Athletics Should Uphold Truth of Body and Gender

Editor’s Note: The article below is included in the forthcoming winter 2021 edition of the Newman Society’s Our Catholic Mission magazine.

Seeking “a fair and safe playing field for all children and young adults,” the U.S. bishops in October backed federal legislation to prevent schools and colleges from allowing male athletes—including those who identify as transgender—to participate in female sports.

The bishops’ position should not be surprising. It reflects the Church’s clear teaching that gender is not divisible from biological sex, and that men and women should not be treated as identical despite sharing equal dignity and humanity. The Church has a long history of single-sex education and athletics programs, recognizing both physical and social differences between the sexes while protecting students’ safety, development and chastity.

But in athletics programs at many Catholic schools and colleges today, the Church’s teaching is less clear. Some participate in athletics conferences that allow students to declare their gender and compete against students of the opposite sex, while others have similar internal policies.

In Connecticut, three female high school athletes have filed a federal lawsuit claiming violation of the federal Title IX law, because biological males have been allowed to compete and win female titles in state track championships. The U.S. Department of Education has agreed that girls have the right to compete in all-female events. But since 2017, when the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference allowed students to choose teams according to a “preferred gender identity,” Catholic schools have continued to participate in the league.

Likewise many Catholic colleges belong to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which allows a biological male to compete on a women’s team after one year of testosterone suppression treatment. The NCAA hosted a summit on gender identity last October and is expected to expand its transgender policies and outreach.

Responding to the apparent need for clarity in Catholic education, the Newman Society is developing recommended standards for policies addressing all aspects of athletics programs—not only gender issues, but also the role of sports in virtue development and many practical concerns. These will be circulated for comment by athletics directors as well as diocesan leaders, school leaders and theologians.

But to specifically address the issue of gender, we have circulated and published a helpful advisory by veteran educator Dr. Dan Guernsey, titled “Protecting the Human Person: Gender Issues in Catholic School and College Sports.”

Body and Soul

When athletics are done well, it’s a great blessing for Catholic students, Guernsey writes.

Athletics serves the mission of Catholic education, which “entails the pursuit of truth, the integral formation of the human person, the sanctification of students, and service to the community,” he notes. Sports in Catholic schools and colleges “can be particularly effective in developing virtue, building community, and providing a powerful experience of the unity of body and soul.”

The Vatican teaches:

…in the context of the modern world, sport is perhaps the most striking example of the unity of body and soul. …neglecting the unity of body and soul results in an attitude that either entirely disregards the body or fosters a worldly materialism. Hence, all the dimensions have to be taken into account in order to understand what actually constitutes the human being.

Gender ideology is thus a danger to students and incompatible with a Catholic understanding of sport.

“Because athletics is such a powerful influence on both individuals and cultures, it can also pose a threat when it does not serve truth or does not serve to praise God,” writes Guernsey, recalling Pope St. John Paul II’s teaching that “self-denial and respect for the body as God’s gift are fundamental to a healthy athletic program.”

“Gender theory is a distortion of the full development of a person and attacks the integrity of the body,” writes Guernsey. “It works against a Catholic understanding of athletics and the good of the person and so has no claim on Catholic programing.”

The way forward

Guernsey recommends practical steps that Catholic schools and colleges should take to maintain a strong Catholic identity:

  • “Catholic educational institutions should publicly and explicitly affirm and seek to implement their faith-based mission and develop and consistently abide by policies in all programs that support this mission. They should assert religious freedom to uphold Catholic teaching and claim exemption from laws, regulations, athletic association rules, etc. that demand conformity to gender ideology.”
  • “Athletic programs should include in their goals the use of athletics as a means of inculcating virtue, especially justice and fair play, promoting the unity of body and soul, and protecting the human body not only from physical injury, but also from any attack on its integrity, exploitation, and idolatry.”
  • “Athletic policies should require that students participate on sport teams consistent with their biological sex.”
  • “Athletic personnel should be formed in a spirituality of athletics as part of their ongoing professional development. Such formation may include presentations by theologians on Christian anthropology, the role of sport and play in human well-being, and sports as a tool of evangelization and virtue development.”

By taking a leading role in local and national conversations about gender in sports and asserting the importance of single-sex competition, Catholic athletic directors and education leaders can find common ground with others. Some other Christian schools and colleges will share our moral perspective, while others will share our concerns for player safety, fair play, and justice. Advocates for women should be concerned about protecting single-sex athletics to ensure opportunities for girls.

“Catholic education is devoted to the sanctification of its students and integral formation by witnessing to Christ and all that is true and good,” Guernsey writes. “To lead the children in their care to God requires that they encounter the fullness of His truth and that they not foster situations in which students might be led astray in matters of basic human nature and morality.”

Mission Fit: Working with Nontraditional Families

Editor’s Note: The article below is included in the forthcoming winter 2021 edition of the Newman Society’s Our Catholic Mission magazine.

Last year, when the child of a same-sex couple was denied admission to St. Ann Catholic School in Prairie Village, Kan., the incident sparked public debate over Catholic school admissions policies.

It also revealed disagreement in dioceses across the country about standards for Catholic school enrollment, particularly when students’ family relationships are taken into account. Disagreement in the Church regarding nontraditional families—the growing variety of home situations beyond a faithfully Catholic family with a married mother and father—may leave schools more vulnerable to discrimination lawsuits and to vilification by the media, politicians and social activists.

Following the incident at St. Ann’s, the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., issued a statement, which read in part:

The Church teaches that individuals with same-sex attraction should be treated with dignity. However, the challenge regarding same-sex couples and our Catholic schools is that same-sex parents cannot model behaviors and attitudes regarding marriage and sexual morality consistent with essential components of the Church’s teachings. This creates a conflict for their children between what they are taught in school and what is experienced at home. It also becomes a source of confusion for the other school children.

Critics pounced, accusing the Archdiocese of discriminating against homosexuals while admitting children whose parents are divorced and remarried. Other dioceses disregard parents’ sexuality when making admissions decisions. Some argue that Catholic schools should welcome students from any family situation, so that at least the children can be taught the Catholic faith.

What policies best serve the mission of Catholic education? While it may take some time to reach consensus, The Cardinal Newman Society, through its Catholic Identity Standards Project, is working with educators to develop guidance on this critical but complex issue.

Not Every Family

As a key means of evangelization, Catholic schools serve the Church’s mission to teach the nations about Christ and all truth. In principle, they should be eager to teach every young person who seeks admission, although that is not possible or wise in every situation.

In practice, it is rare for a Catholic school not to limit enrollment for practical reasons as well as concerns about a student’s behavior and impact on other students’ education.

Enrollment decisions should also look at a student’s family situation, not because it is a school’s primary mission to address the moral life of parents—although the school can do much to witness to moral truth and help parents get the pastoral care they need—but because family circumstances may make it impossible to fulfill the mission of Catholic education without conflict, confusion and scandal to the students who are enrolled in the school.

Denying admission because of family situations, often no fault of the child, is difficult. But it is critical to the mission of Catholic education to prevent situations that could unintentionally lead other impressionable students away from virtue and holiness, which directly contradicts a Catholic school’s purpose.

A Catholic school is more than a service; it is a community committed to the mission of Catholic education, and participating families need to be a part of that commitment. Enrolling Catholic families should be a school’s first priority, because of the right of baptized Catholics to formation in the faith and the Church’s obligation to serve this need.

Family Circumstances

In today’s culture, schools increasingly are faced with students whose parents or guardians are not Catholic, unwed and cohabiting, remarried outside the Church, in a same-sex union, or identify as transgender.

In many of these instances, families may be safely invited into a Catholic school if they agree to support the mission of educating and forming students in the truths of the Catholic faith and do not interfere with that mission. Every such family seeking a Catholic education should be addressed with compassion and a desire to help parents reconcile with Catholic teaching, usually by referring them to a priest or other parish ministries for pastoral care.

Still, with its purpose of teaching truth, a Catholic school must be prepared to delay admission or turn away or dismiss a student whose family situation causes moral confusion and scandal among other students in the school’s care. This requires courage. A Catholic school must have the conviction that upholding its mission, protecting its students from confusion and scandal, and guiding families to moral truth even by denying enrollment is true compassion.

In some cases, a school could attempt to help a family regularize a home situation, as long as the problems are not so publicly visible and confusing to other students that they conflict with the mission of Catholic education. A school must avoid appearing to condone parents’ immoral choices and compromising the school’s reputation for teaching truth.

It must also consider the potential damage when parents openly and strongly oppose the moral lessons at a Catholic school. Children naturally rely on their parents’ emotional and physical care, and in cases in which the parents are so strongly opposed to what a Catholic school teaches, a school could cause the child to become alienated from the parents or, more likely, alienated from the Church. In such cases, it may be imprudent to enroll the child in Catholic education until they have the maturity to sort through such painful and complex realities.

For Catholic educators today, the most difficult situation to handle may be when it is discovered that a current or prospective student’s parents or guardians are in a homosexual relationship. This is not identical to other irregular and immoral circumstances, because the Church teaches that same-sex unions are fundamentally in opposition to marriage and allow no possibility of regularization, as is possible in most male-female relationships. It is always the case that a public same-sex union brings moral confusion and scandal into the school community.

For deeper discussion of these issues, the Newman Society recommends two papers: “Not All Families Are a Good Fit for Catholic Schools” and “Working With Nontraditional Families in Catholic Schools,” both by Dr. Dan Guernsey. These were circulated among Catholic educators, diocesan leaders, and theologians for comment before publication.

Moral Witness at the Heart of Catholic Education

Editor’s Note: The article below is included in the forthcoming winter 2021 edition of the Newman Society’s Our Catholic Mission magazine.

Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed that the “ministerial exception” applies to certain Catholic school teachers, a ruling hailed as protecting Catholic schools and colleges that uphold moral standards for employees.

While the ruling addresses serious questions of religious freedom, it also raises issues that many dioceses, schools and colleges have been wrestling with for several years: What moral standards should be expected of employees in Catholic education? The Church has repeatedly called on teachers to witness to the faith in both word and deed. But what about non-teaching employees?

Underlying these concerns is the necessity of ensuring that all employees faithfully serve the mission of Catholic education. Clear and consistent contracts and policies are the best means of upholding Catholic identity while avoiding employee disputes and lawsuits.

Ministerial exception

As explained in the Newman Society’s summary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Our Lady of Guadalupe School, the Court explicitly forbade federal courts from interfering in Catholic school employment decisions concerning teachers of religion, because that would constitute a violate of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause.

The Court also signaled that the ministerial exception covers other employees with substantial religious duties, but more litigation will be needed to determine how the exception applies to teachers of subjects other than religion, clerical and maintenance staff, and higher education employees.

Already lower courts are testing and even challenging the ministerial exception. A panel of judges for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the exception only prevents lawsuits concerning hiring and firing decisions, so it allowed a former employee of a Chicago parish—fired because he entered into a same-sex union—to proceed with a lawsuit claiming a “hostile work environment.”

The Newman Society responded with the help of attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom, filing an amicus brief urging the full 7th Circuit Court to overrule the panel decision and to apply the ministerial exception to all employment-related matters. In December the full court took the rare step of vacating the panel ruling and will soon reconsider whether to let the case move forward.

Morality expectations

In 2015, controversy erupted in the Archdiocese of San Francisco over morality clauses in teacher contracts, although the Church’s standards were in the end preserved. Many other dioceses have implemented similar employment guidelines both to protect Catholic schools and to provide clarity to employees.

Catholic school and college leaders should be clear about moral expectations when interviewing prospective employees, and there are a variety of ways of inserting faith and morals clauses into employment documents. These include morality, witness, and belief statements and language in pre-contract agreements, contracts, and employee handbooks.

Catholic schools and colleges can avoid disputes by clearly explaining to employees the fundamental religious nature of all their efforts and the Catholic principles that undergird employment policies. All employees should be made aware of their responsibility to advance the religious mission of Catholic education. There should be no confusion about which faith and moral transgressions can result in disciplinary action or firing.

The Newman Society provides Catholic educators with a review of moral standards for Catholic school employment documents and a compilation of sample policies from dioceses around the country.

All Employees Matter

Moral standards at most schools and colleges focus especially on teachers and professors, which is understandable. Many Church documents highlight the duty of teachers to be witnesses to the faith. They have a primary role in Catholic education and direct influence over their students.

Moral standards should apply to educators in every subject area, not just religion teachers or theology professors. This is true especially in elementary and secondary education, when impressionable children rely on good role models and moral guides for their formation.

“A teacher who is full of Christian wisdom, well prepared in his own subject, does more than convey the sense of what he is teaching to his pupils,” declares the Congregation for Catholic Education in The Catholic School (1977). “Over and above what he says, he guides his pupils beyond his mere words to the heart of total Truth.”

As even secular courts acknowledge by the ministerial exception, teachers in Catholic education are expected to display more than knowledge of a particular subject area—they are to be witnesses to the faith in word and action.

“Intimately linked in charity to one another and to their students and endowed with an apostolic spirit, may teachers by their life as much as by their instruction bear witness to Christ, the unique Teacher,” exhorted Pope Saint Paul VI in Gravissimum Educationis, the Vatican II Declaration on Christian Education.

Many non-teaching employees, too, have formational duties that are essential to Catholic education. These include coaches, counselors and others who are involved with student activities. They work closely with students and should be held to the same high moral standards.

What, then, of the receptionist and the librarian? Or the nurse? Or maintenance staff?

Such positions are often viewed as having primary secular functions and therefore not accountable to Catholic moral standards beyond the ethics of their particular tasks. Lawsuits against schools have increasingly concerned employees who were fired for civil same-sex unions—and many would question the need for a groundskeeper to witness to Catholic teachings on marriage.

Nevertheless, all employees should be held to high standards at a Catholic school, because every employee is a member of the school’s Catholic community that is committed to students’ formation. Although the extent of their interaction with students may differ, any employee of a school can have an impact on students’ outlook and behavior.

The Newman Society is developing standards to help Catholic educators develop policies and employment documents upholding moral expectations for employees. See also our recently published argument for applying such expectations broadly, in “All Employees Matter in the Mission of Catholic Education” by Dr. Dan Guernsey. He notes that even limited student contact by an employee has potential for good or ill, and every employee should serve the mission of Catholic education.

Consider a secular business: every employee serves the company’s objectives, and any action that undermines the company’s success is reason for discipline or dismissal. The purpose of Catholic education is to teach and form young people in the faith and lead them to God, and no employee should ever obstruct that mission.

Getting it Right: Witness and Teaching on Sexuality in Catholic Education

Editor’s Note: The article below is included in the forthcoming winter 2021 edition of the Newman Society’s Our Catholic Mission magazine.

In 2019, the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education released Male and Female He Created Them, a response to the contemporary “gender ideology” that has sown confusion in American society and even within Catholic education.

The document is important for its forthright acknowledgment of topics—including homosexuality and gender identification—of growing concern to Catholic families, schools and colleges. But despite the Congregation’s expressed hope that the document will be a “practical” resource to Catholic educators, it offers minimal guidance to help navigate the complexities of real situations with students and employees who struggle with sexuality and chastity, especially if they openly dissent from Catholic teaching or act in ways that are scandalous to students.

Increasingly, Catholic dioceses, schools and colleges are embroiled in controversy and conflict over sexual matters. To prevent such problems, these situations require pastoral sensitivity and the guidance of clear institutional policies that both uphold and explain the obligations of faithful Catholic education.

This is one important contribution of The Cardinal Newman Society: helping Catholic educators identify the principles of Catholic teaching and standards of policy and practice to strengthen faithful Catholic identity. Moreover, our work helps protect Catholic education by giving schools and colleges compelling claims to religious freedom, based on clear and consistently implemented policies that are tied directly to their Catholic mission.

Catholic educators cannot get human sexuality wrong. Not only would that be a tragic failure of Catholic education, which strives to form young people in faith, morality and truth, but it also invites lawsuits and increased threats to religious freedom if Catholic educators are perceived to be motivated by bigotry or arbitrary decisions instead of clear and compassionate Catholic teachings.

Consider for example the conflict in Kansas City a couple years ago, when the Archdiocese turned away a kindergarten student parented by a same-sex couple. What principles should guide admission to Catholic education? Does a Catholic school or college accept a child struggling with gender confusion?

How should a Catholic school or college respond when a teacher or professor announces a same-sex marriage or declares a new gender identity? In athletics, should students be able to use locker rooms or compete on teams of the opposite sex?

At the Newman Society, we have heard from well-intentioned educators who refuse to articulate their policies, instead leaving each situation to their own discretion. That approach, while understandable, can often lead to disaster for the school or college. Clear standards of policy and practice, consistent with traditional Catholic moral and theological norms, are key to ensuring fidelity, compassion and justice.

Principles of human sexuality in Catholic education

Our Catholic Identity Standards Project recently published “Policy Standards on Human Sexuality in Catholic Education,” updated from a 2016 paper that was one of our most popular resources for educators.

It looks broadly at Catholic teachings on sex, gender, chastity and marriage, drawing on magisterial teaching to identify key principles for Catholic education and then recommending standards to guide policymaking at Catholic schools and colleges. It also briefly considers the large variety of policies that should be developed to uphold Catholic teaching on sexuality, provides sample policies from several U.S. dioceses, and includes citations from Vatican documents.

Among the principles guiding Catholic education policies is the mission to provide integral formation of students so that the intellect and conscience work together to ensure true bodily health and integrity. Catholic education is so much bigger and so much more important than just teaching students academic subjects. It respects each student as a “complex and multifaceted being, striving for full human flourishing in their physical, moral, spiritual, psychological, social, and intellectual faculties.”

In society today, a disjointed view of the human person can sometimes influence Catholic educators. But as Catholics, we know that our uniquely human biological, social and spiritual elements are connected and should be developed in relation to each other.

In addition, Catholic education is “founded upon a sound Christian anthropology, which describes the human person as ‘a being at once corporeal and spiritual,’ made in the image of God, with complementarity and equality of the sexes as male and female.” Biological sex and gender cannot be separated, but should be “seen in harmony, according to God’s plan.”

Finally, Catholic education should help every student grow in virtue and “faithfully fulfill his role in building the Kingdom of God.” Catholic schools and colleges should be encouraging all community members to strive for chastity, according to their vocation as single, married or religious.

Implementing human sexuality policies

From these principles, the Newman Society recommends several important standards to guide policymaking related to human sexuality. Catholic education should, for instance:

  • expect all members of the Catholic educational community to strive for a life of chastity in keeping with their particular state of life, emphasizing the importance of chastity to a life of virtue and growth in one’s relationship with God;
  • provide clear institutional supports for living chastely, such as single-sex dorms and rules regarding clothing and behavior to establish standards and minimize temptation;
  • ensure that all human sexuality materials and instruction are carefully vetted for complete fidelity to Church teachings, taught by qualified and committed Catholics, modest and pure, targeted to the appropriate age and developmental stage of the student with respect for a child’s latency period (lasting up until puberty), and available in advance to parents who may choose to opt a minor student out of the program;
  • ensure that all speakers, vendors, third-party services, and materials are in harmony with the Catholic moral formation of students;
  • relate to all members of the school or college community according to their biological sex at birth and maintain appropriate distinctions between males and females, especially in issues of facilities use, athletic teams, uniforms, and nomenclature; and
  • prohibit advocacy of moral behavior at odds with Catholic teaching and activities that tend to encourage immoral behavior, especially on issues related to chastity.

These standards can be applied to nearly every aspect of a Catholic school or college. For example, dance policies, consistent with the goal to form virtuous and Christ-centered persons, should require students to refrain from any immodest, impure or sexually suggestive behavior both on and off the dance floor. College residence policies should ensure that students are assigned housing based on their biological sex, are prohibited from engaging in immoral sexual activity, and preserve the privacy of bedrooms from opposite-sex visitors.

It is crucial for a Catholic school to consider every activity of Catholic education and ensure that it upholds Catholic teaching. Students should know God’s beautiful purpose for sexuality and their calling to chastity. Truth is the foundation of Catholic education, and as our updated paper warns, “Educational programs or policies that promote a false understanding of the human person put the whole educational project at risk.”

Let’s Follow Bishop Paprocki’s Lead

Last week, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, released a clear, truthful guide on gender identity that does a great service for Catholic schools in his diocese. Catholic educators everywhere should follow his lead in implementing similar policies in their schools.

The timing of the guide could not be better, as society embraces a sorely confused understanding of gender identity. For example, biological males are winning female events in Connecticut high school sports, and high school districts like one in Illinois are allowing biological males to use female locker rooms, and vice versa.

But the Catholic Church’s teaching on gender identity and human sexuality is clear. Catholic school policies should be consistent, as well.

For handling situations of a student facing “gender dysphoria,” Bishop Paprocki’s guide stresses the importance of “gentle and compassionate pastoral skill and concern” and condemns any sort of “discrimination or harsh treatment.”

At the same time, the guide states that sex is determined at birth. The truly loving thing to do in a situation when a person is facing gender dysphoria is to be “clear on the reality of human biology as a gift from God that we cannot change.”

As a result, students at diocesan schools must “use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their biological sex,” and they will be “addressed and referred to with pronouns in accord with their biological sex.”

Thank you, Bishop Paprocki! More than ever, Catholic schools need to teach and witness to the Truth.

The Church’s teaching on human sexuality should be steeped deeply in our Catholic schools. A Christian anthropology should guide classroom learning, student activities and all school policies.

In fact, Catholic schools might consider adopting Human Sexuality Policies, like the ones developed by The Cardinal Newman Society, that go beyond the issue of gender identity. If a school has a firm commitment to forming young people in chastity, then it is clear that the concern is for all students of every stripe, and not targeting certain students as many activists claim.

“As a Catholic institution, we believe that human bodies are gifts from God and temples of the Holy Spirit,” the resource states. “All men and women are called to a life of chastity appropriate to their vocation as single, married, or consecrated religious.”

“Because our efforts at integral formation include the integrity of body, spirit, and moral development, our school has a proper concern for each student’s behavior and development in the complex area of human sexuality,” the resource continues.

The resource offers examples of specific policies related to human sexuality, including addressing athletics, dances, dress code, facilities use, same-sex attraction and more.

In the months ahead, Catholic schools will face even more questions related to human sexuality. Catholic educators must be prepared with responses that are clear and consistent, upholding Church teaching.

Having strong policies in place will help Catholic schools to fend off attacks and legal threats. But even more important is the witness for students — they should learn the Truth about the human person in the classroom and see it lived out.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Chapel at Franciscan University

True Love at Faithful Catholic Colleges

Are students being prepared for careers — and for life — in colleges today? Some college professors are noticing that students are “excelling academically but not necessarily in other areas of adult life,” including dating and preparing for the vocation of marriage.

Students at faithful Catholic colleges, however, may be the exception. A good Catholic college will promote a campus environment that supports healthy relationships, and that’s greatly needed today.

Popular chastity speaker Jason Evert, a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio, argues that there needs to be a revival of Catholic dating in our culture. He recently published The Dating Blueprint: What She Wants You to Know About Dating but Will Never Tell Youadvising men to “put down their screens, look a woman in the eye, and ask her on a date.”

Michael Kenney, director of The Cardinal Newman Society’s Catholic Identity Standards Project and one of the curriculum developers for the Dating Project, agrees. “The most consequential decision a person makes is the decision concerning marriage,” he says. “A healthy dating culture is essential to building strong marriages and families. Tragically, our culture saturates the airwaves with false lyrics, images and messages concerning dating.”

If a revival of traditional courtship seems unlikely on most college campuses, students can expect something different at a faithful Catholic college. At several colleges recommended in The Newman Guide, students can still find evidence of mature, chaste relationships leading to healthy marriages.

At Thomas Aquinas College, which has campuses in Santa Paula, California, and Northfield, Massachusetts, “about 10 percent of the College’s alumni have entered the priesthood or religious life,” the college reports. “Most of the rest marry, often wedding fellow Thomas Aquinas College alumni and raising fruitful, faithful families that bear joyful witness to the Culture of Life.”

With an annual enrollment of just 500 students, Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, boasts more than 480 alumnus-alumna marriages in its 40-year history. This has something to do with the academic program, the college explains:

Students learn Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body in one course, while they learn about Catholic doctrine and moral theology in other courses as well. As students complete each course, they gain a greater knowledge of the principles of the faith, especially pertaining to the Church’s teachings on sexuality, marriage and family.

But even more than the academic study, Christendom’s campus fosters healthy relationships by providing only single-sex dorms, which are totally off limits to students of the opposite sex. That’s opposite to the typical college hookup culture, but the marriages among Christendom alumni are evidence that true love is in the air.

Such is true also of John Paul the Great Catholic University, Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts and Wyoming Catholic College, where — like Christendom and Thomas Aquinas — student dorms are single-sex and opposite-sex visitation is not allowed.

Such dorm policies help combat the hookup culture and preserve the privacy of student bedrooms. A Newman Society report cites one study finding that “students living in co-ed housing were also more likely [than those in single-sex residences] to have more sexual partners in the last 12 months.” Further, those students were “more than twice as likely as students in gender-specific housing to indicate that they had had three or more sexual partners in the last year.”

Of course, reducing the hookup culture doesn’t automatically lead to healthy dating — that’s something that needs to be taught to a generation of students who see casual relationships promoted in popular entertainment — but responsible campus policies certainly can help. Student programming, such as the chastity speaking events at Franciscan University and other faithful colleges, are helpful too.

New online dating apps and other options are being created to help address the Catholic dating problem. But it helps to live in a culture that supports authentic relationships. Faithful Catholic colleges attract students with similar values, and they are uniquely positioned to help prepare Catholic students for happy and meaningful lives.

This article first appeared at The National Catholic Register.

Educators Need More than ‘Male and Female He Created Them’

The Vatican has reasserted one of the most basic facts of Christian anthropology: “Male and Female He created them,” which is good as far as it goes. The question for Catholic educators is, ”Now what?” They are being challenged by the relentless march of “gender theory” or “gender ideology”—a deception that claims that sexual orientation and gender are fluid and self-determined—and they desperately need a path forward.

Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, has described Male and Female He Created Them as a “practical” document, in contrast to the deeper theological reflection expected soon from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. But the education document does not give practical guidance to educators on the thorny particulars of admissions, personnel and student policies.

And educators urgently need such guidance, because every week brings another activist, lawmaker or attorney accusing Catholic educators of discrimination for refusing to comply with the dictates of the new gender ideology and a parade of related causes that are wholly contrary to the traditional Catholic understanding of human nature. This is a grave threat to faithful Catholic education.

Consider cases similar to the one in Kansas City, where the Archdiocese turned away a kindergarten student because of same-sex parents. What are the principles that guide Catholic school and college admissions policies? Can Catholic educators and administrators articulate them? Is a student always admitted out of concern for the child, regardless of the parents’ actions and ideology, or should educators consider the influence that adults can have on other children and protect against scandal? Does a school or college accept a child struggling with gender confusion? If so, what message does this send to other students and what pronouns are used, and when? Answer these questions the wrong way, and a school could compromise its Catholic mission or be the target of a lawsuit.

With regard to personnel policies, how does a Catholic school or college respond when a teacher or professor announces a same-sex marriage, declares a new gender identity, or simply insists on embracing aspects of gender ideology? At the Cardinal Newman Society, we have heard from well-intentioned academic leaders who refuse to spell out their policies, instead leaving each situation to their own discretion. That is a recipe for disaster.

In all of these examples, clear standards consistent with traditional Catholic moral and theological norms are key and will help ensure fidelity, compassion and justice.

But there’s another sense in which the truths taught in Male and Female He Made Them need to be developed further to address the practical needs of educators. As noted above, the document’s teaching addresses one of the most basic aspects of human anthropology, the fact that we are created male and female.

Following from that truth and over the centuries, Catholics had developed tried-and-true lessons and habits that helped young people preserve chastity, respect marriage and celebrate children. But in many ways, our culture has forced us to start again from scratch, re-learning simple habits and patterns of male-female relationships.

That means that Catholic educators need to recover and teach to young people these habits and patterns.

For example, not a single faithful Catholic from any generation prior to the 1960s would have doubted that coed dormitories and closed-door visits by the opposite sex in student bedrooms would result in premarital sex, mortal sin, STDs and even sexual assault. Yet most Catholic colleges, with notable exceptions at a few Newman Guide colleges, allow a student to have their boyfriend or girlfriend in their bedroom with the door closed, often after engaging in binge drinking that lowers inhibitions. How many souls have been damaged by these visitation policies that clearly invite near occasions of sin?

Yet when I and my Newman Society colleagues raise the concern of Catholic college dorm policies and near occasions of sin, we are looked upon as relics of a bygone age. I am entirely certain that near occasions of sin are still quite real. What has been lost is our sensitivity to man’s fallen nature and the grave importance of preserving chastity for the good of families and for the good of our souls.

Yes, God created us male and female. It is very good that the Vatican has reasserted this basic truth.

But like mathematicians reasserting fundamental arithmetic, we ought to also understand much more about the natural and moral implications of our sexuality and human nature—and Catholic educators especially need to teach these to the young.

Our problem, of course, is that we Catholics got comfortable compromising on little things when the culture was still reliably Christian. In today’s militantly secular culture, we had better get serious about consistently teaching the truth and remembering fundamentals like 2+2=4, that God created us male and female, and that concupiscence is real. And we had better be able to articulate the principles behind the policies we develop, to uphold Catholic identity before it is too late.

This article was first published at The National Catholic Register.

Dating 101 at a Catholic College

Many young Catholics find more than truth on campus—they may just find a future spouse! Faithful Catholic colleges are uniquely positioned to promote healthy and holy relationships between men and women, while teaching the fullness of truth about marriage and sexuality.

Through courses like Theology of the Body, campus speakers who discuss Catholic marriage and family, and respectful policies like single-sex dorms, many Catholic colleges take seriously their mission of Christian formation. Graduates of these colleges are bright lights in a culture that often distorts the true meaning of relationships.

It’s no secret that courtship on college campuses has been replaced by a rampant hook-up culture. But Jason Evert, a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, encourages students to “Keep it chaste both emotionally and physically. In other words, if you’re single, don’t pretend like you’re dating. If you’re dating, don’t behave like you’re married.”

Evert, who is a popular speaker on chastity, also suggests that young adults work on perfecting themselves rather than finding the “perfect person.” He encourages them to take an inventory of their interior lives and “root out all the things that would be toxic to a future marriage, such as porn, alcoholism, self-absorption, anger, etc.”

Cecilia Pigg—a graduate of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., another faithful Catholic college recommended in The Newman Guide—thinks that students need to be reminded to actually “ask people out on dates.” “If you are asked out by someone, say yes,” she says. “It’s just a date. Dates are opportunities for growth.”

Her only caveat is that she suggests freshmen avoid dating someone exclusively. “If you are both still interested sophomore year, go for it. But most people change a lot freshman year, and it is better to be single and navigate life and yourself without the added pressure of a relationship,” Pigg explains.

While a student at Benedictine, Pigg discerned her vocation to marriage during spiritual direction, and she met her husband Ryan on campus. Now she serves as the editor of

Another couple credits their faithful Catholic education with influencing their marriage for the better. Andrew and Michelle Ouellette recall that Northeast Catholic College in Warner, N.H., provided them with “wonderful teachers and thought-provoking texts, particularly senior year Theology,” which gave them “solid reasons for living a truly Catholic marriage.” They also have the “memories of the ups and downs, struggles and triumphs, amusing and tragic experiences we shared as classmates and friends” as a basis for their relationship.

A graduate from The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, N.H, says that prayer and study helped him discern his vocation.

“If it were not for the demanding education at Thomas More College, I would not have been able to see that I had so great a need to practice the self-discipline and sacrifice necessary for loving one’s spouse. It was in Rome where I discovered that God was not calling me to the priesthood, and it took almost a year of reading St. Benedict’s Rule (a text I was introduced to through Thomas More College’s curriculum) for me to learn that I was not to be a monk either. Shortly after this decision my wife and I began courting,” he explained.

For students up for a challenge to make the most of dating while in college, he suggests: “wake up before the sun, never trust yourself, put all your trust in God, and pray Thomas More’s Psalm of Detachment every day.”

On Saint Valentine’s Day, young people are presented many images of romance that can be selfish and even self-destructive. May all young Catholics learn that true love consists in respect, self-sacrifice, and joy in doing God’s will, and never settle for anything less.

New Sexual Revolution Requires Faithful, Parent-Centered Solutions

Catholic families need the Church’s help facing what amounts to a second “sexual revolution” in America. To that end, there are many good efforts to understand and rebuff the radical “gender ideology” and false ideas about sexuality, marriage and the nature of the human person that are taking hold in American society.

But a recently released sex education program promoted by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family, in its current form, is not what families need.

The Meeting Point: Course of Affective Sexual Education for Young People was developed by married couples in Spain and has enjoyed the support of the Council and the Spanish bishops. It’s being presented as a work in progress, “an opportunity to convene a large community of people to collaborate, to work, to exchange experiences and knowledge in this special field of education.” The Council is inviting feedback for what may be future improvements to the program or alternative options. Thus far, no directives to use this resource have been issued by the Vatican or the U.S. bishops.

Even so, there is danger that the program in its current form will be adopted by Catholic educators and families since it’s seen as having a stamp of approval “from the Vatican.” But this program is clearly not ready for Catholic schools or homes.

As The Cardinal Newman Society found in our review of the program, following upon similar criticisms, The Meeting Point “makes frequent use of sexually explicit and morally objectionable images, fails to clearly identify and explain Catholic doctrine from elemental sources including the Ten Commandments and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and compromises the innocence and integrity of young people under the rightful care of their parents.”

This is not what Catholic families need while facing today’s corrosive culture, which is only getting worse. According to one national survey, acceptance of premarital sexual activity spiked in the 1970s and changed little in the next two decades, only to suddenly jump again in the new millennium. Most Americans now believe that premarital sex is “not wrong at all.”

I was struck by another recent report indicating the rapid slide of morality even outside the U.S. The article published last month in The Guardian declared, “Welcome to the most promiscuous Olympics in history.” Apparently what occurred off-screen in the Olympic Village during the Summer Games required the distribution of 450,000 condoms and other bedroom aids, supplied with a wink and a nod by the International Olympic Committee.

Such evidence of a declining culture shows why families need to ensure a faithful Catholic education for their children, especially as public schools become increasingly dangerous to the soul. It’s also why Catholic parents should reject any sex education for their children that does not fully conform to Catholic standards and does not have their permission and approval.

Saint Pope John Paul II wrote in Familiaris Consortio:

Sex education, which is a basic right and duty of parents, must always be carried out under their attentive guidance, whether at home or in educational centers chosen and controlled by them.  In this regard, the Church reaffirms the law of subsidiarity, which the school is bound to observe when it cooperates in sex education, by entering into the same spirit that animates the parents. (Sec. 36-37)

In its 1995 publication The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality: Guidelines for Education within the Family, the Pontifical Council for the Family also recognized the essential role of parents in ensuring education that is sound and faithful. It instructed parents, as the primary educators of their children, to refuse to “tolerate immoral or inadequate formation being given to their children outside the home” (Sec. 44). Sadly, The Meeting Point fails the parent test.

There’s much to be admired in the work of the Pontifical Council for the Family, but The Meeting Point in its present form is a significant departure from the traditional approach to Catholic instruction about human sexuality. Even if its unique approach to affective, conversational learning deserves further study by the Council, the program is not ready for Catholic homes and schools. The times demand much better from Catholic education.

This article was originally published by The National Catholic Register.

Serving “LGBT” Students in Catholic Schools

How do Catholic schools best serve students who struggle with same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria (popularly called “transgendered”)? What should a school’s policies prescribe in order to prevent confusion, disputes and even litigation?

Previously, these questions were often addressed behind closed doors, as administrators worked quietly on a case-by-case basis and often within traditional moral norms. However, since this past summer’s Supreme Court ruling supporting same-sex marriage and the social acceptance of superstar Bruce Jenner’s gender dysphoria, Catholic schools face an increasingly public challenge to their teaching and mission.

This dynamic became painfully evident in the recent decision by a Rhode Island Catholic school, which ignited a national firestorm by refusing to admit transgendered students and then was pressured to reverse its policy within just a couple of days. The correct instinct that a Catholic school cannot accommodate willful gender confusion gave rise to a weak position statement, holding that transgendered students could not be admitted due to a lack of facilities to accommodate them. Activists seized upon the opportunity and offered to “crowd source” the necessary facilities, forcing the school to reverse its policy of strict exclusion.

While some Catholic school leaders might be persuaded to avoid this thorny issue, or to embrace a false compassion that is inconsistent with Catholic teaching, instead the Rhode Island school’s misstep highlights the grave necessity of a more comprehensive policy approach to sexuality in Catholic schools. Catholic schools must bravely serve all students, including same-sex attracted or gender dysphoric students, by forthrightly presenting and upholding truth. That’s why — in addition to the excellent resources for Christians already available from Alliance Defending FreedomThe Heritage Foundation and the Liberty Institute — The Cardinal Newman Society has released a new handbook of Human Sexuality Policies for Catholic Schools to help Catholic educators with specific exemplars and language tied to their Catholic mission.

Working with students who have these sexual inclinations is complex, especially since a Catholic school is called to serve everyone who has the capability and desire to partake in its mission. It must also be clear that all students are expected to follow the same school policies, and not work against the school’s mission, or its moral and religious standards and ends.

A Catholic school which clearly articulates the faith in these matters is bound to make some enemies in the common culture, and even possibly to be threatened with legal action. But Catholic educators must never compromise the faith, or the authentic good of their students, for fear of public ridicule or potential litigation. In fact, it is precisely a deeply felt and lived Catholicism, rooted in an authentic love for all students, which is the best protection against litigation. The more clearly and comprehensively a Catholic school articulates its unique religious mission and identity, and the more securely it anchors its policies for all students in this mission, the more protected it is from potential litigation. Such a comprehensive, mission-based approach ensures that students struggling with issues of human sexuality or gender dysphoria are not singled out for different treatment, but rather are held to the same faith-based standards as all students in the school.

Know Thyself

Since it is critical that Catholic schools ensure that all policies are consistent with their Catholic mission, they need to clearly articulate that mission. Pope Pius XI describes the purpose of Catholic education as “securing the Supreme Good, that is, God, for the souls of those who are being educated, and the maximum of well-being possible here below for human society.” Expanding upon this, the Church’s Code of Canon Law #795 sums up the mission of Catholic education this way:

Since true education must strive for complete formation of the human person that looks to his or her final end, as well as to the common good of societies, children and youth are to be nurtured in such a way that they are able to develop their physical, moral, and intellectual talents harmoniously, acquire a more perfect sense of responsibility and right use of freedom, and are formed to participate actively in social life.

The final end for which Catholic schools prepare their students is union with God through Christ. A Catholic school also facilitates students’ participation in the common good. Both goals are accomplished by integrally and harmoniously developing the students’ minds, spirits, morals, and bodies so that they might use their freedom properly. What is proper or good as a means of attaining our final end of salvation is always understood in terms of Church teaching, based on the person and truth of Jesus Christ.

This is what Catholic schools do. This is who we are. This is what we offer.

Those who do not want to receive what we offer are free to go wherever they want to find what they think they need. We are not required to change our standards to meet the needs of those who reject all or part of our efforts, especially if changing our standards works contrary to our mission. Those students or families who only want to benefit from a part of the mission, such as our intellectual formation, must still participate with goodwill in the full program.

This program includes formation of the whole human person. We cannot disaggregate our efforts or offer our formation a la carte, because: “In the Catholic school’s educational project, there is no separation between time for learning and time for formation, between acquiring notions and growing in wisdom,” according to the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education. The Congregation also emphasizes that everything in a Catholic school is Catholic, and the faith is everywhere:

What makes the Catholic school distinctive is its religious dimension, and that this is to be found in a) the educational climate, b) the personal development of each student, c) the relationship established between culture and the Gospel, d) the illumination of all knowledge with the light of faith.

A student or family may not like every part of the complete educational project, but they should be expected to participate in the complete mission, to the fullest extent possible for their state of life, and never do anything that works against the mission, or protests it. Surely those whose religious practices and beliefs run counter to Church teaching might experience conflicts as the school maintains mission integrity. Sincere questioning of the practices and traditions of the Catholic faith, in order to more deeply understand them, ought to be welcome, but openly hostile and public defiance of Catholic truths or morality are signs that a student may not be a good fit for a Catholic school’s primary evangelical mission and, therefore, may be denied admission.

All students should be welcome in our schools, including those working through issues of gender dysphoria and same-sex attraction, but all students must be willing to work within the religious mission of the school, and comport themselves according to the social and moral norms of the distinctive Catholic environment they have freely chosen.

Love One Another

A Catholic school always interacts with others in an attitude of deep respect. This respect is based on the essential human dignity of each person, who is made in the image and likeness of God. There is no room in a Catholic school for hatred, injustice, or a lack of charity or compassion. It is also true that while all people have an inherent dignity and fundamental freedom that must be respected, one need not have inherent respect for all that people do. Respect for particular human behaviors must depend on how completely they fulfill the proper nature of humanity as created by God.

Those who experience challenges in the proper exercise of their sexuality can be respected as members of the human family, and yet still be challenged in behavior which the Church considers as not fulfilling its proper nature. Catholic schools are places to clarify and distinguish between error and truth, sin and virtue, order and disorder, according to reason, natural law, revelation, and Church teaching. Catholic schools make no secret about what the Church teaches regarding human sexuality. We cannot compromise that teaching by looking the other way when one is in serious error, and we cannot allow for the advocacy of error in our hallways. We do this in humility to the truth, and out of love for others.

Respect and love can only transpire in the truth. Love entails seeking the authentic good of the other. A simple definition of “good” is when a thing well-fulfills its potentialities and purposes. Love, then, involves assisting another to fulfill their full human potentiality as created and loved by God.

While many groups differ as to what exactly constitutes human good, the purpose of a Catholic school is to address these issues from a distinctly Catholic perspective, and within a deeply felt and lived Catholic culture. When this dynamic is focused on issues related to human sexuality, it is clear that the Catholic Church has a distinct and defined theology regarding the potentialities and purposes of human sexuality. The Catholic school must ensure that these are presented, even in the face of a hostile common culture, with conviction, integrity, and charity. A school’s pastoral, and policy practices must be written in fidelity to the moral guidance and teachings of the Catholic Church in all areas that touch on human nature, including issues related to human sexuality.

We situate this teaching in the conviction that the mission of a Catholic school includes the integral formation of the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. The whole person includes the student’s attitudes, dispositions, and behaviors, of which the very complex area of human sexuality is a part. As a Catholic institution, we believe that our bodies are gifts from God, and temples of the Holy Spirit. We believe that human sexual behavior is only properly oriented to the ends of love and life in the context of a sacramental marriage.

We believe that the body and soul are intimately united: the body does not contain the soul, like water in a glass, but rather holistically and naturally expresses who we are in the order of creation as physical/spiritual beings. We believe that the sexes are complementary, and that “male and female he made us.” Our given biological sex is part of the divine plan. The Church teaches that sexual identity is “a reality deeply inscribed in man and woman” that is rooted in one’s biological identity, and that a person “should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity.” Biological identity and sexual identity are never disaggregated. Both are gifts from God for us to perfect and bring into harmony according to his plan and guidance. They are not ours to reject, or to change outside of their proper functioning at our own will, because we believe God has made a mistake which we must correct.

Catholic schools understand truth to be the state in which the mind is in conformity with reality: a reality which entails the fullness of God’s creation and divine plan. We also affirm that reality is knowable through the use of properly functioning senses and reason, as well as through the aid of divine revelation.

In this context, a student who wishes to express a gender other than his or her biological sex is understood as operating outside of the “reality deeply inscribed” within. Assisting the child in his or her disconnect with this reality — however sincerely experienced — by agreeing to participate in the child’s efforts to change gender expression, is contrary to the pursuit of the truth. Authentic love, a gift of the self for the good of the other, requires that we compassionately dwell in the truth, and assist those we love to do the same. We will lovingly accompany the student through the inherent challenges of this situation, but in the fullness of love, must also insist upon integrity between reality and comportment for the good of the child, and for the common good.

In a similar vein, we love and respect all of our students, but Catholic schools cannot condone or respect unchaste or disordered sexual activity. Every member of our school is called to a life of holiness, and that holiness includes living a chaste life appropriate to one’s vocation, whether as single, married, or consecrated religious. The Church defines chastity as the successful integration of sexuality within the person and, thus, the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being: “The chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him. This integrity ensures the unity of the person; it is opposed to any behavior that would impair it. It tolerates neither a double life nor duplicity in speech.” Also, because the Catholic Church teaches that same-sex attraction is intrinsically disordered, and that sexual activity is only appropriate for the purposes of love and life within sacramental marriage, those students experiencing this disordered inclination may not advocate for it, or express it in the context of our Catholic school classes, activities, or events. The Church encourages individuals experiencing same-sex attraction to pursue the virtues of chastity, self-mastery, and friendship, instead of acting upon those inclinations, romantically or sexually—as is the current norm in much of secular society.

Authentic Good for All Students

Once properly situated in the broad context of a school’s Catholic mission, particular efforts to work respectfully and holistically from within a Catholic context and culture with students experiencing same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria can be better understood, and more clearly articulated. Because the Church teaches that for all its students sexual activity is only properly exercised toward the ends of both love and life in the context of a valid marriage, and because it teaches that same-sex attraction is disordered, the school can and should prohibit actively advocating for, or manifesting same-sex attraction, at school and school events. Similarly, because a Catholic school does not disaggregate gender from biological sex, the school can clarify that it accepts people with gender dysphoria, but still holds them accountable to all policies and procedures (including dress code and facilities use) concordant with the student’s biological sex.

Granted this is a complex and potential litigious topic, but Catholic schools must be willing to secure the authentic good of their students, in season and out of season. If students and families want to pursue a competing concept of the good, that is, of course, their right; but Catholic schools do not need to provide, nor accommodate, a competing version of the good. It is our right and our responsibility to live the truth with love in complete fidelity to Christ and his Church.

Our message of love and human flourishing must be faithful, pastoral, and clear. Our Catholic schools should be open to all who wish to join our mission of complete human formation of our students for their own salvation and good, and for the good of others.

This article was first published on Homiletic and Pastoral Review.