Denver, Colo., Nov 23, 2018 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Officials at a Catholic university defended a campus “drag show” and classroom measures designed to support the gender identity preferences of students, even after their local bishop said the university’s plan is at odds with Catholic teaching.
“I do not intend to change my position of support for our faculty and students,” Denver’s Regis University provost Janet Houser wrote in a Nov. 16 email to faculty. Houser’s email referenced complaints from Denver’s Archbishop Samuel Aquila to university administrators, and a response from the university’s president.
On Oct. 29, Houser and the university’s Queer Resource Alliance sent a letter to faculty members suggesting they attend an on-campus “Drag Show featuring student performers,” along with other campus events commemorating the “Transgender Day of Remembrance,” on Nov. 15.
Houser’s October letter also encouraged professors to “assign readings by queer, and especially transgender, authors,” and “add your preferred gender pronouns to your email signature (for example, “she/her/hers”).”
Faculty members were encouraged to refer to students by their preferred names and gender pronouns, and to indicate their intention to do so on course syllabi.
In a Nov. 13 open letter published on his archdiocesan website, Aquila wrote that “this guidance is not in conformity with the Catholic faith, despite the attempts made to justify it as rooted in Jesuit values.”
“On the contrary, Pope Francis has repeatedly decried the promotion of gender fluidity as a type of ideological colonization,” Aquila wrote.
“Why is Regis University promoting and teaching an ideology that is contrary to what we know from the Scriptures?” the archbishop asked.
Two days later, Regis University president Fr. John Fitzgibbons, SJ, wrote to Aquila, saying that “no student or staff member who, in conscience before God, identifies as lesbian, gay, or transgender, should ever be made to feel unsafe or unwelcome in our company.”
“While a ‘Drag Show’ might appear out of place on a Jesuit, Catholic campus, once again, such events, like the Queer Resource Alliance, open a safe space, a merciful space, if you will, for LGBTQ students to show their care and support for one another.”
Citing Pope Francis’ image of the Church as a “field hospital,” Fitzgibbons said that “our LGBTQ students often come to use as the most deeply wounded of society’s citizens.”
“For us, to accompany LGBTQ persons with the mercy of Christ means allowing them the dignity of telling their stories and naming their experiences in terms that ring true for them, even while critically examining those terms in light of Catholic teaching.”
Citing the work of Fr. James Martin, SJ, Fitzgibbons wrote that “Regis University, like other Catholic universities, thus serves the Church by maintaining a holy balance between supporting LGBTQ students and doing so critically.”
The priest noted a number of programs at the university that “include sustained discussions of human sexuality, with Catholic teaching holding a prominent place in the dialogue.”
“I do not say that we embody our Jesuit, Catholic values perfectly, without error or room for improvement,“ Fitzgibbons’ letter concluded, adding that the university is committed to Catholic teaching and the formation of students.
“Our fidelity is not to ideologies, it is to persons and to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Denver told CNA that the archdiocese has “received messages from Regis faculty, students, alumni and parents thanking Archbishop Aquila for his response to this situation.”
He added that the university and the archdiocese are working to schedule a meeting between Aquila and Fitzgibbons.
The archdiocese is ”looking into what our other options are to address this situation, but are hopeful that we can have productive dialogue with Fr. Fitzgibbons first,” he said.