Catholic schools enmeshed in gender, racial conflicts

      Source: Catholic Elementary Schools of Long Island.

Once seen as a refuge from political conflict and pandemic closures, Catholic schools are in the “midst of their own internal struggles of whether to wade into cultural touchstone debates or hold firm to religious teachings,” writes Jeremiah Poff in the conservative Washington Examiner (July 13). The controversies over “wokeness” that are shaking secular institutions are also being felt in Catholic schools. An example of this could be seen in the actions of Bishop Robert McManus, the prelate of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts, who barred the Jesuit Nativity School in his diocese from identifying as a Catholic school because it persisted in flying the gay pride and Black Lives Matter flags on school grounds. Patrick Reilly, of the conservative Catholic education watchdog group the Cardinal Newman Society, said it is “rare for a Catholic bishop to publicly criticize a Catholic school, and it usually arises because the school first made the conflict public, not the bishop.” The case is an example of how the “surrounding culture finds its way into Catholic schools, through the students or through the teachers,” especially on the hot button issues of gender and race. Mary Miller, an activist with Parents Defending Education, noted that during the summer of 2020, following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, “many Catholic schools reacted similarly to public schools” in apologizing for systemic racism and promising to “fully embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion…We’re hearing changing policies from boards of trustees, the curriculum is a lot more focused on identity…”

There is also more support for after-school clubs like the Gender Sexuality Alliance, where gatherings may be billed as community celebrations. At one of these celebrations at Carondelet High School in California, an all-girls Catholic school, students were given the opportunity to make pronoun buttons at a craft table and listen to a presentation on the various pride flags denoting different gender identities. Speaking of the cultural state of Catholic schools, Sister Dale McDonald, the vice president of public policy at the National Catholic Education Association, said that the nation’s Catholic schools have more effectively weathered the cultural controversies engulfing their public counterparts by “trying to be true to our mission [and] by promoting harmony among all in the school.” She acknowledged that there have been “a couple of schools where there’s been some controversy about [critical race theory],” but thought that most Catholic schools have been trying “to avoid the political jargon that polarizes people.” She added that Catholic schools experienced a bump in enrollment last year due to their push to offer in-person instruction while many public schools remained closed and were experiencing budding controversies over curriculums. “Parents who never knew what we were about, they came, they saw it, and they liked it,” McDonald said, “and I think that’s how we have weathered some of those controversies…we have a commitment to our mission.”