Spokane, Wash., Feb 19, 2020 / 05:08 pm (CNA).- Gonzaga University’s plan to become the first Jesuit university to open a law clinic focused primarily on LGBT advocacy has raised “serious concerns” for Spokane’s Bishop Thomas Daly.
“While the Catholic tradition does uphold the dignity of every human being, the LGBT Rights law clinic’s scope of practice could bring the GU Law School into conflict with the religious freedom of Christian individuals and organizations,” the Spokane diocese said Feb. 19 in a statement to CNA.
“There is also a concern that Gonzaga Law School will be actively promoting, in the legal arena and on campus, values that are contrary to the Catholic faith and natural law.”
“Bishop Daly and the diocese are studying the issue further and will be discussing these serious concerns with the university administration,” the diocese added.
The diocese told CNA it was not consulted before the university announced the creation of the clinic.
The Lincoln LGBTQ+ Rights Clinic at Gonzaga was developed in partnership with the school’s Center for Civil and Human Rights, the university said in an announcement Feb. 14.
The clinic “aims to advance the equal rights and dignity of individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ through education, programming, advocacy, research, and legal representation.”
It will also provide “a special opportunity for Gonzaga law students to help protect and advance the rights of the LGBTQ+ community,” the university added.
Gonzaga’s law school dean, Jacob Rooksby, told CNA that the LGBTQ+ Rights Clinic fits within the Catholic identity of the university because “it allows our students the chance to learn firsthand how law and the work of lawyers can further respect for individual dignity.”
The university noted that Harvard, Cornell, Emory, and UCLA— all secular institutions— have developed LGBTQ+ law clinics.
Father Bryan Pham, S.J., a civil and canon lawyer and chaplain for the Gonzaga School of Law, told CNA that the goal of the clinic is to create a space that helps students understand the viewpoints of a broad range of clients.
“I don’t think there’s anything that the law school or the clinic will be doing that would be in opposition to the Church’s teaching, other than the fact that we want students to engage in this in a civil context of a law setting,” Pham told CNA in an interview.
He said the clinic is not “about converting people or trying to get them to believe one way or another.”
“The law in this country is pretty clear about discrimination, so how do we expand that conversation in a much broader context?” he said.
The Lincoln LGBTQ+ Rights Clinic will “offer legal services to members of the public” with the help of second- and third-year law students, under the direction of a full-time faculty member, the university’s announcement explained.
Pham said it will be up to individual professors to decide whether or not to present the Church’s teaching in the classroom. He said “when it’s my turn to be part of the conversation, I will definitely bring it up, absolutely.”
Concerns mentioned by Daly about religious liberty seem rooted in litigation some Catholic institutions have faced in recent years.
In the United States, various Catholic schools and dioceses have faced lawsuits from employees who have been fired after contracting civil same-sex marriages in violation of the diocesan or school policy.
In some states, such as Illinois, California, and Massachusetts, Catholic adoption agencies which do not place children with same-sex couples have been forced to close their doors after losing legal challenges.
In addition, Catholic hospitals have faced lawsuits from people who identify as transgender and wish to recieve surgery or hormone therapy to change their sex.
CNA asked Gonzaga whether students participating in the clinic might find themselves representing clients who are suing Catholic institutions.
“We are in the early stages of this initiative, working to hire a director and launch the clinic in the fall. Given that we are early in our development in the clinic, it is premature on our part to respond to hypothetical circumstances,” university spokesperson Chantell Cosner said in an email response to CNA.
“We anticipate being in a position to speak more specifically about the work of the clinic later this fall.”
But Pham said even if the clinic advocates for same-sex marriage, “the Church won’t recognize that, so this really isn’t an issue.”
In 2003, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that “in those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty.”
“One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection,” the CDF added.
According to Pham, more basic issues are likely to be the clinic’s focus.
“For us, it’s more about how people are discriminated against. So in places of employment, housing, bank loans— you know, they won’t give a loan to a couple because they’re a same-sex union— so those are really basic human issues,” the priest said.
Pham said his main concern is people’s assumptions that the clinic will advocate for positions contrary to Church teaching.
“My concern is people jumping to conclusions, and just looking at the name of the clinic, and then making an assumption about it,” Pham commented.
“This is something that we’re aware of, when we were thinking about doing this clinic. We are a Catholic Jesuit school, our foundation is within Catholic social teaching, so I think my main concern is people hearing about this and often jumping to conclusions without finding out.”
Pham said the university uses a 1997 document from the United State Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Always Our Children,” as a guide for how “we work with our students and with community members who are of that community.”
“Always Our Children” was, at the time of its release, criticized by groups who say they are faithful to Church teaching, such as Courage. It was largely embraced by groups critical of Catholic doctrine, such as DignityUSA. The document was not voted on by the full body of bishops, nor even discussed by them before its issuance, according to the National Catholic Register.
“Always Our Children” was revised and reissued in 1998, again, without a full vote of the U.S. bishops. One of the changes was the addition of a footnote to a 1992 letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith regarding legislative proposals to address discrimination against people who identify as gay.
“There are areas in which it is not unjust discrimination to take sexual orientation into account,” the document says, “for example, in the placement of children for adoption or foster care, in employment of teachers or athletic coaches, and in military recruitment.”
“‘Sexual orientation’ does not constitute a quality comparable to race, ethnic background, etc., in respect to nondiscrimination,” the document continued.
“Including ‘homosexual orientation’ among the considerations on the basis of which it is illegal to discriminate can easily lead to regarding homosexuality as a positive source of human rights, for example, in respect to so-called affirmative action or preferential treatment in hiring practices.”
In 2006, the USCCB issued an new document, Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination. That document, which was approved by a vote of the bishops, cited the CDF’s 1992 letter more explicitly.
“As human persons, persons with a homosexual inclination have the same basic rights as all people, including the right to be treated with dignity. Nevertheless “‘sexual orientation’ does not constitute a quality comparable to race, ethnic background, etc., in respect to nondiscrimination,” the 2006 document said.
“Therefore, it is not unjust, for example, to limit the bond of marriage to the union of a woman and a man. It is not unjust to oppose granting to homosexual couples benefits that in justice should belong to marriage alone,” the document continued.
The Catholic Church teaches that while homosexual inclinations are not sinful, homosexual acts “are contrary to the natural law…under no circumstances can they be approved.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that people with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” should be “accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”
For its part, the Diocese of Spokane said it will approach talks with Gonzaga with hope for a positive resolution to points of disagreement.
“Bishop Daly is a strong supporter of Catholic education and hopes that Gonzaga will continue to be a partner in the Catholic mission of faithful education in the Church,” the diocese said.