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Minn. Catholic schools continue to grapple with how to approach gay rights

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Recent remarks about inclusiveness by the new president of the University of St. Thomas have heartened gay and lesbian advocacy groups on the Roman Catholic campus, but recent departures of gay employees from a suburban Catholic high school left a different impression.

In a state that recently legalized same-sex marriage, it’s clear that the Catholic church and affiliated schools in Minnesota continue to grapple with how to approach gay rights. A tension underpins it all: traditional church doctrine on homosexuality versus the fundamental Catholic belief in accepting all human beings.

Catholics-for-LGBT-equalityIn Julie Sullivan’s convocation address, the first female St. Thomas president sent hope to gay faculty and students.

“We are called to love and support everyone in our community regardless of their sexual orientation,” Sullivan said. “And, I might add, regardless of the gender of their spouse.”

Leaders of pro-gay campus groups told the St. Paul Pioneer Press they saw it as a move to make the school more gay-friendly.

“It was a pretty pointed statement,” said Alfonso Wenker, a St. Thomas graduate and founder of the Minnesota Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Ally Campus Alliance. “It’s no secret that St. Thomas has climate issues for gay students and staff. She took that head-on.”

According to the Maryland-based New Ways Ministry, an advocacy group for gay employees at Catholic institutions, more than half of all Catholic campuses are now on its gay-friendly colleges list. They wound up there by approving nondiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation, launched gay student support groups or taken other measures. In the Twin Cities, St. Thomas, St. Catherine and St. Mary’s universities are all on the list.

But the conservative Catholic education advocacy group Cardinal Newman Society has questioned Sullivan’s remarks. Society president Patrick Reilly said a growing number of National Coming Out Day celebrations and even drag shows on Catholic campuses blatantly challenge church teachings.

“This issue is particularly difficult for Catholics because we have such a strong position on the grave sinfulness of homosexual acts,” he said.

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Earlier this year, Bill Hudson resigned as president of Totino-Grace High School in Fridley after board members learned he had a longtime male partner. A female teacher who revealed she was in a same-sex relationship has said she was fired from the school because of it.

The Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis said many schools have Justice in Employment documents that would-be Catholic school employees sign. The policy says staff members can be fired for “public conduct that is inconsistent with the faith, morals, teachings and laws of the Catholic church.”

Spokesman Jim Accurso said the policy is meant to “ensure clarity of teaching and avoid moral confusion.” But he said the archdiocese also believes “all people, including those who experience same-sex attraction, must be treated with respect, compassion, sensitivity and dignity.”

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