Nuns Who Walked Out of Catholic H.S. Need a Lesson in Gospel Reconciliation

San Francisco’s continuing saga with the intersection of LGBT issues and Catholicism took an unusual turn this week when five Dominican Sisters of Mary walked out of their classes at Marin Catholic High School, just outside the city, to protest some students’ involvement with the national Day of Silence, a campaign to show solidarity with LGBT youth who are bullied.

The walk-out happened one day after a full-page ad appeared in the city’s daily newspaper in which over 100 Catholic lay leaders called on Pope Francis to remove Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone from pastoral leadership in San Francisco.  The archbishop’s attempt to add morality clauses, a number of which referred negatively to LGBT issues,  to archdiocesan teacher handbooks has set off a movement of teachers, parents, students and other Catholics to call for the removal of such clauses, though Cordileone has remained firm.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the nuns objected to the Day of Silence campaign because it is spearheaded by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which, according to one of the Sisters, they see as a group which “believes actively in promoting homosexuality in all classrooms, K-12.”

The article reported a GLSEN official’s explanation of the organization’s mission:

Kari Hudnell, a spokeswoman for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, denied that the group ‘actively promoted’ homosexuality in the classroom.

“ ‘We are not trying to convert anyone,’ she said. ‘We are just trying to make sure schools are a safe environment for all kids.’

“Hudnell pointed out that the group has pushed for anti-bullying and anti-discrimination laws that apply to religious beliefs, as well as race, gender and sexual orientation.”

The nuns’ protest set off a chain-reaction of rumors and accusations, with some students saying that the nuns didn’t care about bullying (which the nuns denied) and with the nuns charging GLSEN with being anti-Catholic (which it is not). And although the involvement with the Day of Silence was an initiative started only by a group of students, some spread the false notion that it was the school as a whole who was sponsoring it and partnering with GLSEN.

When things get magnified so wildly, it is obvious that the atmosphere in this metropolitan area has become a tinderbox ready to explode.  The Chronicle reported that the school’s principal, Chris Valdez tried to diffuse the situation by sending a letter to parents which said it was “a challenging day on our campus resulting in both students and faculty feeling confused about our mission.”

Valdez has her work cut out for her, as she now tries to restore a productive school atmosphere in this charged environment.  She noted that she is trying to “bring authentic dialogue to the campus.”

It seems that among the lessons that needs to be taught is one to the protesting nuns, who seemed too quick to castigate GLSEN simply because they support LGBT youth.  The nuns seemed to have jumped immediately to assuming that GLSEN, because it is pro-LGBT, has nothing in common with Catholic values.  That is a very shortsighted assessment, and one which it seems was encouraged by the volatility of the atmosphere in the Catholic community of the Bay Area right now.

Another lesson that I wish were taught in this school, and in Catholic institutions everywhere, is that it is not charitable to cut off all connection with a person or organization just because one doesn’t agree with everything the organization stands for or because of their other associations.  Jesus was himself was harshly criticized for associating with people and hanging out in places that the religious leaders did not tolerate.  Part of following Jesus is about finding common ground and the good in people we may have disagreements with–even with people we might initially think of as enemies. That’s how reconciliation occurs.  That’s how love grows.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



6 replies
  1. Anton
    Anton says:

    We are still celebrating Easter, Jesus’ coming out of the grave, and we who are risen with Jesus are continuing his mission, as in Eucharistic Prayer 4: “And that we might live no longer for ourselves but for him, he sent the Holy Spirit from you, Father, as his first gift to those who believe, to complete his work on earth and bring us the fullness of grace.” It seems to me the Sisters in Marin are telling Jesus to get back in the grave, as though he saw his shadow like the groundhog and Easter is being postponed, not just for weeks but for years and centuries. But CHRIST IS RISEN!! INDEED! And I, for one, thank the students who want to keep Christ and his mission alive by working to keep the world free of bullies with whom the Sisters seem to have allied themselves. St.Francis of Assisi, a contemporary of St. Dominic, prayed: “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as TO CONSOLE, to be understood as TO UNDERSTAND, to be loved as TO LOVE …it is IN PARDONING that we are pardoned, and IN DYING that we are born to eternal LIFE.” I doubt that St. Dominic would disagree. Jesus was bullied to death and I’m sure does not want anyone to suffer that same fate. Our Father, …. thy kingdom come!

  2. Loretta m. Larkey
    Loretta m. Larkey says:

    Thank you for the reminder regarding how to promote reconciliation. It’s a reminder I neededvto hear.

  3. Friends
    Friends says:

    These nuns surely could use a friendly conversational visit with Sister Jeanine — and/or with the LCWR nuns who were just personally uplifted by Pope Francis, and sent back by him to perform works of love and mercy in this troubled world. These “walk-out” nuns remind me of the 18th-Century-habited nuns who appeared beside the Indiana governor, as he signed the specifically-anti-LBGT “Religious Freedom” bill, from which he is now trying desperately to extricate himself — in the face of the furious national political firestorm (and threat of economic boycott) it provoked. More caritas, more compassion, and a whole lot less of anti-GLBT animosity, would seem to be the necessary “attitude adjustments” here.

  4. Sister Lea
    Sister Lea says:

    Reblogged this on CATHOLIC, Non-Roman Western Style and commented:
    ” Jesus was himself was harshly criticized for associating with people and hanging out in places that the religious leaders did not tolerate. Part of following Jesus is about finding common ground and the good in people we may have disagreements with–even with people we might initially think of as enemies. That’s how reconciliation occurs. That’s how love grows.” Francis DeBernardo

  5. Jerry Baumeister, PhD
    Jerry Baumeister, PhD says:

    When I was a child, I was taught the fundamentals of my faith by the good sisters. They taught not only by word but by deed. They were an example to us all of Christian living. It is this faith that has seen me through hard times and it it is this faith that I will surrender myself to when I am called home. That is why this story of 5 nuns walking out of the classroom makes me heartsick. This behaviour is alien to me, the nuns I knew would have gathered in the church and prayed for guidance. Nowadays I feel like a stranger in a strange land in my own church. Perhaps it is time for me to fall on MY knees and ask for Gods help.


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  1. […] signed a full page open letter calling for Cordileone’s resignation, while traditionalist nuns abandoned their Marian High School classrooms because they were upset that students were participating in GLSEN’s Day of Silence, an […]

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