If the blind lead the blind they both fall into a ditch" In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them

    December 8, 2012 at 9:01 am | Report abuse |
    • truth

      Have you ever read the letters of the early Christians, i.e. those who were disciples of those mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles you mention? Sure looks Catholic to me.

      December 8, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alec

      You may disagree with the church as it exists today, but you can't deny the apostolic tradition of the Roman church. That has existed unbroken, despite several anti-popes, since St. Peter.

      December 10, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  22. saggyroy

    I always love it when they say stuff like "...expressed concern on its website, saying the university's support of a gay club "would give grave scandal damaging to the church,"

    December 8, 2012 at 7:46 am | Report abuse |
  23. The Truth

    Very sad day.

    December 8, 2012 at 4:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Nare

      On the contrary, a Very Happy Day.

      December 10, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  24. lastofall

    Whatsoever church that accepts, endorses, and supports the expansion of sin, is not at all a church, but rather just a mere building made with hands with no life in it.

    December 8, 2012 at 3:39 am | Report abuse |
  25. Shaka

    It is nice to see that Notre Dame will offer counseling for these poor confused and hurt kids.

    December 7, 2012 at 9:51 pm | Report abuse |
  26. Jeff

    Jim- the accusations shouldn't be hurtful the actions were-according to what I've read the vast majority of pediophiles are straight- I wonder if the church has determined how many of their pediophiles are gay. When is the church going to take away ND's religious affiliation

    December 7, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
  27. Alyssa

    Congrats Notre Dame! thats fantastic. As a practicing and proud catholic, who fully supports gay rights, this article makes me so happy. It shows that change is possible even in some of the strictest of religions.

    December 7, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
  28. Mac

    Gee, I'm friggin' thrilled.

    December 7, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  29. NYBoy123

    Jim – I don't think the reference was to the molestation scandal. More a comment about the vast majority of all priests and nuns, both historically and today, being gay. It was always the safe haven that allowed them to find acceptance and purpose in life while escaping societal and family pressures to get married. Of course as society evolves (in the best meaning of the word) the need to use church or convent as an escape route becomes much less significant. But no question most priests and nuns are gay, and always have been. Those that accept themselves, and find a natural (albeit discreet) "outlet" with like minded colleagues are well-adjusted. And those who are conflicted and repressed sometimes do things they shouldn't (now there's the molestation reference you were looking for).

    December 7, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  30. Tim

    The catholic mission? Open, heathy gayness and the catholic religion don't see eye to eye...are they going to advocate for equal rights? No. Inclusive participation? No..wonder what those catholic priests are doing? Hope the aren't trying to shop around for their next repressed fling. Wouldnt trust the Catholics if they claimed they had a hand written letter for god. They do not care about those they exclude and hurt.

    December 7, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • John Justice

      like the thousaqnd yeqr hatred of the Jews that begat the holocaust. which also inlcuded all the gays those catholic maniacs in the reichstg could find

      about 45000 up thru 1943, no data ever found on 44 or 45

      HOw anyone can be a catholic just shows how the church brainwashes people form birth.

      December 9, 2012 at 1:29 am | Report abuse |
  31. markiejo

    I don't think there's any doubt which way the U.S. Supreme Court must rule next year. History moves forward only.

    December 7, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  32. Jim

    Aaah, yes. Here we go with the petty finger pointing and hurtful accusations... You're right on schedule to bring up the child molesting scandals...

    December 7, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  33. sunakad

    What type of bible are they going to use for them?

    December 7, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • mongo23

      The same bible that most (religious) Americans use. Being gay is an abomination and eating shrimp or catfish is an abomination. Same crime. I like shrimp, so I’m okay with people choosing their partners by how they feel.

      December 7, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Julie

      I think you may be interested in my blog post "How Does the Bible apply": http://juliesthoughts.com/?p=188

      December 8, 2012 at 1:06 am | Report abuse |
  34. justin bieblet

    Where's the groups for straight people?

    December 7, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mikey R

      You're joking?

      December 7, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tim

      All around you

      December 7, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      They exist, there are a couple... like... EVERY DAMN GROUP OUT THERE! Even Straight people are welcome with open arms into basically ANY Gay group... so yeah.

      December 8, 2012 at 1:03 am | Report abuse |
  35. lionlylamb

    The daintiness of siding towards emotionally insecure relevancies of certain social ambiguities leaves awash a pleasing scent of aromatic servile tenaciousness bent to bow ever lower becoming the kneeling augmentations arousals.

    December 7, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • az liberal

      Lionlylamb...... What?

      December 8, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Billy

      lionlylamb...you do not impress me at all. You think you are smart, smarter than just about everyone that is around you. However, I find you really stupid sounding. Remember that when you are looking at yourself in the mirror and telling yourself how intelligent you are.

      December 9, 2012 at 12:38 am | Report abuse |
  36. Brian

    I'm not really sure I understand. How is not having a support group the same as not being "friendly"? Did they allow gay students to be harassed before this? Did they kick students out if they found out they were gay?

    I'm handicapped. I've been to many places that didn't have support specifically for handicapped people. That never made me feel unwelcome. Now, not being able to get into the john - THAT made me feel unwelcome. :)

    December 7, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
  37. What

    Pointless article.....
    Everyone ALL the time wants to have the cake......

    December 7, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  38. cromagnon

    If they dont like it, they dont have to go there. Plenty of othet

    December 7, 2012 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
  39. Dan

    Finally, its about time! Now the clergy can attend mass.

    December 7, 2012 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  40. C to the J

    So, they are basically being segregated...and they're fine with that??

    My point is proven over and over, you don't have to be smart to attend college.

    December 7, 2012 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Mikey R

      I guess reading comprehension is not one of your strong suits? Segregated? Not at all. Anyone can join the GLBT Alliance, in fact many "straight" people do. But just like so many other organizations, the Alliance gives this group a chance to get together, discuss issues, and god only knows they're many. Maybe you don't see or fight discrimination, or verbal or phdical abuse, but many GBKT people do every day. How many suicides do we see in teens because other students are relentless in harassment and abuse? No, it's not segregated, maybe survival. Jesus taught compassion, love the sinner, hate the sin. Of course many GLBT do not see the sin because there isn't any, but that's a different argument. The school is doing the right thing, and should have done it sooner, but better late than never.

      December 7, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
      • Jen

        Well said Mikey.

        December 7, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
      • anahadwolves

        Many of us who are white support african-americans in their fight for full equality and support latinos in their fight for inclusion as do many of us who are straight support gays and lesbians in their fight for dignity and respect.

        December 7, 2012 at 10:50 pm | Report abuse |
      • Billy

        "Of course many GLBT do not see the sin because there isn’t any" Where is your direct line to God, and when did he tell you that?

        December 10, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |