THE QUEER FILM FESTIVAL AND THE HOMOSEXUAL ISSUE
The homosexual film festival raises issues bearing upon secularization that are important but also sufficiently complex as to demand a more thorough examination than we have so far been able to give them. We will provide here preliminary comments and enough of the pertinent facts to suggest the nature of the problem.
Because of Father Jenkins’s concern, the film festival was significantly modified this year. It had been publicized in the two prior years as the “Queer Film Festival,” which naturally, and we assume designedly, generated a good deal of publicity. The festival featured such questionable elements as a panel discussing gay marriage that included a nun, Sister Jeannine Grammick, who had been enjoined by the Vatican from publicly speaking on homosexual issues, together with the film In Good Conscience that documented her refusal to be silenced. Terrance McNally's film Corpus Christi which depicts Jesus and his disciples as modern-day homosexuals, with Judas seducing Jesus on
prom night, was another entry, and Mr. McNally another speaker. See The Observer 2/14/05.
This year some changes were made because of Fr. Jenkins’ intervention. In his January statement, Fr. Jenkins criticized the title as “seem[ing] to celebrate homosexual activity” and took note also of the “concern that...a Catholic view on sexual morality is not adequately presented.” The title, accordingly, was changed to “Gay and Lesbian Film: Filmmakers, Narratives, Spectatorships”; but there still seems not to have been anyone presenting the Church’s views. The meetings between Fr. Jenkins and the sponsors may have caused unreported changes besides the title -- Sister Grammick did not reappear, for example – but the homosexual press reported that while the new title “sounded more academic...the program was the same.” For more information <<click here>>
A good deal more could be said about these events, but we will rest for now with one more fact that is perhaps the most significant, namely, that “42 faculty,” “including three Department Chairs, 20 professors, and two Professors Emeritus” reportedly not only “wrote Father Jenkins about their concern that his address contributed to a climate of hostility to gays and lesbians” but also “called on President Jenkins for a public apology.” For more information <<click here>>
This expression of outrage over Father Jenkins’ restrained remarks is a striking illustration of the sort of indifference, even hostility, to the Church’s teachings with which we are concerned and that we have already discussed in connection with the faculty ferment over the threat to The Vagina Monologues.
As to the film festival itself, while we recognize that many will think, not unreasonably, that Father Jenkins should be petitioned to end it outright, we believe it preferable as a group at present simply to note our concern. The case against the festival is not, we believe, as decisive on its face as it is against The Vagina Monologues for two reasons. First, the event seems to serve a legitimate academic purpose, and, second, we are not well informed as to the nature of the panel discussions and addresses.
This is not to suggest that the festival in fact should survive. The most obvious problem is not merely that a principal message of the festival is doubtless the moral acceptability of homosexual sex, but, even more, the annual repetition of the production. While exhibiting, say, “Million Dollar Baby” could hardly be questioned simply because it portrays euthanasia in a sympathetic light, staging a group of movies with that theme year after year could certainly be criticized. Nevertheless, considering all the circumstances and in deference to Father Jenkins, we think it prudent at this point simply to express our serious misgivings.
We assume somewhat the same stance respecting the related, and much more important, general question of the school’s handling of the battery of challenges posed by the presence of a significant number of openly homosexual students. “The debate” over these issues “has reached a fevered pitch at the nation’s Catholic universities,” reports an author who visited Notre Dame and a number of other campuses. (Riley, God on the Quad, p. 182.) While the homosexual organization at Notre Dame has not been officially recognized, it is active; and, concluded Ms. Riley after examining the scene at Catholic universities such as Fordham, “[I]t’s pretty easy to see the slippery slope ahead.” Ibid. For more information on the widespread activity relating to homosexuality on Catholic campuses, including Notre Dame, see Cardinal Newman Society.
At Notre Dame, the official organization dedicated to homosexual issues is the Core Council for Gay and Lesbians. The Council is composed of eight students, “a majority of whom are gay, lesbian, or bisexual,” and four administrators, and is charged with “identifying the ongoing needs of gay, lesbian, and bi-sexual students, and... implementing campus-wide educational programming on gay and lesbian issues.” Its activities include promoting the annual National Coming Out Day and Solidarity Sunday, an annual event celebrated each year “at all Masses” on campus in order to “highlight our community’s Spirit of Inclusion for gay, lesbian, and bisexual students.” At the Masses, rainbow ribbons are handed out and students are encouraged to display them “on backpacks, briefcases, and office and dorm doors.” At the opening of the school year, the Council hosts a reception for entering students so that they can meet student Council members and learn about resources available to homosexual and “questioning” students, including those concerned about “being ‘out’ on campus.” The Council publishes information publications such as Myths about Homosexual Persons, in which students are advised, for example, that “there is no such thing as a gay lifestyle,” and, correspondingly, that “[p]romiscuity has nothing to do with one’s sexual orientation.” (Without wishing to appear tendentious, we note that studies dramatically contradict the latter assertion. For more information, see Gay Report and Statistics On The Homosexual Lifestyle.
The similar publication on Common Questions advises that “human beings cannot choose to be either gay or straight”; that “[s]ince homosexuality is neither a disease nor an illness, there is nothing to ‘cure’”; that the Church “distinguishes between homosexual orientation and homosexual activity,” teaching that the former is neutral but that the latter is “sinful”; that, however, “[u]ltimately the individual conscience is inviolable”; and that the Council provides a program for persons to explore “these complex theological and moral issues.”
From these materials, and more, it appears that the University is making a determined effort to insure that homosexual students are treated with respect and without discrimination, as the Church’s teachings require. What is not clear is whether an equally resolute effort is being made to explain unambiguously both the substance of, and the reasons for, the Church’s teaching respecting the immorality of homosexual sexual acts. Experience on other Catholic campuses shows that the risk of an administration’s muting the doctrine respecting homosexual acts is far greater than that of subordinating the injunction respecting charity and justice, and there seem to us to be at least hints of that development in the materials we have cited. Still, all we are prepared to say at the moment is that the subject is of surpassing importance and that episodes such as The Vagina Monologues and the Queer Film Festival raise doubts that are not resolved, but rather are somewhat exacerbated, by what we know at the moment. It is a subject worth further and continued examination.
For additional discussion and materials, see
The Vagina Monologues on Catholic Campuses
Description of the Vagina Monologues
Effectiveness of the Panel Discussions
Notre Dame Voices
Queer Film Festival