Spring flowers in front of Golden Dome at Notre Dame University.

Spring flowers in front of the Golden Dome at the University of Notre. Photo courtesy of Know1one1, via Wikimedia Commons

This image is available for Web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

(RNS) The Catholic Church in the U.S. has taken a lot of heat over its stance against gay rights and for policies that often bar openly gay people from participating in church life.

But the University of Notre Dame, an icon of American Catholicism, increasingly has been going against that current when it comes to gay athletes. On Thursday (May 8), the school launched a new campaign to reinforce a message of inclusion wrapped in the wider message of the Catholic faith.

“Because the university values LGBTQ students in the Notre Dame community, as indeed it values all of its students, the university is committed to fostering an environment of welcome and mutual respect that is grounded in its Catholic mission,” Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, says in a voice-over for the two-minute video that kicks off the campaign.

The video features athletes from every men’s and women’s team on campus, including tennis player Matt Dooley and rower Olivia Kacsits, both seniors who have publicly identified as gay and both of whom pushed for the video and campaign.

Video courtesy of WatchND via YouTube

“Our goal was to increase visibility of the supportive atmosphere created by the Notre Dame student community. Unfortunately, many Notre Dame observers have a different perception of the on-campus atmosphere,” Kacsits said in a statement on Thursday. “Something I believe to be central to Notre Dame’s philosophy is that we believe in fostering and practicing unconditional, Christ-like love.”

Given the university’s high profile in both the U.S. church and Catholic education, any move by Notre Dame is likely to have ramifications well beyond its picturesque campus in South Bend, Ind. When Notre Dame awarded President Obama an honorary degree in 2009, nearly every U.S. bishop was forced to weigh in — many of them in disapproval.

Notre Dame recognized an official gay-straight alliance, PrismND, in 2013, after refusing to approve one for many years. Several other Catholic schools are increasingly following suit.

Dooley came out in a March essay in Outsports magazine in which he recounted growing up gay in a conservative environment in Texas and then arriving at a campus where the “religious affiliations and its resulting culture can be easily described as a pressure cooker for someone struggling with his sexual orientation.”

Dooley continued to contend with the “mental burdens” of being closeted and in September 2011 attempted suicide. He recounted his journey to recovery and to finally coming out to his teammates last September, and the support he has received since.

That includes the latest project, done in conjunction with the You Can Play organization, which is dedicated to promoting respect for athletes “without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity.”

University of Missouri football player, Michael Sam, celebrates during a game in Nov. 2013 against Texas A&M at Faurot Field Memorial Stadium in Columbia, Mo. RNS photo by Shane Epping

University of Missouri football player Michael Sam celebrates during a game in November 2013 against Texas A&M at Faurot Field Memorial Stadium in Columbia, Mo. RNS photo by Shane Epping

This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

You Can Play was co-founded by Patrick Burke, a 2006 Notre Dame graduate, who also worked with Jason Collins, the NBA star who came out as gay last year, and Michael Sam, the All-American University of Missouri football standout who announced he was gay earlier this year.

“The church is supposed to be a place where people come together, where people are united in an idea of love and caring for each other,” Burke said. “When you start being exclusionary, that is not what Jesus taught.”

“From day one, nothing we have ever done has ever contradicted Catholic teaching,” he said, noting that the group even received an OK from a canon lawyer. “We are tremendously excited that Notre Dame recognizes that as well.”

When Sam came out at Missouri, Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly told the Chicago Tribune that he thought gay players should be welcomed and that Notre Dame “is about embracing diversity” even though “that doesn’t necessarily mean we agree with homosexuality.”

Dooley and Kacsits are not the first athletes at a Catholic school to come out, nor the first to be welcomed for doing so.


Jallen Messersmith is believed to be the first openly gay active player in U.S. men’s college basketball. Photo courtesy Benedictine College Athletic Department

This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Last May, Jallen Messersmith, a basketball player at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., publicly identified as gay and told of how the school had supported him since he told officials and teammates there in 2012.

“We are a Catholic college, and we take our mission and values seriously,” Benedictine President Steve Minnis said. “Our duty as Catholics, straight from the church, is to treat everybody with respect and accept them for who they are.”

Many dioceses and Catholic schools have come under fire in the past year for firing gays and lesbians who publicly identified as gay or who married their partner under same-sex marriage laws that are being adopted in a growing number of states.



  1. CarrotCakeMan

    Why is anyone surprised? Notre Dame is a university, not a church, and since it receives federal funds, it dares not discriminate against LGBT students or athletes. Besides, we shouldn’t confuse the crass anti-gay political machinations of the bishops with the good will expressed by a clear majority of American lay Catholics:

    “Our analysis found that this increasingly diverse Catholic community is strongly supportive of acceptance of and rights for gay and lesbian Americans. Generally speaking, Catholics are at least 5 points more supportive than the general population across a range of issues. For example, nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of Catholics favor laws that would protect gay and lesbian people against discrimination in the workplace; 63 percent of Catholics favor allowing gay and lesbian people to serve openly in the military; and 60% favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt children.

    On the more contentious issue of same-sex marriage, the evidence is also stacking up for solid Catholic support at both the national and state levels. A Washington Post/ABC News Poll recently found that fully 63 percent of Catholics supported making it legal for gay and lesbian couples to marry, compared to 53 percent of the general population.”


    • CarrotCakeMan


      “Sixty-two percent of Catholics said they were in favor of legalizing marriage for same-sex couples. Catholics approved of same-sex marriage at a higher rate than Americans as a whole”


    • You’re right about one thing CCM: Notre Dame is a university, a SECULAR university. It’s not a church. It’s not a Catholic institution.

      Notre Dame is absolutely no different than the University of Indiana in terms of secularism. Both Catholic and non-Catholic families should keep that in mind.

      Hey, Catholic parents! Want your boy to become a priest, or a bishop, or a Pope? Then go send your kid to a Catholic university. Don’t send him to Notre Dame.

      • CarrotCakeMan

        Doc attacks anyone who is “insufficiently homophobic.” While he isn’t sophisticated enough to understand what I mean, yeah, how about that, the Jesuits are insufficiently homophobic, all right. Go ahead and attack Pope Francis now, Doc, he’s a Jesuit–and he said himself he’s insufficiently homophobic, too.

        Doc clearly knows nothing about the Roman Catholic Church except to attack any part of it that isn’t in line with his anti-gay political agenda. The problem for Doc’s agenda is Doc’s every post actually weakens his anti-gay agenda.

        Thanks, Doc. Keep on showing what’s wrong with your agenda.

        • Actually, I haven’t said one word about the Jesuits, (either pro or con), since I first arrived in this forum, so I guess you’ve already displayed a flat tire right there, CCM.

          Try getting it fixed before taking the rest of the car back on the road, yes?

          • CarrotCakeMan

            Your denial is useless, Doc. The Jesuits run Notre Dame. The Pope is a Jesuit. Posting yet more tiresome personal attacks won’t make the facts go away.

          • FYI, the Jesuits have nothing to do with Notre Dame. The school is ran by the Congregation of Holy Cross, a completely separate order from the Jesuits. You might get your facts straight before you post in the future.

      • You could only possibly believe that Notre Dame is not Catholic if you have never been there, never read anything about it by a reliable source, or have no idea what the Catholic Church is. I’ve studied, taught, and worked at about a dozen Catholic universities – including some in Rome – and ND is one of the most Catholic i have experienced.

        • Then something has gone radically wrong with the University of Notre Dame — or with American Catholicism itself.

          Or, most likely, both.

          It’s like the house is still there, but there’s no furniture inside anymore…and no running water either.

          • CarrotCakeMan

            Anti-gays attack anyone, anywhere, who won’t help them hurt LGBT Americans. Most Americans have noticed this.

      • If homophobe parents are so concerned about their sons and daughters gender identity, give your sons Barbie dolls, not GI Joe. Give your daughters the GI Joe and other male dolls.

        After all, don’t they have to practice like the opposite sex?

        If you can’t figure it all out – let your children play with whatever toys and dolls they like! YOU can’t change their sexual preference no matter what YOU do.

        Doctors whose patients give birth to children with both male and female genitalia should work with parents with honesty – don’t take it upon yourself in the Delivery Room to cut out the genitalia YOU choose!

    • Implying that Notre Dame or any other institution receiving or even applying for federal funds doesn’t openly violate any federal laws and get away with it is like saying that our justice system has gone after all the thugs on Wall St. the same way they have over-populated our prisons with people they caught carrying or using a joint!

      Also, to claim non-discrimination in order to obtain federal funds is as hypocritical as it gets, especially for a church institution whose dictatorial central cabinet practices such blatant discrimination as the Vatican curia of the Catholic Church.

      Consider the ugly discrimination of Cardinal Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in trying to force his brand of beliefs on the good nuns of the U.S. And that pales almost to oblivion compared to clerical sex abuse.

    • All this tells me is that 63% of Catholics do not read the bible. I am not without sin, but the bible clearly states that marriage is between a man and a woman. Notre Dame needs to withdraw it’s law suit against ObamaCare immediately. You can have one foot in and one foot out of the secular world. Either you’re a Catholic University or not. If not, change touchdown Jesus into a hippie, paint peace signs on his fingers, and put some sun glasses on him. Even the Pope to ND to knock it off. What a bunch of hypocrites!


      ND former greatest fan!

  2. And by the way, a person can fully respect and accept another person, WITHOUT respecting and accepting his or her sin behaviors and anti-God lifestyles. Shoot, parents and grandparents do that all the time.

    All people are created equal. All lifestyles, are NOT. Don’t back down, Christians.

    • Christians have no right
      To tell non-Christians, or Gays what to do or think.
      Stop bullying others. It isn’t nice and it won’t help anybody’s ‘soul’.

    • CarrotCakeMan

      How many times have we heard the anti-gay LIE, “Love the person,…” but where they always make it clear they HATE the person by posting attacks. Please keep repeating those same anti-gay lies here, Doc, they have a particularly deleterious effect on your agenda. Haven’t you seen the polls that show younger evangelicals are rejecting homophobia? You did that, Doc.

      • And by the way, CCM, another young writer of the “Millenial” generation has abandoned YOUR gay lies. Author Mya Huff has busted out of the gay jail:


        • CarrotCakeMan

          Who cares that you found some blogger, somewhere, who agrees with you, Doc? Please pay for advertizing at this website, if that’s what you want. That’s exactly what you did here–seek free advertizing.

  3. Regardless of how one reads scripture or what one thinks policy should be, it is crucial to take a gracious tone and attitude toward these divisive issues. There will always be people who want the Catholic Church and her institutions to go further on policy, but that’s fine. The church is not accountable to please those people. I applaud NDU for being inclusive; it is the right thing to do.

    OK, secularists who are only here to complain: take your shots (I won’t read your lectures).

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