A controversy in the Diocese of Worcester over a Catholic school’s decision to fly Pride and Black Lives Matter flags continues to intensify, as it appears that protests may have led the bishop to withdraw from graduation at local Catholic college.
Bondings 2.0 previously reported on Bishop Robert McManus’ order that the Nativity School remove the flags or risk of losing its Catholic affiliation. The school, run by the Jesuits, has so far refused to do so. And it has found new support in the local community.
First, students, faculty, and alumni at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester protested McManus’ potential attendance at the school’s commencement exercises in May. The bishop’s critics launched a petition asking for him to be disinvited from commencement because of his attack on the Nativity School. The signatories wrote that the bishop’s actions “demonstrate ignorant and bigoted sentiments which fail to align with the long-held values that guide our community.”
MassLive later reported that Holy Cross President Vincent Rougeau confirmed McManus would not be at graduation, though no reason was given. The bishop has not attended any Holy Cross graduation in the past four years.
Elsewhere, Massachusetts advocates and politicians, including a gay alum of the Nativity School, have condemned McManus for his demands. That alum, Guillermo Creamer, Jr., who now serves on the Worcester Human Rights Commission, spoke with the National Catholic Reporter:
“[Creamer said:] ‘It just begs the question, “Why now?” Why is it that such a threat would be placed on an institution that is doing no harm whatsoever, and has been only beneficial to the community at large?’ . . .
“‘I think Nativity does a really good job in ensuring that all their students, regardless of where they come from or what their family makeup is like, feels represented,’ he said. ‘At Nativity we’re taught to be men that will serve all individuals, and that includes members of the LGBTQ community and the Black community.'”
Worcester City Councilor Sean Rose highlighted real concerns in the city that pale in comparison to the flag issue:
“‘The city has a significant homeless issue at the moment that we’re trying to tackle. . .We have food insecurity issues we’re tackling. We’ve seen people lose their homes due to the foreclosure moratorium being lifted. We have substance abuse issues. We have all these things happening around us in real time, so to pick on a school comprised of mostly brown and Black students, to say they can’t raise a flag that supports the Black Lives Matter Movement or supports gay pride, is just really sad.'”
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, told NCR that McManus’ actions “should force us to reckon with the fact that there is a group of culture warrior bishops within the ranks of the U.S. hierarchy.” She added, “In my mind they’re really amplifying a white Christian nationalist agenda.”
Maura Healey, the Attorney General of Massachusetts and a gubernatorial candidate, said while visiting the city that she was “really troubled” by McManus’ words. She commented to MassLive:
“We need to do everything we can as a state to stand up for people’s civil rights and recognize and value and respect the dignity of all human beings including our young people in the LGBTQ community who are really going through a hard time right now. . .And I speak as a Catholic and I say that, and you know I speak as somebody from the LGBTQ community and somebody, I think importantly, who’s done a lot of work to advance and champion protections and rights here in the state.'”
Finally, a Progressive Pride flag is now being flown outside Worcester City Hall at the request of the city’s Human Rights Commission. And, though not directly referencing McManus, Worcester State University announced it would begin flying a Pride flag on its campus, too, reported MassLive.
Bishop McManus’ request to remove symbols that encourage and affirm LGBTQ students and students of color was misguided and harmful. But out of his error emerges the hope that comes when so many people in the Worcester community, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, have endorsed the cause of equality and justice for all.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, April 23, 2022