The Nondiscrimination Dance

Last month, eighth-grade students at Notre Dame Academy (a Catholic school in Toledo, Ohio) took a field trip to Chicago to see The Nutcracker. Just minutes before the curtains opened, however, the trip chaperones decided the class should leave. The chaperones had discovered that the onstage parents of Clara, the main character, would be portrayed as same-sex married.  

Consider the chaperones’ dilemma. No doubt the theater seats had been paid for, and students would be unhappy about missing the performance. Perhaps the characters’ same-sex marriage would have little impact on the audience. Nevertheless, the chaperones could see that the audience was being subjected to an agenda not normally included in The Nutcracker. The Catholic Church teaches clearly that same-sex marriage is gravely sinful, and the chaperones had a responsibility to the children they accompanied. A faithful adult might not be swayed by a fictional portrayal, but students might assume that since the same-sex relationship in a cherished Christmas performance was part of a Catholic school field trip, it was in line with Church teachings on sex and marriage.

The right thing to do, then, was avoid the potential scandal and discuss the issue in light of Catholic teaching back at school. Dean of Students Jessica Beaverson was one of the chaperones who made the call. According to multiple social media posts, Principal Sarah Cullum was consulted and supported the walkout. These administrators and chaperones should be regarded as heroes for making such a quick and wise decision on the spot—but they have been vilified instead.

Continue reading at First Things…

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Nutcracker ballet

Nutcracker Not-So-Sweet

During a recent eighth-grade trip to Chicago, chaperones and students of Notre Dame Academy in Toledo walked out of a performance of The Nutcracker after learning that lead characters would be portrayed in a gay marriage. This was a courageous and bold move—a correct application of Pope Francis’s well-publicized encouragement of young people “to make a mess” and his guidance in Amoris Laetitia that “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”

When activists take a traditional and beloved part of a Christmas celebration and attempt to co-opt it into a radical agenda which subverts the very nature of the family, a Catholic school is spot-on in saying, “not on my dime, and not on my time.” The chaperones—led by the academy’s dean—rightly used it as a teachable moment.

In fact, when heading up the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) called upon Catholics to conscientiously object to attacks on the family. As he wrote in his Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, “The denial of the social and legal status of marriage to forms of cohabitation that are not and cannot be marital is not opposed to justice; on the contrary, justice requires it.”

That said, good for this group in taking a stand for social justice in the face of aggression and at great personal cost. Unfortunately, the story does not end here.

Continue reading at Crisis Magazine…

One Word Could Erode Catholic Education

In three amicus briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court filed last month, the bishops and Catholic educators—together with other major religious groups—urged the Court to uphold the meaning of “sex.”

It’s one little word. But if the Court gets it wrong, our religious freedom could be quickly eroded.

And while all Catholics and Catholic institutions would be endangered, there is a double threat to Catholic education: both to the integrity of its employees, and to its ability to teach young people the authentic Catholic faith.

Continue reading at Crisis Magazine…

Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul

Yet Another Lawsuit Against the Church

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis is the target of yet another lawsuit — this one from a guidance counselor whose contract to help form students at Roncalli High School was not renewed for the coming school year, because she entered into a same-sex marriage.

With this and other similar disputes in Catholic schools, Archbishop Charles Thompson is clearly under assault. And the same fight is coming to every bishop and every Catholic school and college that courageously upholds the mission of Catholic education — as well as those schools and colleges that carelessly go forward without clear and consistent Catholic policies, thereby opening the doors wide to ideological activists and legal trouble.

Just last month, the Indianapolis archdiocese settled a lawsuit by a teacher who was dismissed from Cathedral High School for his same-sex marriage.

That teacher is legally married to a man who still teaches at Brebeuf Jesuit College Preparatory School, where leaders refuse to comply with archdiocesan policy requiring Catholic school teachers to avoid scandal. Now the school’s leaders have filed a canon law suit with the Vatican, challenging Archbishop Thompson’s episcopal right and duty to determine whether the school may be called Catholic.

In the latest lawsuit filed in federal court last week, plaintiff Lynn Starkey accuses Roncalli High School of discriminating against her because of same-sex attraction. But Starkey was employed at Roncalli for 39 years, and even after she violated her contract by entering into a scandalous, permanent, same-sex commitment, Roncalli did not fire her. Instead, it chose not to renew her contract.

Another counselor at Roncalli, Shelli Fitzgerald, is expected to sue in the next month or two. Fitzgerald was placed on administrative leave last fall, following (you guessed it) her same-sex marriage.

These suits join a growing number of attacks against Catholic schools and colleges across the country, because the Church prescribes morality standards in Catholic education. Why are so many Catholic school and college employees eager to challenge such standards? It may be that the standards are not stated clearly enough, or that they are not consistently applied, so that employees are genuinely surprised to lose their jobs. Surely there is also the hope that courts today are willing to support discrimination claims instead of upholding religious freedom. In Starkey’s case, it is especially astounding that a guidance counselor at a Catholic school could fail to appreciate that teaching and witnessing to Catholic moral principles are essential to her job.

Catholics should not be naïve in thinking that there is anything substantially unique about Indianapolis. Catholic education nationwide faces serious threats from within and without, and too many schools and colleges are insufficiently prepared for the legal battles.

The best thing that school and college leaders can do — immediately, without hesitation — is to ensure that every internal policy and practice is consistent with the formation of students in complete fidelity to Catholic teaching, and that employees embrace this mission without compromise. That makes lawsuits unlikely, resists the corruption of Catholic identity, and allows for a vigorous defense of religious freedom in court.

In the weeks and months ahead, there will be more lawsuits. We must pray for our bishops and school leaders to have the fortitude to make a strong stand for faithful Catholic education. Only if Catholic educators get back to their roots and defend their foundations, will they preserve their most important mission of forming students in the faith.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Lockers in hallway

Fake News About Brebeuf Jesuit School

According to secular news reports about Brebeuf Jesuit High School in Indianapolis, which Archbishop Charles Thompson declared to be no longer Catholic, you’d think the decision was all about the Church’s eagerness to fire a “gay” teacher.

Likewise, articles about Cathedral High School in northeast Indianapolis, which upheld its Catholic identity by dismissing one of its teachers, also emphasize the teacher’s sexuality.

Such is “fake news”—it’s rooted in some fact, but not in truth. In fact, the Indianapolis situation is primarily about a Catholic school’s obligations to teach the faith clearly and without contradiction.

The Indianapolis Star proclaimed, “Indianapolis Archdiocese Cuts Ties with Jesuit School Over Refusal to Fire Gay Teacher.” FOX News claimed Brebeuf was “Stripped of ‘Catholic’ Label Over Gay Teacher.” Newsweek announced that Cathedral “Fires Gay Teacher,” and the USA Today headline likewise reported that Cathedral “Is Firing a Gay Teacher.”

And now, a New York Times contributor has lectured the bishops on the need to defend our “L.G.B.T.Q. brothers and sisters.” The article is titled, “How to Defy the Catholic Church.”

To be sure, at both Brebeuf and Cathedral the teachers under scrutiny are identified as “gay”—but what caused the controversy is not that directly, but instead their public actions contradicting what they are supposed to be teaching in a Catholic school. Both entered into civilly approved same-sex marriages. Such public scandal makes someone ineligible to teach in a genuinely Catholic school, and this would be true of scandal leading children into any type of grave sin, whether homosexual or otherwise.

Indeed, both teachers had been employed despite apparent awareness of their sexuality, so the claim of discrimination is ludicrous. Public identification as “gay” can be scandalous, if sexuality is touted in such a way as to lead young people into sin. But this is not why the Archdiocese of Indianapolis raised concerns about the teachers at Brebeuf and Cathedral, and apparently no employee’s job was at risk because of private struggles with sexuality.

Still, the secular media and activists like Jesuit Fr. James Martin have deliberately characterized the Archdiocese as targeting people for their “sexual identity.” This falsehood stirs up the crowd to persecute the Body of Christ, with claims of discrimination and attempts to erode religious freedom.

Witnesses to the Faith

Such discrimination claims are wrong. Central to Brebeuf’s tragic loss of Catholic identity are the school’s failure to insist that teachers publicly witness to the Catholic faith, its betrayal of families who rely on Catholic education to uphold Catholic teachings, and the school’s refusal to abide by the rightful authority of Archbishop Thompson to establish expectations for Catholic schools in his diocese.

A Catholic school exists for the purpose of forming young people for the fullness of humanity, all that God intends for them. This includes formation in the Catholic faith, indeed in all truth about God, man and reality.

It is essential, then, that teachers in Catholic schools present the truth clearly in both word and deed. Their witness can powerfully reinforce Christian formation—or it can be dangerously destructive by misleading a child into falsehood.

This can be a real challenge for Catholic schools in a highly secularized and sexualized society, in which even well-intentioned Catholic teachers are confused about moral truth and may be poorly catechized.

“In today’s pluralistic world, the Catholic educator must consciously inspire his or her activity with the Christian concept of the person, in communion with the Magisterium of the Church” (Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith, 1982, 18). An authentic Christian anthropology, of course, recognizes only two sexes and understands sexuality in the context of chastity and matrimony between a man and woman.

While a Catholic school is a Christian community full of mercy and compassion for its members who may struggle to live good and holy lives, it is essential to the work of the school that teachers not publicly challenge or contradict the Catholic faith in which students are being formed.

Canon law is clear: “The instruction and education in a Catholic school must be grounded in the principles of Catholic doctrine; teachers are to be outstanding in correct doctrine and integrity of life” (Canon 803 §2). It is essential that Catholic schools explain to employees precisely what that means, by including “morality clauses” in teacher contracts. The Cardinal Newman Society compiled model language here that can be adopted by individual schools and dioceses.

A lesson for teachers

In his announcement that Brebeuf is no longer Catholic, Archbishop Thompson has reaffirmed what the Church has always expected from Catholic schools. And Brebeuf’s consequence was not caused by the bishop: it was the school leaders’ decision not to comply with the Archbishop’s requirements for all Catholic schools, and they chose to stand with the teacher in public contradiction to the Catholic faith. Cooperating with such public contradiction implies dissent, whether or not the school’s leaders actually agree or disagree with Church teaching.

In the past, Catholic schools were largely staffed by clergy and religious. Although there remain some priests, brothers and sisters — notably the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist and the Nashville Dominicans who set such a wonderful example — they make up less than 3 percent of America’s Catholic school teachers.

Therefore, in the last several decades it’s been up to the laity to take up evangelization by Catholic education, serving as ministers of the faith in word and deed. Archbishop Thompson recognizes the influential role that teachers play in the formation of students.

No teacher in a Catholic schools is sinless. But teachers should do everything possible to grow in virtue and avoid scandal, with special attention to persistent, public scandals that are most damaging to students. Catholic schools should ensure that they have qualified teachers who are able to fulfill the job of aiding parents in the formation of young people in the Catholic faith.

Archbishop Thompson provides a good reminder for Catholic school teachers everywhere about the importance of their vocation. Teachers have a crucial role to play in imitating Jesus Christ, the true Teacher, to communicate Truth and sanctify the world.

This article was first published at The National Catholic Register.