Priest/Professor Causes Emotional Stir at University of Portland by Objecting to Pride Flag Based on Fundamental Catholic Teaching

If people think back to this time in US history, is it going to be known as “the Era of Emotional Regulation”? A case in point: at the University of Portland recently, an open-door meeting was held in protest of the behavior of a Catholic priest/professor, Dan Parrish. The group met in response to comments Parrish had made regarding the installation of a Pride flag on campus.

According to the student-published Beacon, a large crowd of more than 150 congregated in the Lund Family Hall on April 5 for what was meant to be a mediated conversation with professor Father Dan Parrish but ended up being a forum for people to express their displeasures to Parrish.

Parrish, who lives in the hall, does not support the rainbow flag being put up as a symbol of a message of inclusivity. He reportedly emailed two directors on the resident board and asked them to consider taking it down.

During a meeting, he explained his motives. “I said that, if [the inclusion statement] is going to be posted, I encourage them to make sure that they wrote something that aligns with our mission values as an institution. In my opinion, the Pride flag is used not only for inclusive purposes, but in a variety of different ways to support causes that do not align with Catholic teaching.”

Why should adherence to Christian doctrine be required? In spite of its name, the University of Portland is a private Catholic college. However, former Lund assistant hall director Mary Markham, who was contacted by Father Dan Parrish, claimed she was puzzled by his views. “I was thrown off by that email for a lot of reasons, but part of the reason is that that has not been my experience with a relationship with a pastoral resident. I think that he was using his theological beliefs and conflating those with policy.” Mary “personally got the flag printed in August” and put it up. Mary’s not a fan of the manner in which the priest presented his thoughts. “That's not how you start a conversation in a loving and caring and healing way. Those words are extremely painful to read and really harmful to me as a person.”

According to the Beacon, his October email “argued…that the primary sign of inclusion is the crucifix.”

Some students are also upset, pointing out that plenty of suffering is associated with the cross and the Catholic faith. These students felt that Markham did not adequately deal with the issue. In addition, they're grieving about posts Parrish is said to have “liked” online. Screenshots of students' posts on Parrish's Twitter account reveal his liking of content these students label as sexist, racist, and transphobic as well as posts against masks and the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine. This all led to the submission of a formal objection within the past year, expressing concerns with regard to Parrish's online activities. Parrish has removed the majority of his Twitter posts since that time.

They also “pointed to a lack of professional resources on campus for LGBTQ+ students in light of these events, saying that it falls on students to be the ones offering support to this community on their own.” Enrollees were so broken that they were in tears. Tissue boxes were distributed around the room throughout the night. There was a buzz of emotion, and students from different backgrounds came together to share their thoughts.

Then Parrish delivered a mea culpa. “I do apologize, and I'll be very careful what I'm apologizing for because I do not mean to signal anything about my beliefs through these likes (on social media). That was not what I was trying to do… The fact that anything I've done intentionally or unintentionally has hurt someone makes me feel terrible. I hope, I wish, I pray that every student feels loved and welcomed here. We have more work to do to make that happen.”

It’s apparent a lot of Americans operate with the idea that all people should be affirmative in all matters– which is in line with the consensus of US culture that if this doesn't happen, “harm” will result. Once it was believed that the reverse was true–that it was harmful to be constantly affirmed. Another thought that has been around for a while: Nobody cares what others think. But today, we all need to be single-minded.

More from the Beacon: “Many students have suggested that because of his religious beliefs, Dan isn't suitable to be a pastoral resident or to help LGBTQ students.” According to a sophomore student named Chloe, the concept of diversity of thought wasn't something she opposed. “I chose to come to the University of Portland because of what they say about inclusion and community and how they feel about people of color, sexuality, etc. This is not what I signed up for… I think that Fr. Dan needs to be held accountable for his actions, and if that means taking a leave of absence to further educate himself, then so be it.”

In terms of contemporary Christianity, the country isn't a good candidate for “some of that old-time religion”. For example, some recent headlines: “Christian Church Leads Prayer to the ‘God of Pronouns', the Great They/Them Who Breastfeeds,” “For Lent, the Chicago Church Is ‘Fasting From Whiteness',” “Catholic University Speaker Calls for Christians to ‘Crucify Their Whiteness'.”

In relation to emotional regulation, if America had been founded on the assumptions of our current cultural viewpoints, we'd have run out of Kleenex quite a while ago. It's hoped that they'll have everything fixed up at the University of Portland.

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