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'It's a competition of Catholic values:' Suburban Catholic school conflicts over gender pronouns, same-sex marriage highlight tension between church and flock

John Keilman, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Religious News

Student and alumni activism hasn’t fared much better, said Francis DeBernardo of the advocacy group New Ways Ministry. Aside from Benet, which reversed its decision in the face of fierce protest, he could think of just one Catholic school that yielded to a pressure campaign.

Benet’s board members have said little about their deliberations, but DeBernardo guessed their change of heart might have been prompted by a recent court case in North Carolina in which a judge ruled that a Catholic school was wrong to dismiss a gay substitute teacher since the man did not teach religious subjects.

Then again, he said, the board might have just seen the writing on the wall.

“Not only is the generation attending the school LGBTQ friendly, but so are their parents,” he said. “That’s only going to be increasing as time goes on. There might be an awareness among administrators that it’s a losing proposition.”

Benet’s U-turn on hiring coach Amanda Kammes laid bare a division within the school. On Tuesday, Abbot Austin Murphy of St. Procopius Abbey, which founded and financially supports the school, issued a public letter saying he was “deeply troubled by the school’s decision which calls into question its adherence to the doctrines of the Catholic faith.”

The statement drew applause from Patrick Reilly of the Cardinal Newman Society, which promotes what it calls “faithful Catholic education.” He had earlier blasted Benet’s “wokeness” in a column for the National Catholic Register.

 

“Abbott Murphy strikes exactly the right notes of fidelity to Catholic teaching and love for those who disagree with Catholics,” he told the Tribune. “No one is happy with such a situation, but the simple fact is that a Catholic school exists to teach the Catholic faith, and its employees undermine that mission if they publicly reject Catholic moral principles.”

Others, though, say it’s common for religious institutions to pick and choose the aspects of their faith they find most important. Emily Fisher, an education professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles who has written about LGBT issues in Catholic schools, said divorce is generally not the employment deal-breaker it once was.

“Churches and schools decide all the time what to emphasize and what their values are,” she said. “Even people who practice a religion don’t follow every rule that has been written.”

There is also a clear division between Catholic universities and their K-12 counterparts. Schools such as Notre Dame and Boston College not only allow employees who are in same-sex marriages, they provide spousal benefits.

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