Three down, one to go - in the series of conferences on sexual diversity and the Catholic Church. The last of the series is due to take place tomorrow, at Fairfield University. This report from the Hartford Courant focusses on the "concerns" expressed by some Catholics to the bishops that the series is even taking place, concerns that the bishops shared with the organisers. I (and many others) are far more concerned that the important issues being raised at these conferences are simply being ignored by the bishops. If they refuse to tackle the serious inadequacy of pastoral care for people with real lives to deal with, who will?
As the organisers have made abundantly clear in their advance publicity and commentary, the purpose of the conference series is not to promote dissent from teaching, but to consider the reality of Catholic lives, and the many areas which current teaching and pastoral practice simply does not address.
"When a Catholic university decides to sponsor a conference on sexual diversity, it's a ubject worthy of a bishop's attention.
Fairfield and Fordham universities, both run by Jesuits, an order known not to shrink from thorny issues, have joined with Yale Divinity School and Union Theological Seminary, to host a series of four conferences titled "More Than a Monologue: Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church."The last of the four conferences, one at each school, is Saturday at Fairfield and focuses on lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender priests, nuns or others involved in the Catholic ministry.
With sessions entitled "Lesbian Nuns: A Gift to the Church" and "Gay Ministry at the Crossroads: The Plight of Gay Clergy in the Catholic Church," some Catholic observers who didn't want to give their names said they half-expected the programs to be shut down on the Catholic campuses.
That hasn't happened, but Bishop William E. Lori in Bridgeport and New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan did weigh in.
About a week after the first conference, held at Fordham University in New York on Sept. 16, Lori and Dolan issued a joint statement saying that they had received "thoughtful expressions of concern from many of the faithful regarding" the four conferences. They said they had shared their concerns with the presidents of Fordham and Fairfield universities.
"Advertisements and commentary in advance of these conferences seemed to imply that they might encourage dissent from the Church's teaching and from her teaching authority," the statement said, "while advocating for erroneous opinions about sexuality dominant in our culture."
The archbishop and bishop went on to say they had been assured by both presidents that the conferences, "while sensitive to the experience of the participants, will not be a vehicle for dissent."Paul Lakeland, a professor of religious studies at Fairfield, said that when he helped plan the series, he knew it could provoke "a certain amount of adverse publicity" and the possibility of having "alumni huff and puff … It's the price you pay for tackling the issues."
Lakeland said he had received some e-mails critical of the conferences."It's important for Catholic universities to address issues of concern in the church," Lakeland said. "That's what we do, and this is one of those issues of concern… The role of the university is to be in a place where the church does its thinking."Christine Firer Hinze, a professor of Christian ethics at Fordham University, said, "We aren't doing this in spite of the fact that we are Catholic; we are doing this because we are a Catholic university."The Rev. James Martin, who is culture editor for America Magazine, a national Catholic publication, said it's "highly unusual" for two Catholic universities to be "providing a forum to talk about a very controversial topic in the church… I would say it was a significant initiative on the part of the organizers."For the Catholic campuses to hold the forums, "I'd say in the present climate it's somewhat daring," said Andrew H. Walsh, associate director of the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College. "But this is not a topic that can be completely suppressed. There is going to be discussion about it."