Moral issues on campus reflect strains in faith


Discussion on the LGBTQ community, abortion and divorce has become prominent in the church. Sarah Yenesel/Staff Photographer.

As members of a Catholic institution in a modern, constantly changing age, the Seton Hall community is bound to experience a clash of ideologies and beliefs between contemporary society and traditional Catholic teachings.

With the legalization of gay marriage on June 26, 2015, abortion being legal in all U.S. states and 28 percent of Catholic Americans who have been married now divorced, the Catholic Church – specifically Pope Francis – has been speaking about Catholicism’s relationship to the contemporary moral issues of this era.

Pope Francis, who follows in the footsteps of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II, appears to be more open about speaking of forgiveness towards the LGBTQ community and divorced Catholics, while still firmly condemning abortion.

According to CBC News, in 2005 John Paul II wrote in his book Memory and Identity that “it is legitimate and necessary to ask oneself if (gay marriage) is not perhaps part of a new ideology of evil, perhaps more insidious and hidden, which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man.”

Benedict XVI shared similar sentiments to John Paul II, denouncing gay marriage at his annual Christmas address in 2012. Benedict XVI stated that gay marriage is an “attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother and child.”

However, in Pope Francis’ book Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), published in April, he wrote of a “boundless love” to every person without exception.

“We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence,” Pope Francis wrote.

There is a clear difference between the forgiveness towards the LGBTQ community provided by Pope Francis compared to Benedict XVI and John Paul II.

This difference in Catholic ideologies can be seen at Seton Hall as well. As previously reported in The Setonian, Archbishop John Myers of the Archdiocese of Newark stated in his speech at the 2016 baccalaureate commencement ceremony that marriage was under attack, comments that many believed were directed towards gay marriage.

In August, Myers suspended Rev. Warren Hall, the openly gay, former director of the Campus Ministry at Seton Hall, due to Hall’s continued support of pro-LGBTQ organizations.
Rev. Hall declined to comment on church positions for this article and said that, since his suspension, he cannot comment as a priest.

Jim Goodness, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Newark, wrote in an email that “Archbishop Myers’ beliefs and teachings are those of the Catholic Church.”

He directed all other comments to Rev. Brian Needles, the current director of Campus Ministry at Seton Hall, stating that the beliefs Needles provided were ones that Myers followed.

The teachings of some priests’ may be seen as more “liberal” than others, but Needles urges students to avoid calling the pope, priests or bishops “liberal” or “conservative” when it comes to Catholic teachings.

“There is only one authentic Catholic teaching, which is neither liberal nor conservative,” Needles wrote in an email.

However, Msgr. Richard Liddy, professor of Religious Studies, wrote in an email that he believes that there can be conservative and liberal takes in every area, especially politics.

“But in broad philosophical things there can be a proper combination of both angles,” Liddy said.

Although Pope Francis is more forgiving of the LGBTQ community and has encouraged priests to be sensitive when dealing with people’s struggles, he has not changed the Church’s stance on same-sex marriage and has no jurisdiction to do so, according to Needles.

Pope Francis’ comments have not always been supportive of the entire LGBTQ community – he made comments during a meeting with the Polish bishops in Krakow in July condemning gender transitions, stating that it is “terrible” that children learn about transgender issues and that gender can be changed.

In regards to divorce, Pope Francis said that respect needs to be shown to those whose marriages have ended, despite the church’s stance that marriage is meant to be an unending bond between a man and a woman.

“The Church also recognizes that divorce is a painful reality for many people and wishes to pastorally accompany those we are divorced, reaching out to them with sensitivity and reminding them of God’s merciful love,” Needles said.

Pope Francis’ opinion on abortion has not been as forgiving, though. Needles said that the pope has been clear in his defense of all human life, from conception to death.

“All life has inestimable value, even the weakest and most vulnerable,” Pope Francis said in July 2013.

Pope Francis has been more open about discussing forgiveness regarding topics that were not necessarily discussed by previous popes, but Needles said it would be inaccurate to label the pope as “becoming more liberal.”

“It would be more correct to say that Pope Francis, while standing firm to the Church’s traditional teaching, would like the Church to find a ‘new’ and more inviting language to convey her teachings,” Needles said. “He has also been very clear in his desire that the Church’s pastors be more attentive to the particular and varied circumstances in which people concretely find themselves and to treat every person under their pastoral care with respect and dignity.”

Although the church remains firm on its condemnation of gay marriage, abortion and divorce – while offering sympathy to the LGBTQ community and those who are divorced – there are Catholic groups that exist to support these causes.

The Catholic Divorce Ministry is an organization that advocates for divorced Catholics within the church.

Another group, Catholics for Choice, said that it “seeks to shape and advance sexual and reproductive ethics that are based on justice, reflect a commitment to women’s well-being and respect and affirm the capacity of women and men to make moral decisions about their lives” while offering advocacy for things like abortion and HIV awareness, according to its website.

New Ways Ministry, a Catholic organization in support of the LGBTQ community, has been denounced by the Vatican for its teachings. It teaches “about the gifts that such people bring to the faith community” according to executive director Francis DeBernardo.

DeBernardo wrote in an email that Pope Francis has helped the church become less afraid of discussing LGBTQ issues.

“I believe that the Catholic Church is going to continue to be more welcoming on LGBTQ issues in the future,” DeBernardo said. “I think priests who oppose it will soon become a thing of the past.”

DeBernardo said that millennial Catholics are much more aware of the LGBTQ community and issues than earlier generations.

However, Needles said various surveys state that millennials are less religious than previous generations.

“Catholics who search to know and understand what the Church actually teaches and who attend mass on a regular basis are more likely to be in union with the Church’s teaching than those who are not very familiar with that teaching and who attend Mass infrequently,” Needles said.

Christina Dunham, a senior environmental studies and Catholic studies major, said that she would never judge anyone for being gay, having an abortion or getting divorced. However, Dunham’s personal beliefs are that “if it’s in the Bible or in the Ten Commandments, I do my best to 100 percent follow it and/or believe it.”

Dunham said she believes that marriage is between a man and a woman, but she supports the LGBTQ community “in a sense that if they are happy, I am happy.”

She added that she would personally never get an abortion because one of the Ten Commandments is “thou shall not kill.”

Nora Baron, a senior social and behavioral sciences major, said that she was raised Catholic and attended Catholic school her entire life. Yet, she does not share similar sentiments as Dunham.

“I am a very religious person and have always tried to follow in those footsteps of being kind and loving towards everyone and having tolerance and patience to those who need it most – just like scripture in the Bible tells us,” Baron said. “However, as I have grown older and looked deeper into myself and the religion that I have been raised and believe in, I have realized that the ‘rules’ which Catholicism teaches are so outdated that they go against the word of God.”

Baron said that the God that she was raised to believe in would never judge someone because of who they loved.

Anna Bondi, a junior diplomacy major, shared Baron’s sentiments.

Bondi said that because divorce is such a common end to marriage, millennial Catholics are less likely to judge someone for being divorced.

Andre Bakhos Jr., a freshman business administration major, said that there is “no such thing” as divorce in the Catholic Church and that abortion with never be supported by the Church.

He added that although the church does not accept same-sex marriage, it is still accepting of the LGBTQ community and those of all races.

“On the case of the LGBTQ community, church law states that marriage is between a man and a woman to create life, and since two men or two women are incapable of creating new life naturally, the church does not recognize this,” Bakhos said. “However, that does not mean the church “hates gays” or is “homophobic” because that is the complete opposite.”

Although differences can be seen in some of the personal beliefs of various Catholics, Needles remains firm in his belief that there are not “liberal” and “conservative” forms of Catholicism.

“It would be wrong to suggest that every bishop or priest somehow differs from every other bishop or priest in what he believes,” Needles said. “The overwhelming majority of bishops and priests are strongly united by their common belief in and adherences to what the universal Catholic Church teaches.”

Ashley Turner can be reached at


Author: Ashley Turner

Share This Post On

1 Comment

  1. I just want to say, as a past undergraduate and current graduate student at SHU; after years of reading the newspapers, this year’s topics are the most important and moving I’ve ever read. I am very pleased to see a variety of important issues being brought up and considered openly when they were rarely discussed before. Please, keep up the good work!

    Post a Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This