Gender Ideology Comes to Notre Dame

When Pope Francis spoke out about the “woke” gender theory fueling today’s transgender frenzy as “a great falsehood” and “ideological colonization,” he doubtless didn’t anticipate that Notre Dame, America’s leading Catholic university, would become one of the colonizers.

But it has.

As part of this year’s orientation of new students, Notre Dame’s Vice President of Student Affairs, Rev. Gerry Olinger, C.S.C., introduced a video about gender and sexual orientation that flatly contradicted Catholic teaching.

The Church teaches that sex and gender are rooted in biological reality and that persons are either male or female in both sex and gender. But revisionist gender theory holds that gender depends on “feelings.” And it ranges over a host of variations: “a-gender,” “bi-gender,” “cis-gender,” “gender-fluid,” “gender-queer,” “gender outlaw,” “omnigender,” “transgender,” and “two spirit.” To name only a few.

This is the revisionist gender theory that has taken hold through “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI)  programs in colleges and universities across the county and has become almost commonplace elsewhere.

But not in the Catholic Church, where Pope Benedict XVI anticipated Pope Francis by denouncing “the profound falsehood of this theory.” And the Vatican’s Congregation for Education warned that it has caused an “educational crisis” (Male and Female He Created Them).

An education crisis not least, as it turns out, at Notre Dame, where Father Olinger’s video message to new students came down decisively on the side of gender theory. His representation to the students that “Church teaching is at the heart” of what they were about to see was flat-out false advertising.

Here’s what the students were told by the video narrator:

“Gender identity is a person’s inner sense of being a male, female, or differently gendered person.”


A person’s gender identity may not match a person’s biological sex”  

“Transgender,” the narrator explained, “refers to someone whose internal gender identity doesn’t match their biological sex,” and “Questioning” signifies “someone in the process of discerning their sexual orientation or gender.”

The message of the video was driven home by a questionnaire that asked the new students, “What is your current gender identity?” And listed as options “Male,” “Female,” “Transgender Female to Male (FTM),” Transgender Male to Female (MTF),” “Genderqueer,” and “Other,” intimating endless possibilities of the sort listed above.

The video also undermined Church teaching on homosexual sex. It featured a student who described herself as a bi-sexual female “who has had a same-sex partner in the past,” and who called upon students to “treat it like it’s no big deal.”  It would be fanciful in the extreme to suppose that by “same-sex partner” she meant “same-sex good friend” or that the first-year students thought that’s what she meant.

But for the Church, homosexual sex is indeed a “big deal.”


While the Catholic Catechism insists that men and women who have homosexual tendencies “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” it declares that homosexual sexual acts are “acts of grave depravity” that “under no circumstances can be approved.”

The prize-winning independent student newspaper The Irish Rover published an account of these worrisome episodes and asked Father Olinger “whether the messages in the video are somehow viewed by himself or the Division of Student Affairs as in line with Catholic teaching.”

He did not respond.

So, Sycamore Trust, an organization of Notre Dame alumni and others concerned with and about Notre Dame’s Catholic identity, has just published an Open Letter to Father Olinger expressing “deep disappointment” with his  instruction to new students as well as with his “brushing off inquiries by students about what’s being taught on important moral issues of the day.”

“The Open Letter,” which, as noted above, is available online for those concerned with Catholic higher education who would like to join, calls on Father Olinger to break his silence. It declares, “The undermining of Church teaching on important moral issues by a Catholic institution charged with the moral formation of its students constitutes scandal of the first order.”

This abandonment of Church teaching by the Notre Dame administration follows the capitulation by the Alumni Association to LGBTQ alumni pressure for their own official organization. The new “affinity group” is The Alumni Rainbow Community of Notre Dame – or ARC.

This was a signal victory for the unofficial Gay & Lesbian Alumni Association of Notre Dame (“GALA”), which had lobbied unsuccessfully for recognition for many years.  Standing in the way of such recognition had been GALA’s repeated public celebration of champions of same-sex marriage.

But no longer.

The Alumni Association’s about-face on gay marriage has been swift and unmistakable.  It appointed the same-sex married president of GALA to be chair of ARC, the new official group, and it approved as ARC’s first event an award ceremony honoring Greg Bourke – the same-sex married alumnus who was a plaintiff in Supreme Court litigation resulting in the establishment of same-sex marriage as a constitutional right.

More, Notre Dame Press climbed on the Bourke LGBTQ bandwagon by publishing his autobiography, which centers on his campaign for same-sex marriage. The Press praised it as a “compelling and deeply affecting narrative” by an “unapologetically Catholic” man about his “struggle to overcome antigay discrimination by both the BSA [Boy Scouts of America] and the Catholic Church.”

In his book, Bourke wrote of his cordial relations with Notre Dame’s president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., citing Jenkins’s expressed gratification at “hearing of your spouse and children” and his assurance, “We are proud to call you a graduate of Notre Dame” – surely an extraordinary compliment to pay one of the Church’s most determined and successful adversaries from within.

The Catholic Church’s teaching on sex and gender that Notre Dame scuttled in these episodes has become more and more unpopular over a remarkably short period of time. Colleges and universities have led the way, scorning traditional Christian values as odious and branding hateful those who express them.

The Notre Dame administration evidently values peer approval more than it does fidelity to the Church and has chosen peace and quiet over the struggle for the truth.


*Image: Romans in Their Decadence by Thomas Couture, 1847 [Musée d’Orsay, Paris]

You may also enjoy:

Matthew Hanley’s Gender Ideology as Abuse

Rick Fitzgibbons, M.D.’s The Transgender Agenda vs. the Science

William Dempsey is chairman of Sycamore Trust, an organization of Notre Dame alumni and others attentive to the Catholic identity of the university. After graduating from Notre Dame and Yale Law School and serving as chief law clerk to Chief Justice Earl Warren, he practiced law in Washington, D.C. and served as chief labor negotiator for the railroad industry and president of the Association of American Railroads.