Worcester bishop revokes Catholic status of Jesuit school
After a months-long impasse, A Jesuit middle school in Worcester, Massachusetts, has had its Catholic status revoked by the local bishop for defying his order to stop flying flags supporting LGBT pride and the Black Lives Matter movement.
"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," Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester said in a June 16 decree.
"The Nativity School of Worcester is prohibited from this time forward from identifying itself as a 'Catholic' school and may no longer use the title 'Catholic' to describe itself," he said. "Mass, sacraments, and sacramentals are no longer permitted to be celebrated on Nativity School premises or be sponsored by Nativity School in any church building or chapel within the Diocese of Worcester."
Canon law states that "no school, even if it is in fact Catholic, may bear the title 'Catholic school' except by the consent of the competent ecclesiastical authority."
McManus said it is his "sacred duty and inherent responsibility" to determine when a school acts contrary to Catholic teachings and "disregards my legitimate authority as the guardian and overseer of Catholic education in the Diocese of Worcester."
In his decree the bishop elaborated on his specific concerns about the flags.
"It is my contention that the 'Gay Pride' flag represents support of gay marriage and actively living a LGBTQ+ lifestyle," McManus said.
"The Catholic Church teaches that all life is sacred and the Church certainly stands unequivocally behind the phrase 'black lives matter' and strongly affirms that all lives matter," the bishop continued.
"However, the 'Black Lives Matter' movement has co-opted the phrase and promotes a platform that directly contradicts Catholic social teaching on the importance and role of the nuclear family and seeks to disrupt the family structure in clear opposition to the teachings of the Catholic Church."
The school has said it will appeal the decision and will continue flying the flags, saying that any decision by the diocese will not affect its operations.
Television news reports from the school on Thursday showed the flags still flying, along with the American flag.
BLM organization at issue
The Jesuit-run Nativity School of Worcester serves boys in grades five through eight. It has a predominantly African-American and Latino student body and students attend tuition-free. It is privately run and not part of the diocesan school system.
Since January 2021 the school had been flying a rainbow LGBT pride flag and a version of a Black Lives Matter flag. In March 2022 an unknown person tore the flags down. McManus addressed the flag controversy on April 3, with the school being warned it could lose its Catholic status.
The "Black Lives Matter" phrase came to prominence after the controversial killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012, which was ruled self-defense. It was invoked at the same time as 2014 riots in Ferguson, Missouri, prompted by the fatal police shooting of a Black man, Michael Brown, which was eventually ruled to be self-defense. After the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, it became a rallying cry for foes of police brutality and racism.
McManus' June 16 statement did not explain his concern that the Black Lives Matter movement undermines the family. However, the largest official organization which bears the slogan, the Black Lives Matter Global Network, has promoted LGBT ideology and opposes the nuclear family. Until the language was removed in September 2020, the group's website said that, as part of its social justice and anti-racist work, the organization aimed to "dismantle cisgender privilege," "disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure," and foster "a queer?affirming network." The organization is currently fighting accusations of financial mismanagement.
In an April 3 statement, McManus said the Black Lives Matter emblem, "has at times been co-opted by some factions which also instill broad-brush distrust of police and those entrusted with enforcing our laws."
The school's response
In a June 15 letter to the school community, Thomas McKenney, Nativity School's president, depicted McManus' action as "a change in Nativity's relationship with the Diocese of Worcester and our continued commitment to providing an excellent education rooted in the Jesuit tradition."
McKenney said the school is "entirely funded through the generosity of individuals, foundations, and corporations." It receives no diocesan funding and its governance and control of school operations are "fully independent of the diocese."
"Please know that any decisions made by the diocese will not change the mission, operations or impact of Nativity," he told the school community.
McKenney said the school began to fly the flag in response to the middle school students' "call to express support for making our communities more just and inclusive."
"As a multicultural school, the flags represent the inclusion and respect of all people. These flags simply state that all are welcome at Nativity and this value of inclusion is rooted in Catholic teaching," he said.
"Pope Francis has praised the outreach and inclusion of LGBTQ+ people. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supports the spirit and movement of 'Black Lives Matter.' 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."
McManus' decree prohibits Nativity School from any fundraising at diocesan institutions. The school also is barred from being listed in or advertising in the diocese directory. In addition, Worcester Bishop emeritus Daniel P. Reilly's name must be removed from the school's board of trustees.
According to NBC News Boston, Raymond Delisle, a spokesman for the diocese, said McManus "was just looking for alternatives to the flags to be able to get the same points across, that Black Lives do matter, that God loves everyone. But does it have to be done with specific logos, if you will, of a particular organization that we have differences with?"
McKenney said the school "will seek to appeal the decision of the diocese to remove our Catholic identity through the appropriate channels provided by the Church in circumstances like this."
"At the same time, after meaningful deliberation and discernment by its board, leadership team, faculty, and partners, 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."
The senior administration of Worcester's Jesuit-run College of the Holy Cross developed the school, which opened in 2003 to address low graduation rates among boys who come from economically insecure homes.