By James Finn | DETROIT — A prominent Roman Catholic bishop has just thrown another log into the fires of America’s culture wars targeting LGBTQ people, trying to make us feel shamed and unwelcome.
His actions are sure to spark more hate and violence this month in a season of Pride already punctuated with violence and threats of violence that law enforcement deems serious and credible. The bishop also attacks the Black Lives Matter movement, appearing to claim to be Catholic mandates of reflexive support for the police.
“Bishop Robert McManus’ decree that a Boston-area school can no longer identify as Catholic is a shameful denial of the gospel,” according to DignityUSA, which bills itself as “the leading national organization of Catholics working for justice, equality and the full inclusion of LGBTQI people in church and society”.
Dignity Responds to McManus Thursday Executive Order Stripping Private School of the Nativity of Worcester, Massachusetts of his Catholic status due to the school’s refusal to stop flying the LGBTQ Pride and Black Lives Matters flags.
“Bishop McManus has led this fight against the Nativity School’s attempts to demonstrate that all are welcome and loved by God on an outrageous level by telling them that they can no longer identify as a Catholic school,” the statement said. Dignity chief executive Marianne Duddy-Burke in a statement. .
She asks, “What could be more Catholic than the efforts of the Nativity to give some of the most marginalized children in our society a wonderful education and a chance for a better life?
Here is an overview of the events
School of the Nativity is a Jesuit-run school that provides free Catholic education to approximately 60 mostly black and Latino boys, almost all from families living in poverty. Since April, the school and the bishop have been in a dispute over the Black Lives Matter and Rainbow flags that the school has been displaying for more than a year at the request of students.
The Catholic women and men who run the school, which provides a superior academic education to underserved children, have remained strong since the bishop first ordered them to remove the flags. Saying the Bishop is wrong when he claims the Pride flag contradicts Catholic theology and the BLM flag encourages unacceptable disrespect for police officers.
Bishop changes bizarre claim that respect for the police is an important Catholic value
Since the story first broke, McManus has amended his original complaint about the Black Lives Matter movement to say that he opposes Catholic teachings on the nuclear family.
He didn’t explain why he said it, but one of the many groups who use the BLM flag to call for social justice once included statements on a website about the need to expand ideas about the family structure.
politifact, in an article debunking right-wing claims against BLM, says the website included this statement: “We are disrupting the Western-mandated nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively take care of each other, especially our children, to the extent that mothers, parents and children are comfortable.
It doesn’t strike me as anti-Catholic, but even if it was, the BLM flag does not speak for any particular organization, and anyone seeing the flag is highly unlikely to think of that statement. The public overwhelmingly sees the flag as a plea for society to reduce police violence against black people.
Isn’t reducing racially based violent abuse a Catholic value?
DignityUSA says Bishop takes sides in culture wars, calls actions racist and homophobic
“This is a blatant move to position the Diocese of Worcester and the largest Catholic church,” writes Duddy-Burke, “as aligned with a certain side in America’s culture wars. This decision will certainly horrify the vast majority of Catholics who support LGBTQ+ equality as well as racial justice. It is an openly racist and homophobic action that will not be allowed.
School of the Nativity says their flags exist to accommodate diverse students
According to Nativity School President Thomas McKenney, “The flags simply indicate that all are welcome at the Nativity, writing in a letter to the school community that the school will continue to fly the flags as She is appealing the bishop’s decision.
In January 2021, Nativity began flying the Pride and Black Lives Matter flags following a call from our students (the majority of whom are people of color) to voice their support in making our communities more just and inclusive. As a multicultural school, the flags represent inclusion and respect for all. These flags simply indicate that all are welcome at the Nativity and this value of inclusion is rooted in Catholic teaching. Pope Francis praised the awareness and inclusion of LGBTQ+ people. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops supports the spirit and movement of “Black Lives Matter”. Both flags are now widely recognized to celebrate the human dignity of our relatives, friends and neighbors who have faced and continue to face hatred and discrimination.
This isn’t the first time an American bishop has tried something like this.
McManus appears to be emulating the bullying tactics of Archbishop Charles Thompson of Indianapolis, who in 2019 tried to revoke Catholic status from Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School after Brebeuf defied his order to fire a gay teacher. The Vatican later suspended Thompson’s decision saying it seemed doubtful he acted within his authority, but a final decision is still pending. The Archdiocese of Indianapolis continues to bar Brebeuf athletes from leagues and tournaments, sending students a terrible message: Just being exposed to a gay teacher makes you unworthy of associating with us.
McManus is sending students and families across Massachusetts a similar toxic message: Making LGBTQ people feel welcome makes you unworthy of being called a Catholic; fighting for social justice for black people makes you unworthy of being called a catholic.
The Nativity is unlikely to change its practices, but great harm has already been done
The school, run by Catholics, is not financially supported by the diocese and faces no existential threat. All the bishop’s decision means in practice is that priests cannot celebrate Mass on school premises and that the word “Catholic” cannot appear on documents identifying the school. This doesn’t seem to bother school leaders too much, whose main goal is to provide excellent free education to children living in poverty.
The school is appealing the bishop’s decision and Church watchers expect it to at least be suspended in the near future, but much of the damage has already been done.
Headlines blazoned the Bishop’s homophobia and racism to wide audiences. The kids learned that religious leaders think something is wrong with LGBTQ people. They learned that black lives do not deserve special protection. They learned that reputable religious leaders say that unwelcoming behavior is good and appropriate.
Anti-Pride violence isn’t just moot this year
According to Washington Post, Pride events were the target of a wave of anti-LGBTQ threats and violence in June, fueled by right-wing and religious rhetoric:
Right-wing politicians and preachers have openly called for the killing of LGBTQ people. On a conservative talk show, Mark Burns, a congressional candidate allied with Donald Trump from South Carolina, called “LGBT, transgender grooming” a national security threat and proposed using treason laws as a basis for “executing” parents and teachers who stand up for LGBTQ rights. Last Sunday in Texas, a pastor spoke out against Pride Month and said LGBTQ people “should be lined up against the wall and shot in the head.”
I can’t help but think of the four house fires that started around 4 a.m. last Wednesday in Baltimore after a Pride flag and Pride decorations were set on fire in two homes on the same block. Two men and a woman were taken to a local hospital in critical condition for treatment for smoke inhalation. The woman was released later that day, but a 57-year-old man and a 74-year-old man remained in serious condition.
The homes were located in a traditional “gay neighborhood” and police are investigating the fires as probable arson and hate crimes.
A friend of mine who runs an LGBTQ organization that pays for mental health counseling for gay youth has been warned by the FBI of credible threats of violence in three cities where they had planned display booths at Pride events. They pulled out because they don’t want to put their young volunteers at risk. They plan to pull out of events in other cities just to be safe.
Religious leaders, including McManus, must call for a ceasefire
Enough is enough. LGBTQ people don’t deserve the kind of hateful rhetoric leaders like McManus promote. Their appeals lead to violence. Words have consequences. Symbolic messages like that of the bishop also have consequences, especially when they take place in an already hostile and violent atmosphere.
Already enough. Drop it! If you are a religious leader, the very last thing ANYONE should EVER have to tell you is to stop inciting violence.
If you, dear reader, live in the Boston area, or even if you don’t, please help get this message to McManus.
Here’s what else you can do, according to DignityUSA:
We call on Catholics in the Diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts and beyond to stand in solidarity with the Nativity School. Send funds to help them give their students an even better education. Let them know that you support their commitment to making their embrace visible to all of God’s people. Call upon Bishop McManus to rescind this decree, which only divides the Body of Christ.
Click here for contact details for the School of the Nativity. Find out how you can help with donations of money, time or services.
James Finn is a columnist for LA Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, and an unpublished “agent” novelist. Send questions, comments and story ideas to [email protected]
The previous article was previously published by Prism & Pen – Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished with permission.