“Ask a Priest: What If a Catholic Campus Has an LGBTQ Club?”

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Q: In the fall, my oldest son is going off to college at a Catholic university. For various reasons we love this school and feel that it is a good fit for our son. However, at our recent visit for freshman orientation, I was very surprised to find out that there is an LGBTQ club on campus. I find it hard to understand why a Catholic university is allowing for a club that is in direct moral conflict with Church teachings. I have always taught my children that all people deserve dignity and respect because we are all children of God. Yet, there is moral truth. I know that my children have to maneuver through the waters of an ever-changing and diverse culture in society, and I have tried my best to root my children in Catholic teaching. However, doesn’t permitting this club on a Catholic campus send our young people mixed messages regarding Church teachings on this issue? Do you have any recommendations for students or parents to handle or respond to this issue? – K.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: What you have learned firsthand is the tip of the iceberg of problems that have plagued many Catholic campuses for decades: a rising tide of secularism and a concomitant watering down of the faith.

The problem you mention is all too common nowadays. Unfortunately, there is no quick and simple solution.

You mention that, for various reasons, you love this school and thought it was a good fit for your son. Perhaps it would be good to step back and ask yourself a few questions. Did you do any research into the school before your son applied? Or were you going on past memories of the place?

Many problems with the religious identity of Catholic colleges in the U.S. can be traced back to the 1967 Land O’Lakes Statement, which marked a decision by a number of high-profile Catholic institutions to blaze a new trail in higher education. (For background, see a National Catholic Register article from 2017).

The 1967 document helped to fuel a secular trend on many Catholic campuses in the name of modernization. This secularization grew stronger with age. Yet many Catholics continued to send their children and money to these campuses which failed to uphold truths of the faith.

Among the responses to the problem was Pope St. John Paul II’s 1990 apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae and the norms for its subsequent application in the United States. That is a lightning-quick overview of the problem.

How might you proceed? Perhaps a few suggestions might help.

First, if your son still intends to go to this school, you might encourage him to find a support network that will help him live his faith on campus. This means connecting with good Catholic students and perhaps a solid chaplain or even a good, off-campus parish priest.

This LGBTQ aspect of the college’s culture is certainly disturbing, but perhaps there are no better options, from your perspective. If that is the case, try to stay in touch your son throughout his college career to ensure he has access to authentic Catholic teaching.

Second, it might be good to rethink at some point in the future (say, in six to nine months) whether it might be better for your son to look elsewhere to continue his college education. Part of that reflection could involve his contacting the college to hear how it explains the apparent contradiction between campus culture and the Catholic faith.

Third, you might want to educate yourself further on the problems in Catholic education. One resource is the Cardinal Newman Society. It is a group that has had its share of opposition. But you could judge its merits for yourself.

Also helpful to educate yourself more about how best to talk about this particular issue is the video “The Third Way.

In the meantime, you might want to intensify your prayer life for your son. Count on my prayers.

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