A Jesuit school in Massachusetts has said it will not take down Pride and Black Lives Matter flags after the local bishop announced the school would no longer be designated as Catholic if they did not do so.
Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester issued a decree on Thursday that The Nativity School in that city may no longer identify as Catholic, may not celebrate Mass or any sacraments either on its property or in any church building in the diocese, may not fundraise involving diocesan institutions, and must remove Bishop Daniel Reilly, Worcester’s bishop emeritus, from its board.
The decree comes after a months-long dispute between the bishop and the school over the flying of the flags, which McManus said send “a mixed, confusing and scandalous message” about church teaching. McManus previously issued two public letters on his desire for the flags to be removed, which leaders at Nativity rebuffed. The tuition-free school serves economically disadvantaged youth who are predominantly Black and brown.
In response to this new decree, school president Thomas McKenney sent an email to the Nativity community explaining how the leadership would respond, writing, in part:
“Nativity will seek to appeal the decision of the Diocese to remove our Catholic identity through the appropriate channels provided by the Church in circumstances like this. At the same time, after meaningful deliberation and discernment by its Board, leadership team, faculty, and partners, 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.”
McKenney thanked “long-time and many new partners, the Worcester community and beyond and the Jesuit community” for their support as the dispute played out. He wrote:
“Nativity is stronger than ever because of the understanding and support of its amazing community members, benefactors and – most of all – students and their families. Please know that any decisions made by the Diocese will not change the mission, operations or impact of Nativity. With your ongoing partnership, we will continue to provide a transformational education for many years to come.”
Support for Nativity continues to grow in the wake of this decree. Yvonne Abraham, a columnist for The Boston Globe, sharply criticized McManus. She noted that the decree comes in the middle of Pride month and just “a few weeks after a white supremacist gunned down Black shoppers in a Buffalo supermarket,” but it seems the bishop “does not concern himself with optics.” Abraham continued:
“McManus deems the flags scandalous, but the real scandal here is the fact that this single man — out of touch, and clinging to an archaic version of a church from which legions have fallen away — has targeted a school that lives out the very essence of the values on which he claims to be the authority.
“For its part, the school has vowed to keep flying the flags, ‘to give visible witness to the school’s solidarity with our students, families and their communities.’
“It’s clear who is actually doing God’s work here, and it’s not the bishop.”
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, June 17, 2022