What does it mean to be Catholic? You might say attending Mass, confessing your sins, receiving the sacrament, and other Precepts. If you read the news, you might even say being Catholic now requires you to oppose abortion as well as LGBTQ rights, given how many Democratic politicians and Catholic educators have been punished for not adhering to the conservative line on those issues.
But apparently you can’t be Catholic if you believe Black lives matter or that LGBTQ people deserve love.
Bishop Robert J. McManus of the Diocese of Worcester in Massachusetts just declared that the Nativity School of Worcester, a private Catholic middle school, can no longer call itself “Catholic” because it refused to take down its Black Lives Matter and Pride flags. He pulled the plug after threatening to do so for months.
“The flying of these flags in front of a Catholic school sends a mixed, confusing and scandalous message to the public about the Church’s stance on these important moral and social issues,” McManus wrote.
What’s the “scandalous” message? That racism and bigotry are bad?
It sounds almost comical. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect atheists to insinuate about Catholic leaders, not the kind of thing a Catholic leader would openly admit himself. But there you go. McManus believes that you can’t care about Black lives or LGBTQ people and call yourself a True Catholic™—because, let’s admit, that’s really what those flags represent.
Happy Pride month, courtesy of Catholicism.
None of this is surprising coming from McManus, according to the Boston Globe:
Back in April, McManus said he objected to the Black Lives Matter flag because it has at times been co-opted by “factions which also instill broad-brush distrust of police and those entrusted with enforcing our laws.” Gay pride flags, he said then, “are often used to stand in contrast to consistent Catholic teaching that sacramental marriage is between a man and a woman.”
McManus later revised his complaint to say the BLM movement supports LGBTQ people, which is also concerning to him, as if that revision made his bigotry any better.
The school’s leader has taken a very different approach:
“The flags simply state that all are welcome at Nativity and this value of inclusion is rooted in Catholic teaching,” Thomas McKenney, the president of the school, said in a statement on Wednesday. “Though any symbol or flag can be co-opted by political groups or organizations, flying our flags is not an endorsement of any organization or ideology, they fly in support of marginalized people.”
It says a lot about the Catholic Church that McKenney is running a school that’s no longer allowed to call itself “Catholic” while McManus remains in a position of power.
If there’s any silver lining here for the Catholics who attend the school (and their parents), it’s that McManus doesn’t get the final say here. In 2019, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis decided it would rather cut its ties with the Catholic Church than fire a teacher in a same-sex marriage who didn’t teach religion. Indianapolis Archbishop Charles Thompson later revoked the school’s Catholic status. But the school appealed the decision to the Vatican, and the Vatican and they “temporarily suspended” the revocation. It’s possible that’ll be the end result in Worcester, too.
If the Catholic Church gave a damn about Black or LGBTQ people, though, they would use this opportunity to send a much more clear message about whether they value love or hate. Do they want McManus getting the last word in this case or do they care about the future of the institution? Because right now, the message from the Catholic Church is clear: People like him McManus will do anything to protect fetuses, but if they eventually criticize systemic racism or don’t hold to a traditional gender or sexual identity, they don’t matter to God.
For what it’s worth, the school has responded to the “punishment” by doubling down on its position and reminding people that it’s an independent school that serves “boys from under-resourced communities” with a tuition-free education. It also receives no money from the Church; it relies on donations. Therefore, it’s not going to stop flying those flags.
Both flags are now widely understood to celebrate the human dignity of our relatives, friends and neighbors who have faced, and continue to face hate and discrimination. Though any symbol or flag can be co-opted by political groups or organizations, flying our flags is not an endorsement of any organization or ideology, they fly in support of marginalized people.
… Nativity will continue to display the flags in question to give visible witness to the school’s solidarity with our students, families, and their communities. Commitment to our mission, grounded and animated by Gospel values, Catholic Social Teaching, and our Jesuit heritage compels us to do so.
If McManus thought his threat would force them to cave, he thought wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time.