Students at Seton Hall University called Sunday for the reinstatement of a Catholic priest who said he was fired as the college's director of ministry because of his Facebook post supporting LGBT rights.
On Sunday, students started a petition urging the Church's leadership to reinstate Father Hall and pushing for a wider discussion about LGBT issues in the Catholic campus.
Students told BuzzFeed News they are also drafting letters asking Archbishop John J. Myers to reinstate Hall. On Monday, graduating seniors were planning on walking on stage and picking up their diplomas with "No H8" stamped on their hands – a message opposing discrimination of LGBT students and a reference to the Facebook post Hall was allegedly fired for.
Officials from the Archdiocese of Newark disputed Hall's claim, and told BuzzFeed News that his post was one of the archdiocese's planned reassignments of 700 priests under its authority.
"The premise that Father Hall was being fired because of this tweet is bogus," Jim Goodness, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Newark told BuzzFeed News. "That is bogus."
Goodness confirmed the archdiocese was aware of Hall's Facebook post regarding "No H8" and the tweet alleging he was fired because of it. He said he could not explain why Hall would believe he was fired for the post.
The students' online petition has received more than 4,000 signatures as of Monday afternoon.
"I just knew that we had to act fast," said Ethan Kraft, a sophomore at the university who set up the change.org petition. "He was simply opposing hatred, and I don't think anyone should be fired for hating hatred."
Other students, like Mary Meg Donnelly, said Hall's sudden removal seems to be emblematic of how LGBT students are treated in the Catholic campus. Students, professors and administrators may seem accepting of LGBT students in the university, but open discussions surrounding LGBT issues – including student groups in campus – is lagging, Donnelly told BuzzFeed News.
"I think the members of the LGBT community would like to be more active, but they feel they can't," Donnelly said.
For example, one of the student groups that supports LGBT students, called Allies, has been in the campus for about 10 years and holds a memorandum of understanding with the university. Still, it's not a university-recognized club.
The group can hold meetings, but are not allowed to hold social or advocacy events on campus, or appeal to the student government for funds.
Groups such as Amnesty International at Seton Hall University have worked with Allies to hold events on campus, Donnelly told BuzzFeed News, who was president of the Amnesty chapter this year. The two groups worked together, for example, to organize a panel discussion about sexuality and human rights.
"I had to jump through a lot more hoops than other events I've planned before," Donnelly said.
Catholic teachings state marriage is between a man and a woman, and homosexuality has for years been a topic Church leaders either avoided or criticized.
Catholics are divided on the topic, though. And like much of the United States in recent years, their views are changing – especially among its youngest believers.
A Pew Research Poll from 2014 found that older catholics are less likely to accept homosexuality – but 89% of catholics between the ages of 18 and 29 believed it should be accepted.
At Seton Hall, students were also encouraged by Pope Francis' recent comments, where he said, “A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will — well, who am I to judge him?”
"I think the issue is how we as a campus and an archdiocese can give a message of acceptance," Donnelly said.
The debate roiled the campus as the university sought to recruit former University of Massachusetts basketball guard Derrick Gordon to its ranks. Gordon is the first openly gay Division I player, and has said he encountered homophobia when he was looking to transfer.
On Sunday, he announced he will attend Seton Hall.
School officials told BuzzFeed News in a statement that the decision to appoint a Director of Campus Ministry is made by the Archbishop. They declined to comment on Hall's removal.
On social media, Hall mostly tweeted in support of Seton Hall's sports teams and sometimes aired his support for LGBT issues.
"We finally had someone who is directly advocating for the students," Donnelly said. "I loved my time in Seton Hall and I felt the professors have been very accepting of students."
Kraft, who set up the online petition, said Hall has a reputation among students as supportive and caring. BuzzFeed News reached out to Hall, but did not receive a response.
On social media, however, he thanked his supporters and urged them to use the opportunity to expand the conversation on campus.
When someone suggested not donating to the school because of the controversy, he urged them to reconsider.
When asked what Hall's new assignment would be, Goodness, the archdiicese spokesman, said, "he's not going to be at the school."