Last week, two days after the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of Indiana’s ban on same-sex marriage, the University of Notre Dame announced it would extend benefits and housing to legally married same-sex couples.
This week, the bishop of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Roman Catholic Diocese weighed in, saying he wishes the institution had given the issue more study.
In his weekly column in "Today’s Catholic," the Rev. Kevin C. Rhoades wrote that the legal redefinition of marriage poses major challenges to church institutions and religious liberty and that he, "and many others" had been worried about the issue for some time.
"I would like to see further study of what the law requires, as well as what religious liberty protections Notre Dame and our other Catholic institutions have so as not to be compelled to cooperate in the application of the law redefining marriage," Rhoades wrote.
"As a Catholic university, it is important that Notre Dame continues to affirm its fidelity to Catholic teaching on the true nature of marriage," he wrote, urging the institution to continue to work with the Indiana Catholic Conference, which is studying the issue and an appropriate response.
Sean McBride, diocesan spokesman, said Thursday that Rhoades was not accepting interview requests to elaborate on the column. Its publication came two days after the bishop called a news conference to clarify what he called "confusion" over a preliminary document from a Vatican committee on issues concerning homosexuals.
Notre Dame spokesman Paul Browne said officials believe the new policy does not go against church teachings.
The university believes it is a testimony to the church’s welcoming of gays and lesbians, he said, extending what is already offered to other legally married couples.
Employees would be eligible as soon as they present a valid marriage certificate, he said.
The Rev. John I. Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, issued a statement Thursday saying he consulted with the bishop before and after announcing the policy.
"I want to thank Bishop Rhoades for his pastoral concern, his forthrightness in proclaiming Catholic teaching and for the friendship he has shown Notre Dame," Jenkins wrote.
In Rhoades’ column, he cited official church documents that say the church views homosexuals and heterosexuals as "equal in dignity" and opposes "unjust discrimination" against homosexuals.
But, he wrote, the church continues to view homosexual sex as wrong and opposes same-sex marriage because the "nature" of marriage requires opposite sexes.
The comments echoed those made Tuesday in a news conference in response to a preliminary document of a Vatican-called worldwide meeting of bishops that some said signaled a "seismic shift" toward more acceptance of homosexuals in the church.
Although Notre Dame is geographically in the diocese, it is governed by a board of trustees and its president, who must be a member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, the institution’s founding order of priests.
The bishop is not a member of the university’s board of trustees.
But bishops do hold "ecclesiastical authority," and documents urge "a spirit of dialogue and cooperation" between the diocese’s bishops and university officials, says the Rev. Mark Gurtner, a canon lawyer who is the diocese’s judicial vicar and pastor of our Lady of Good Hope Catholic Church in Fort Wayne.
Disagreements between the diocese’s bishop and the university are not new. That includes having President Barack Obama speak at commencement and allowing performances of "The Vagina Monologues" when the late Rev. John M. D’Arcy was bishop.
And, whether to provide benefits to married same-sex couples has already come up at other church-affiliated colleges and universities with stances against homosexuality.
According to a report in the South Bend Tribune, neither Bethel College, affiliated with the Missionary Church, nor Mennonite-affiliated Goshen College plans to follow in Notre Dame’s footsteps.
In Fort Wayne, the University of Saint Francis, a Catholic institution, has not made any decisions regarding benefits and married same-sex couples.
"Yes, we’re looking at this, ... but we’re not in a place to make any kind of announcement," said Trois Hart, associate vice president for marketing.
"We’re reviewing all the elements that go into where we find ourselves at this time," she said.
"We do take our guidance from the diocese. We will be leaning heavily on that guidance."