It was only three words.
But a Catholic cardinal’s statement at Georgetown University’s May 17 commencement that the family is “mocked by homosexuality” has sparked protests from dozens of faculty members and students.
The brouhaha, which has been publicized on Catholic and homosexual Web sites around the country, pits a liberal Jesuit university against the strict traditions of its Catholic founders.
The remarks originated from Cardinal Francis Arinze, a Nigerian prelate who presides over the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue at the Vatican and has been named as a possible successor to Pope John Paul II.
The cardinal was several minutes into his speech when he said the family “is under siege” and “opposed by an antilife mentality as is seen in contraception, abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. It is scorned and banalized by pornography, desecrated by fornication and adultery, mocked by homosexuality, sabotaged by irregular unions and cut in two by divorce.”
After the cardinal said the words “mocked by homosexuality,” associate theology professor Theresa Sanders, who was seated on stage, walked out. A few students also left, says Mohsin Siddiqui, a 2002 graduate who was at the ceremony.
“I thought what he said was incredibly offensive,” he said. “With all due respect for the cardinal’s opinions, I don’t think he should have been voicing them. This came from out of the middle of nowhere.”
An upcoming letter from Jane McAuliffe, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, will seek to mollify students and faculty, including a sizable homosexual contingent called GU Pride.
Catholic doctrine opposes pornography and all sexual activity outside marriage. And one Catholic specialist said the speech was what Georgetown should have expected considering the conservative nature of African Catholicism.
“African Christians hew much closer to the New Testament in their views, and they abhor many of the things done in the name of modernity,” said Michael Novak, a specialist in religion and public policy at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. “This is a perfectly natural thing for him to have said. For it to be controversial would probably baffle him.”
Cardinal Arinze could not be reached for comment.
Nevertheless, 70 faculty members circulated a letter protesting the speech to Miss McAuliffe, who had invited the cardinal to speak on Christian-Islamic relations.
She issued a two-sentence statement on May 21, saying “a number” of faculty and students had reacted both negatively and positively to the speech. “As an academic community,” she wrote, “vigorous and open discussion lies at the heart of what we do, and there are many different voices in the conversation.”
She held a two-hour meeting in her office on May 23 for about 40 people, according to an entry on a GU Pride listserve for about 300 people.
“While the discussion ranged from shockingly supportive to borderline disrespectful, the overall tone was quite affirming,” the writer said. “All voices were heard and, in my opinion at least, a positive conclusion was reached.”
The writer also praised “the amount of faculty and administrators that came to show their utmost support for the LGBTQ [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Questioning] community. The students at the meeting conveyed the message that the LGBTQ community does not feel affirmed by the administration as a whole and that we feel like the university has a long way to go before it can call itself a truly accepting place. The faculty and staff present seemed responsive to this and signaled their desire to start changing things.”
The listserve said a letter from the dean’s office will be sent out to recent graduates and their families “to affirm the place of LGBTQ people at the Georgetown table and address the hurt the cardinal’s comments caused.”
A similar letter may be sent to alumni, faculty, staff and all students. A spokeswoman for the university would only confirm that a letter was being prepared.