Chances are, you have probably never heard of Anthony Muñoz. Even though he's an NFL Hall of Famer and former Cincinnati Bengals offensive lineman, he doesn't live an extravagant Hollywood life. But he's somewhat of a celebrity in the Southern Ohio/Northern Kentucky region, and this year was selected by Xavier University to give the undergraduate commencement speech on May 11. With that comes an Honorary Doctorate from the Jesuit Catholic University.
Muñoz was chosen primarily because of his reputation of charitable work and years of service to the greater Cincinnati area through the Anthony Muñoz Foundation. But last week, openly gay Cincinnati Councilman Chris Seelbach and some Xavier University students objected to the selection of Muñoz, purportedly due to his ties with the politically conservative Citizens for Community Values (CCV), which holds to a traditional Biblical view on homosexual behavior.
The small group of Xavier students who objected to Muñoz initiated an online petition, which netted 443 signatures, claiming that the NFL Hall of Famer has ties to the "radical" CCV group, which opposed a Cincinnati Charter Amendment granting homosexual orientation as a protected class. As such, the petition argues that the views of CCV are "drastically out of line with the views of the teachings of the Catholic Church, Xavier University, and our President, Father Michael Graham, S.J."
In a phone interview last week, a spokesman from Councilman Seelbach's office told me: "Several hundred students at Xavier signed a petition to clarify whether he ( Muñoz ) condones discrimination against anyone in the LGBT community. In the past, CCV has opposed several charter amendments, first in 1993 to ban the city from protecting any kind of discrimination against the LGBT community, and then again in 2004. It wasn't a call to remove him from speaking, but just to clarify his position. Again, it was the students who initiated this, not the Councilman."
But the petition, signed by less than seven percent of the University's 6,650 students, indicates otherwise: "We are requesting that Mr. Muñoz clarify his personal position on LGBTQ rights. If he fails to do so, or does so in a way that is contrary to the ideals of Xavier University, Mr. Muñoz should be uninvited from speaking at the commencement ceremony and he should not be honored with a degree." According to these students, it is of the utmost importance for any commencement speaker to adhere to the ideals of Xavier, a Catholic University, which opposes discrimination towards the LGBT community.
But what if supporting LGBT rights conflicted with the values of the Catholic Church? What if, by accepting gays and lesbians as a protected class, this somehow violated the conscience of faithful Catholics in the Xavier community who oppose homosexual behavior? Would their recognition of such laws be in contradiction to their faith? Further, would a failure to acquiesce be license to rescind the commencement invitation of a respected, long-time community member, such as Muñoz, who has given hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours of his time to make Cincinnati a better place?
According to guidance from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (2006), persons with a homosexual inclination "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity." Hatred towards this population should be condemned, and "those who minister in the name of the Church must in no way contribute to such injustice." However, their guidance also makes it very clear that homosexual acts cannot fulfill the natural ends of human sexuality when they pronounce: "The sexual act finds its proper fulfillment in the marital bond" and "sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes."
In today's culture war, it's clear that some (not all) gay activists are advancing civil rights on behalf of the LGBT community not only to promote respect, compassion, and sensitivity (as the Catholic Church does) but also to legitimize homosexual behavior and thereby advance certain political objectives of the gay lobby, such as same-sex marriage. Such ends are clearly out of line with the teachings of the Catholic Church. At a time where same-sex marriage is being hotly debated at educational institutions across the country, issues of civil rights can easily be mixed in with politics.
But Councilman Seelbach believes that citizens have the right to disagree with homosexual behavior and that this issue was not about the politics of same-sex marriage. "What happened was, Father Graham was concerned with this, and met with him ( Muñoz) , and again, Mr. Muñoz said he does not condone discrimination. There was no issue of marriage equality; it was just about discrimination being wrong," commented Seelbach's spokesperson.
However, questions still remain as to whether this controversy was really initiated by Xavier students (who were only two years old when the aforementioned Cincinnati Charter Amendment was first initiated in Cincinnati in 1993) or if it was instigated by a disgruntled local politician with an axe to grind against anyone who opposes LGBT rights, which seem to be ever-expanding and increasingly eroding the free speech of persons of faith to express their views in the public forum.
In order to get more clarity, I called the Xavier University Student Government Association (SGA) and spoke to incoming SGA President Andrew Dziedzic, who told me that the outgoing President, Seth Walsh, initiated the petition with two other members of the SGA. "None of the three students who initiated this petition were acting as representatives of Xavier University, only as private citizens," commented Dziedzic.
But multiple attempts to reach the three students who initiated the petition resulted in unreturned phone messages. Curious as to what these students might be hiding, I did an online search and discovered that Seth Walsh, outgoing SGA President and co-sponsor of the petition to remove Muñoz as commencement speaker, has been working since May 2012 as a "Community Liaison" for none other than Councilman Chris Seelba ch! Among his duties are "maintaining important meeting records" and "representing Councilman Seelbach in the community at events." One has to wonder how else Walsh is representing Seelbach, himself an Xavier Alumni, in the Cincinnati community?
To his credit, Anthony Muñoz personally met with the President of Xavier University to clarify his position that he does not condone discrimination towards the LGBT community. Remember, it was ONLY the students who requested this clarification, who were about two years old in 1993 and have been apparently following this issue for the better part of their lives.
Just like he has been for more than a decade, Muñoz is a class act and pillar of the community. It's a shame he was bullied into this political cat fight because of his support for traditional values. It's also an embarrassment that some "Catholic" students at Xavier (remember, they were working alone without any prompting from local politicians) view the advancement of certain political objectives as a more important cause then standing up for their own church's traditions and honoring a man who has given so much to their community. It reminds me of a line from that old song: "Kids, what's the matter with kids these days?" Remember, it was ONLY the kids!