A gay film festival has been allowed to go ahead at a Roman Catholic university.

University of Notre Dame President Reverend John Jenkins gave the go ahead on the basis of academic freedom, after spending two months considering allowing the event along with a screening of the Vagina Monologues.

Mr Jenkins said: “I am very determined that we not suppress speech on this campus. I am also determined that we never suppress or neglect the Gospel that helped inspire this university.

“As long as the Gospel message and the Catholic intellectual tradition are present, we can welcome any serious debate on any thoughtful position here at Notre Dame.”

The Queer Film Festival was renamed the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival this year. The Vagina Monologues, which in prior years was an occasion for fundraising on behalf of women’s aid organizations, was performed in a large classroom and was followed by panel discussions on the play and its significance to women and its relationship to Catholic thinking and teaching on sexuality.

It was the post-performance panels that made the difference for Father Jenkins.

“I still believe, as I said in my address to the faculty, that the play’s portrayals of sexuality ‘stand apart from, and indeed in opposition to’ the Catholic tradition on human sexuality,” he said.

But the panel discussions brought the play into “constructive dialogue” with that tradition, he said, so that “our students were engaged and informed.

“This is a good model for the future.”

He added, “The challenge is not to do just one of these, or even to do both of them in parallel, but to promote academic freedom and affirm our Catholic character in a way that integrates the two and elevates both.

“This University was founded on the premise that these goals are compatible and can be mutually reinforcing.”

Some of the people he heard from over the last 10 weeks were “adamantly opposed” to any campus performance or expression that contradicts Catholic teaching, Father Jenkins said. “To them, we must say, with all respect, this is a Catholic university.”

A committee of students, faculty and administrators has also been set up to foster “a wide-ranging discussion of gender relations, sexuality, and ways to prevent violence against women.