Catholic chaplain Father Brian Cool has always tried to encourage the Catholics who make up 34 percent of UR?s population to maintain their faith.
Recently, however, he heard a group of students say they are afraid to enter a church, that they are fearful of walking through its doors, or even that their spiritual life is dead.
?As a pastor, that?s unacceptable,? Cool said.
But alienation has been the experience of many members of the gay and lesbian community, said sophomore Dan Lioy, education chair of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Friends Association.
?The feeling is that you can be spiritual but certainly cannot be religious, at least not in an organized religion,? he said.
To help address this need, a group of people who identify themselves as gay and Catholic are meeting every other Tuesday to discuss the dichotomy between the two communities.
The idea for the group arose after a series of meetings between the Christian chaplains at the Interfaith Chapel and GLBFA. They met last year to give the chaplains an opportunity to talk about their churches? teachings on homosexuality. Early this semester the chaplains listened to GLBFA members discuss their experiences with religion.
Part of the group?s mission is to dispel misinformation that both groups might have about each other.
One of the biggest points of contention is the church?s teaching that sex is both unitive and procreative ? it serves to unify the couple as one to continue the creation act of God.
As a result, ?homogenital behavior is objectively immoral,? according to ?Always Our Children,? a 1997 publication for parents of homosexual children by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
However, homosexual orientation in itself is not immoral, since the Catholic Church has always made a distinction between the person and the act, Cool said.
Lioy takes a more liberal interpretation of the Church?s ruling on sexuality. He believes that if two people cannot procreate, the principle should not apply to them.
?That?s a very narrow view of what creating new life is,? Lioy said. ?Creating this special bond between two people ? that is a perfectly legitimate form of creating new life.?
There are national organizations dedicated to this cause. One such group is Dignity, a group of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Catholics whose mission statement states that its members should live the sacramental life of the Church. At the same time, they believe that they can express their sexuality ?in a loving, life-affirming manner that is in keeping with Christ’s teaching.?
Right now, however, ?the church would say that both of those are inseparable,? Cool said.
He said that the goal is not to tell gay people how to live their lives, because Catholics believe that ?all people are made in the image and likeness of God.?
?We don?t hold anyone to any higher standard simply because of sexuality,? Cool said. ?Sexuality is one aspect of a person?s life, and the physical aspect is only part of sexuality.?
?It is also important to recognize that neither a homosexual orientation, or a heterosexual one, leads inevitably to sexual activity. One?s total personhood is not reducible to sexual orientation or behavior,? according to ?Always Our Children.?
But the gay community has misconceptions about Catholicism as well.
Although he had not been raised in a specific faith tradition, Lioy further separated himself from religion when he came out five years ago.
?I felt like when I decided to admit I am gay, I thought I had to disown any spirituality I had,? he said.
He became very hostile toward organized religions in particular.
?So many Catholics let me know how they felt and it seemed to stem from their faith,? Lioy said.
Lioy, who will be baptized Catholic on Easter, said that although some gay people were supportive, others thought he was being hypocritical.
For some, Lioy said ?the view is that the opposite of the gay community is Catholicism.?
Many also assume that one must be ?a closet case? if they claim to be gay and Catholic, he said.
Sophomore Jessica Burt came out as a bisexual last year. She said she had an easier time coming to terms with her identity because the Catholic community here is so accepting and since she was already a member of GLBFA. Today she serves as both publicity chair of GLBFA and member of the Newman Community choir.
?It?s nice to still be able to practice the faith I was born into,? Burt said. ?The rituals and traditions are so beautiful.?
Still, while growing up, she had more literal views about the Church?s teachings. She had a hard time, for example, reconciling her love for family members who were gay.
Her mother explained, however, that their god was not a hateful one, and that she could not imagine God making mistakes.
Not everyone is so accepting, however.
Burt remembers a recent uncomfortable homily, or sermon, by a visiting priest at her home parish. She dealt with his impressions of the evils of homosexuality by turning her purse around so her rainbow patch was more visible.
But Cool said the Catholic Church does not exclude certain groups.
?God?s presence is for everybody,? he said.
He said that this particular outreach is just one of the Newman Community?s ministries meant to answer the needs of those who feel separated from the Church.
?Alienation is not right,? Cool said.
By establishing an opportunity for gay Catholics to discuss their spiritual needs, the Newman Community is taking its lead from the church as a whole. Cool said the Catholic Church has responded to similar pastoral needs in the past. In the 1960s, for example, divorced Catholics formed support groups.
As a result, there are benefits to discussion on the local level.
?The church is based on people. People make up the church,? Lioy said. ?People will have to change their attitudes toward homosexuality before the Church can.?
?Through dialogue like this we?re just starting to understand a gay person?s life,? Cool said. ?I don?t know what that experience is, but I want to find out, because that journey is difficult for people.?
The questions that remain are complex. In addition, any changes will occur slowly, because they affect the Catholic Church throughout the world.
?We?re not going to answer questions like this just by meeting six times a semester,? Cool said. ?Things will change. They just won?t change overnight.?
The group will meet again next Tuesday. For more information, contact Cool at x54321 or email@example.com.