Newark Bishop Condemns NJ Catholic University’s Gay Marriage Course

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday May 3, 2010

Catholic institute of higher learning Seton Hall University is located in Orange, New Jersey, less than 15 miles from Manhattan. Text at the school's web site asks potential applicants: "Are you prepared to be successful in a global marketplace? Seton Hall's excellent academic programs and closeness to New York City will give you the leadership qualities you need to succeed."

But if officials in the Catholic Church have their way, the university will drop a key course to understanding one of modern society's most hotly contested issues: a class on marriage equality.

The class, offered by associate professor of political science W. King Mott, is on the schedule for next semester through the Women and Gender Studies program. Mott says that the course is not intended to promote marriage rights for gay and lesbian families, but to examine the push for family parity, and the objections to it. "It is one thing to say 'I am for or against gay marriage,' " said Mott, according to the April 15 edition of the University newspaper, The Setonian. "It's another to actually understand the issue." Aside from looking at the debate around marriage rights in the United States--including state-level marriage equality, which is offered in six states, and ballot initiatives such as Proposition 8, which put the rights of minority families up to popular vote--the course will examine the institution of marriage itself in other cultural contexts. The final assignment in the course of study will be an essay on marriage equality.

"I hope my students gain an appreciation and respect for disinterested analysis that can be used to formulate an informed opinion," Mott told The Setonian, adding, "The best schools offer controversial classes. The class is not about advocacy, but about studying the issue from an academic perspective. It's about awareness."

But some in the Catholic hierarchy wish to see the course pulled. Newark Archbishop John J. Myers has attacked the course as being "not in synch" with Catholic dogma, reported anti-gay religious website on April 30. Moreover, said, the archbishop claimed that the Board of Trustees of the university was encouraging that "whatever action is required under the law to protect the Catholicity of this university" be taken in derailing the course of study.

Slamming Mott as a "homosexualist" professor, the article cited the archbishop as saying, "Recent news that a course on same-sex marriage is proposed for the fall schedule at Seton Hall University troubles me greatly." Myers went on to say that "marriage is a union of man and woman, reflecting the complementarity of the sexes." The Catholic view of marriage, the archbishop claimed, "precedes any societal connotation of marriage, and is based on natural law."

Myers went on to denounce the course, saying that it "seeks to promote as legitimate a train of thought that is contrary to what the Church teaches. As a result, the course is not in synch with Catholic teaching."

As justification for his statement, the archbishop cited Pope Benedict XVI, who told Catholic American instructors during a 2008 visit that, "Teachers and administrators, whether in universities or schools, have the duty and privilege to ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice. This requires that public witness to the way of Christ, as found in the Gospel and upheld by the Church's Magisterium, shapes all aspects of an institution's life, both inside and outside the classroom."

The young minds enrolled at the university expressed enthusiasm for the course. Gesina Phillips, a Junior at Seton Hall University and proponent of GLBT equality, told The Setonian that, "I hope to gain new insights into the issue, as well as a great deal of more knowledge about the politics surrounding the gay marriage debate," Phillips said in an e-mail interview.

Anthony Angelella, a Junior, was "surprised" at the offering, added that article, but went on to say that he was "excited to see what can come from it." Added Angelella, "I think that, as a Catholic myself, the class being offered just shows that a Catholic campus doesn't have to be so cut and dry about controversial issues."

Last year, Myers joined Catholic bishops in denouncing the invitation made to President Barack Obama by the University of Notre Dame to speak at commencement exercises. Obama was awarded an honorary doctorate by the university last May 17.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.