CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A theology assistant professor at a Catholic college has some parents of a high school here up in arms after a speech on homosexuality.
Administrators at Charlotte Catholic High School met Wednesday with about 900 parents who learned about the March 21 speech from their children, upset at Sister Jane Dominic Laurel's assertion that homosexuality occurs mainly as a result of parents' shortcomings and pornography. Students said the assistant professor of theology at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tenn., told them that single and divorced parents caused kids to become gay; that homosexuals cannot live normal, productive lives; and that gays can't be good parents.
About half of the one-hour talk centered on homosexuality, according to a statement from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte's official newspaper.
Some parents at the 1,400-student school say they wanted to know about the topic of the assembly ahead of time and would not have allowed their kids to stay.
"If I had known ahead of time ... (I would have said), 'You know, maybe today I'll pick you up early, or maybe we'll have that discussion you and I, not necessarily coming from school,' " Cindy Kellogg said.
After the talk, students launched a Change.org petition calling her talk "both offensive and unnecessarily derogatory." The petition, which has more than 4,000 signatures, didn't call for change but listed 10 objections to the talk.
A counter-petition supporting Laurel has collected more than 1,800 signatures. A message left at Laurel's office was not returned Wednesday.
Since Pope Francis' election a year ago, the Jesuit priest from Argentina in several interviews has promoted a message of acceptance for all in the Catholic Church:
"If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" Pope Francis said aboard the papal plane in July as he returned from World Youth Day in Brazil.
"A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: 'Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?' We must always consider the person," the pope said in September, criticizing the Catholic Church for being obsessed with anti-gay, anti-abortion and anti-contraception doctrine.
The sister has a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, and her presentation was based on a series of instructional videos she created for Aquinas College, the Charlotte diocese said.
"I understand that Sister used data from the Linacre Quarterly, a reputable (Catholic Medical Association) journal, and from other sources," Father Roger Arnsparger, the diocese's vicar of education, said to Charlotte's Catholic News Herald. "That data can be debated and, in fact, is debated back and forth by scholars who are researching the areas of human sexuality. Because of the ongoing debate, it would have been better if these studies and data were omitted from the presentation to the students."
Laurel since has canceled a May presentation at a youth conference in Asheville, N.C., the diocese said.
"I think one thing that will come out of this is there will be an understanding parents need to be notified," said David Hains, director of communications for the 46-county Charlotte diocese. "But how exactly is that going to take shape?"
Sister Mary Sarah Galbraith, president of the 550-student Aquinas College that was founded in 1961, defended Laurel in a statement released Wednesday. She said Laurel's message has met with a warmer reception elsewhere.
"The presentation was given with the intention of showing that human sexuality is a great gift to be treasured and that this gift is given by God," Galbraith said. "It appears that this message was not universally accepted. The hope of Aquinas College is that no one was left feeling that they are not loved by God."
Contributing: Adam Tamburin, The Tennessean