A bishop has revoked the “Catholic” status of a Jesuit middle school in Worcester, Massachusetts, for defying his order to stop flying flags supporting the LGBTQ “pride” and Black Lives Matter (BLM) movements.

“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,” Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester announced in a decree Thursday.

“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,” the bishop stated.

“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 of Worcester explained regarding the decision by the Nativity School to continue flying the controversial flags.

The bishop wrote that the Nativity School, which serves boys in grades 5-8, “claims to be a ‘Catholic’ school affiliated with the Roman Catholic/Jesuit tradition,” but “has permitted the flying of ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Gay Pride’ flags in front of the school for a period of time.”

He added it is his “sacred duty and inherent responsibility” to ensure schools designated as “Catholic” act in accord with Catholic teachings, and to act when a school “disregards my legitimate authority as the guardian and overseer of Catholic education in the Diocese of Worcester.”

On May 5, the bishop released an “open letter” to the diocesan community regarding the issue of “Why Symbols Matter” as it pertained to the Nativity School’s decision to continue flying the LGBTQ and BLM flags:

These symbols which embody specific agendas or ideologies contradict Catholic social and moral teaching. Gay pride flags not only represent support for gay marriage, but also promote actively living an LGBTQ+ lifestyle. Others in society may say that is fine. Such people may be doing wonderful humanitarian work. But an institution that calls itself Catholic cannot condone that behavior, even though the Catholic Church will “go to the mat” in teaching we must love those with whom we disagree.

“The same is true for Black Lives Matter as a logo,” McManus continued, noting that while the phrase “black lives matter” is consistent with the Church’s belief that “every human life is sacred,” it is nevertheless true that “a specific movement with a wider agenda has co-opted the phrase and promotes a 13-principle agenda for schools, which, I daresay, most people do not know about but is easily available on the internet.”

“Similar to the gay pride movement, those principles include, in their own words, to be ‘queer affirming’ and ‘trans affirming,’” the bishop stated.

“The BLM movement also contradicts Catholic social teaching on the role of the family,” McManus explained, adding:

To Catholics, the Holy Family is not just a quaint image. God the Son chose to enter the world as a child and be raised by a mother and a father (the Nativity). The BLM movement in its own words is “committed to disrupting the Western prescribed nuclear family structure requirement,” which is another clear example of an ideological principle that conflicts with Catholic teaching.

McManus referred to Black Lives Matter’s now-scrubbed “What We Believe” section of its website which stated, per a web archive:

We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.

We foster a queer-affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking, or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual (unless s/he or they disclose otherwise).

That section of BLM’s website was active until September 2020, when the movement’s popularity plunged.

“Despite my insistence that the school administration remove these flags because of the confusion and the properly theological scandal that they do and can promote, they refuse to do so,” the bishop said in his decree. “This leaves me no other option but to take canonical action.”

Raymond Delisle, a spokesman for the diocese, said, according to NBC News Boston, 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?” he added.

Thomas McKenney, president of the Nativity School, asserted in a letter of response to the Nativity Worcester Community that its board, faculty, and partners agree, “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,” he said.

Describing Nativity as a “Catholic, Jesuit middle school” that is “tuition-free” and “entirely funded through the generosity of individuals, foundations, and corporations,” McKenney noted, “we receive no funding from the Diocese and our governance and control of school operations are fully independent of the Diocese.”

The school president claimed Nativity began flying the LGBTQ and BLM flags “following our students’ (the majority of whom are people of color) 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,” he added.

“We are grateful for the overwhelming support we have received from long-time and many new partners, the Worcester community and beyond, and the Jesuit community,” McKenney said.

Nevertheless, despite appearing to emphasize in his letter that the diocese has little to do with the operation of Nativity School, McKenney still vowed to “appeal the decision of the Diocese to remove our Catholic identity through the appropriate channels provided by the Church in circumstances like this.”

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Susan Berry, PhD, is national education editor at The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Nativity School of Worcester” by Nativity School of Worcester.