Beloved Friends and Allies:
A Pastoral Plan for the Support and Holistic Development of GLBTQ and Heterosexual Students at the University of Notre Dame
My dear people, let us love one another since love comes from God and everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Anyone who fails to love can never have known God, because God is love.
— John 4:7‐8
Part I: Context for the Pastoral Plan
Over the past two decades, the University of Notre Dame has strived to advance its understanding of and support for students who identify as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (GLBTQ). In this regard, the University owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to the members of the Standing Committee on Gay and Lesbian Student Needs and to the Core Council for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Questioning Students for their longstanding efforts to create and sustain a healthy and inclusive campus for all. Because the University values GLBTQ students in the Notre Dame community, as indeed it values all of its students, the University is committed to fostering an environment of welcome and mutual respect that is grounded in its Catholic mission.
As a result of this commitment and at the request of University President John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., the Division of Student Affairs, during the Fall Semester of 2012, undertook a comprehensive review of the structures and services currently provided to GLBTQ students and their allies by the University. This process included 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. The extensive conversations involved Core Council members, student leaders, and other undergraduate and graduate students.
The review produced a deeper understanding of both the strengths and the challenges of the current campus climate for and support of GLBTQ students and their allies at Notre Dame. The University, through the Core Council, has consistently offered education for the campus community and provided training to residence hall staff, student leaders, and other faculty and staff members on GLBTQ issues within a Catholic context. Unlike other education and programming at the University, this responsibility has fallen to a small, selected group of eight students and four administrators who were originally designated as an advisory body to the Vice President for Student Affairs. While the Core Council itself recognizes the importance of these efforts, its size is no longer sufficient to continue offering education, providing training, promoting awareness, and executing programming that supports students who identify as heterosexual and GLBTQ. In addition, many students, whether undergraduate, post‐baccalaureate, GLBTQ, or heterosexual allies, desire to be engaged more fully in building the climate of welcome and inclusion that the University aspires to achieve. Not all such students are currently able to contribute to the efforts of Core Council because its official membership is limited in number overall and in composition to eight undergraduate students. Finally, the comprehensive review revealed that numerous GLBTQ students seek additional support as they come to understand and live out their sexual orientation and gender identity during such a critical phase of their holistic development.
Part II: Foundations for the Pastoral Plan
In the mission statement of the University of Notre Dame, a Catholic academic community of higher learning, the University aligns itself with that activity animated by God’s grace that brings about “justice grounded in love.” The University thus commits itself to building a community characterized not only by “all areas of scholarly activity” but also by a concern for “human solidarity and the common good.” Its explicit Catholic heritage, as well as its origin and tradition as an institution of the Congregation of Holy Cross, calls the University to cultivate the love of God and of neighbor in all its members. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church declares, self‐giving love (charity) “is the greatest social commandment. It respects others and their rights. It requires the practice of justice, and it alone makes us capable of it” (CCC, 1889). Indeed, according to Catholic Christian belief, the experience of such love allows human persons to come to know the love that is the Triune God, the love that has been poured forth by Jesus Christ for the life of the world, the love that empowers those animated by the Spirit of Jesus Christ to respond to their call to holiness and to cultivate self‐giving throughout their lives.
Lives of self‐giving love are not possible without “the long and exacting work of self‐mastery” (CCC, 2342), the self‐mastery that is “ordered to the gift of self in witness to God’s fidelity and loving kindness” (CCC, 2346). The University in its mission statement also references this self‐mastery when it states that it “prides itself on being an environment of teaching and learning that fosters the development in its students of those disciplined habits of mind, body, and spirit that characterize educated, skilled, and free human beings.” All must learn to govern their passions in disciplined ways on the road to lasting freedom. The Catholic Church states that, “love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (CCC, 2392) but also attests that the call to chastity is God’s invitation for all to be in loving relationship with others according to the demands of the moral virtues (CCC, 2348).
Thus the call to chastity represents a divine invitation to develop relationships characterized by equality, mutuality, and respect, qualities of a deeply spiritual nature, beckoning us “to follow and imitate the one who has chosen us as his friends, who has given himself totally to us and allows us to participate in his divine estate” (CCC, 2347). In beautiful terms, the Catechism proclaims that the virtue of chastity, “blossoms in friendship” and “leads to spiritual communion.” Indeed, “chastity is expressed notably in friendship with one’s neighbor. Whether it develops between persons of the same or opposite sex, friendship represents a great good for all” (CCC, 2347).
In framing this pastoral plan for the support, holistic development and formation of students who identify as GLBTQ, as well as their heterosexual friends and allies, the University of Notre Dame states that its goals and objectives, as well as its programs and initiatives, are consonant with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. The University calls all Notre Dame students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, to the disciplined development of the theological virtue of charity, the cardinal virtue of justice, and the moral virtue of chastity in lives of self‐giving love. With the Catholic Church, Notre Dame defends the inviolable dignity of every human person as the beloved of God. As a result, the University deplores any offenses against that fundamental human dignity and calls for an abiding spirit of inclusion within the Notre Dame community (see Spirit of Inclusion). And finally, the University calls all Notre Dame students to cultivate chaste and loving friendships, particularly across lines of difference and division that threaten to undermine the Notre Dame community. In short, Notre Dame calls all students to be friends and allies of one another.
The University affirms the Church’s position that persons who identify as gay or lesbian “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (CCC, 2358). With the Church, the University continues to note “the distinction commonly drawn between the homosexual condition or tendency and individual homosexual actions” (The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 1986, #3). With the American Bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family, the University defends that “Generally, homosexual orientation is experienced as a given, not as something freely chosen. By itself, therefore, a homosexual orientation cannot be considered sinful“ (Always Our Children, USCCB, 1997). Moreover, the University endorses the emphatic pastoral teachings of the USCCB that “God has created every human person out of love and wishes to grant him or her eternal life in the communion of the Trinity. All people are created in the image and likeness of God and thus possess an innate human dignity that must be acknowledged and respected” (Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Orientation, USCCB, 2006).
At the same time, the University also adheres to the Church’s teaching concerning homosexual actions. As a result, “Homosexual persons are called to chastity” and to “friendship,” and should cultivate “the virtues of self‐mastery that teach them inner freedom” (CCC, 2359). Indeed, each and every student at Notre Dame is called to nothing less. All Notre Dame students are urged to understand and live the teachings of the Church relative to their lives and expressions of sexual intimacy. The University recognizes that these teachings are in harmony with the longstanding position of the natural law tradition of the Church that, “Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion” (CCC, 2360). Consequently in its exhortation to all its students, the University echoes Church teaching that “the deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose” (CCC, 2352).
The Division of Student Affairs at Notre Dame is integrally involved in “offering students opportunities to integrate the intellectual, spiritual, moral, and social dimensions of their educational experience.” Likewise, Student Affairs represents the primary office of the University charged with student development and formation outside the classroom. As such, the Division regularly provides training, support, and disciplinary oversight, especially in residence halls and in student clubs and organizations. From the heart of this mission, Student Affairs takes its responsibilities to uphold Church teaching relative to human sexuality very seriously. In so doing, Student Affairs works to foster student growth as all strive to live the challenging, even though beautiful and life‐giving, call to chaste relationships. Thus, in all its various programs and initiatives, Student Affairs neither condones nor supports sexual activity outside the marital relationship or any sexual activities that “close the sexual act to the gift of life” (CCC, 2357).
Student Affairs also recognizes that for all its students, “Chastity has laws of growth which progress through stages marked by imperfection and too often by sin” (CCC, 2343). All must grow and develop over time into persons characterized by mature lives of charity, justice, and chastity. Thus, without drawing back from teaching others of the Catholic Christian ideals of the life of virtue, Student Affairs commits itself to extending the tender love of God to all who are striving with sincerity to live their calls to chaste friendship. So it is with both conviction and compassion that the Division of Student Affairs puts forth this comprehensive pastoral plan for the support, holistic development, and formation of students who identify as GLBTQ and their heterosexual allies at the University of Notre Dame.
Part III: Implementation of the Pastoral Plan
In order to respond to the various expressed needs of members of the student body who identify as GLBTQ and simultaneously to cultivate deeper understanding and support for its Catholic Christian ideals, Student Affairs envisions a comprehensive, multifaceted pastoral plan. Such a plan includes attention to the training of appropriate student leaders, staff and faculty, and the education of all students, so as to create and sustain a safe and supportive environment for all members of the Notre Dame community. The pastoral plan also includes support for out or questioning students within programs and initiatives coming from multiple units on campus, including but not limited to the following: the Gender Relations Center; Campus Ministry; the University Counseling Center; the Institute for Church Life; and relevant student groups. Such initiatives, already under consideration by each of these units, will involve speakers, conferences, retreats, support groups, and other programs, all designed for the support, holistic development, and formation of GLBTQ and other members of the Notre Dame community. Included in such formation are also opportunities intended to assist all members of the Notre Dame community in their ongoing exploration of and conversation concerning a Catholic understanding of sexual intimacy and the calls to chastity and holiness of life. Student Affairs will encourage and assist with such initiatives with due regard for both the autonomy and accountability of each unit.
The pastoral plan also allows for the creation of a recognized Student Organization designed to provide peer‐to‐peer support, direct service opportunities, and friendship for GLBTQ students and their heterosexual allies. The organization’s purpose arises directly from the University’s Catholic mission and its aspiration 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. While not a club, this organization will have elected student officers, as well as a constitution developed by student leaders. With the initial and ongoing oversight of a Student Development Professional, as detailed below, this student organization is also to retain both autonomy and accountability in all its programs and initiatives. And in all such programs and initiatives, due consideration is to be exercised so as to avoid any political or social activities that might compromise Notre Dame’s Roman Catholic allegiance and commitments.
Finally, the pastoral plan allows for the creation of a committee designed to offer advice and input to the Vice President for Student Affairs about the Notre Dame campus climate for students, especially related to sexual orientation, gender identity, and relevant Church teaching in these areas. Such a group, including undergraduate and graduate student representatives, administrators, and theological and pastoral consultants, will replace the Core Council and assist Student Affairs and the University in remaining attuned and responsive to student questions, concerns, and needs.
For the implementation of this pastoral plan, Student Affairs intends to hire a full‐time Student Development Professional who embraces the University’s Catholic mission and who will work closely with student peer educators, with other campus units providing programs and initiatives for GLBTQ and heterosexual student support, holistic development, and formation, and with the officers of the new Student Organization. Designated students and University leaders will play instrumental roles in the selection process for this hire. This Professional, joining with the entire Division of Student Affairs, as well as its pastoral and theological colleagues, also will be committed to the following: extending the compassionate love of God to all GLBTQ students and their heterosexual allies; striving for faithful adherence to Catholic teaching; and offering advice and counsel to members of the University community so as to sustain a campus climate at Notre Dame where the dignity and inclusion of all as beloved friends and allies is preserved and fostered.
Love one another; just as I have loved you, you also must love one another…If you love me, you will keep my commandments…I call you friends…What I command you is to love one another.