Community members have rallied around a Catholic school student who was forced to remove a Pride shirt, an action the local archdiocese is now defending.
Students and parishioners at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, Baltimore and its attached school wore rainbow face masks and shirts with “I am a child of God” in rainbow text to Mass this past weekend. Their action was in response to an incident last Friday at the school. The Baltimore Brew reported:
“At Father John J. ‘Jack’ Lombardi’s direction, witnesses told The Brew, the school principal directed the homeroom teacher to tell the girl her shirt [which was rainbow striped and read “Proud 365”] would have to come off. The teacher made her remove it in front of the other students as they stood at the back of the church. . .
“The student who was made to remove the shirt (whose mother asked that her name not be used) said that when she was instructed to do so, she ‘was left confused.’ . . .
“After being told to take off the shirt, the student was summoned to the office by principal Karmen Collins, who told her she had violated the school’s dress code.
“Did Collins explain further?
“‘She said it was because it was a Catholic school,’ the student said. ‘I thought it was a poor excuse.'”
The student’s classmates were clear in their assessment of the situation. Dylan Hoffman, who is in 7th grade, said “for the rest of the day, everyone was very angry about it.” The Brew reported of another student’s support:
“‘I think it was really awful what happened. The way they asked her to take it off was really embarrassing,’ said Liam Hines, another 7th grader.
“‘It was like asking her to take off a piece of her family [as the student’s mother is gay],” said Hines, of Lauraville. ‘We can’t let this slide. It was really cruel.’
“‘I’m very proud of these kids,” said his father, Sean Hines, who stood with his arm around his son and also wore a pride mask to the church service.”
Adults joined the students’ quiet protest. Lauren Voos, the parish’s religious education coordinator, told Mass attendees that “all are welcome” and “my heart is full of pride” while introducing candidates for Confirmation. It was later reported that Voos and her daughter, Amelia, who is queer and served as a parish youth coordinator, had both resigned from their positions for unclear reasons.
The Brew reported further:
“Going off script, lector Beatrice Messaris managed to slip a blunt message about the incident in at the end of the intercessions, the call-and-response portion of the service:
“‘For marginalized orientations and gender identities. . .’ she said, and the congregation answered with some extra volume: ‘Lord, hear our prayer.’ . . .
“Others who participated in today’s protest showed they still have positive feelings about the institution. A boy who wore a pride mask carried the communion hosts up to the front of the church. Some of the others in the church wearing pride masks could be seen dropping money in the collection basket.”
The reaction of Lombardi and the Archdiocese of Baltimore has been to deny any wrongdoing. The priest refused to comment on the matter and the archdiocese issued a statement via spokesperson Christian Kendzierski:
“‘The attire contained imagery and language with a message that could be determined to oppose teachings of the Catholic Church,’ Kendzierski wrote. ‘St. Francis of Assisi is a Catholic parish and school that upholds the tenets and teachings of the Catholic faith.’
“Kendzierski disputed the eyewitnesses who said Lombardi directed the principal to have the student remove her Pride shirt. ‘It was the school administration that initiated the request,’ he said.”
It is unclear if there will be a resolution to this incident any time soon. The student’s mother has filed a complaint with the archdiocese’s Catholic education office in the hopes of receiving not only an apology, but a commitment to host diversity and inclusion trainings.
This incident is both tragic and inspiring. Tragic because a student entrusted to the church’s care was humiliated and degraded in front of their classmates, and in doing so, Catholic officials failed in their educational mission. Inspiring because the parish community’s vibrant response in support of the student is a hopeful sign. Evident in their comments and actions, younger generations have no tolerance for discriminatory behavior and they are more than willing to hold church leaders accountable when it happens. That they find support from parents and parish ministers is even more encouraging. Fr. Lombardi and the Archdiocese of Baltimore should not ignore this protest; rather, they should admit wrongdoing and seek reconciliation with the student and the community they have harmed.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 24, 2021